In Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion stories “all the women are strong, all the men are good looking and all the children are above average.” However, if there were an “average,” this means that some people must be below it, some in the middle, and finally some lucky people get to be above it. It obscures the fact that all of us stand out in some ways and all of us are just like everybody else, too. Our unique combination of features makes us who we are: individual and exceptional as well as alike.
The key is realizing that one of the most amazing things we all have in common is that we are each special in our own way. And this is a very good thing. It’s not only OK to be ourselves, but it is actually preferable. We know that in nature diversity equals health. The greater the variety of plants in a garden, field, or forest, the healthier that environmental system. The same is true for us human beings (and how often do we overlook that we are part of the natural world too?!).
With this in mind, read on for some tips on how to cultivate and honor your unique place in the human ecosystem:
Be proud to be who you are. In a garden, a tomato seed grows into a tomato plant. It doesn’t spend time yearning to be a zucchini or a pumpkin. Take a look at how you have developed and celebrate the successes you’ve had and the hurdles you’ve overcome thus far. No one has done it just like you!
Let fun, not fear, guide you. Unlike in the forest where plants and trees seek what nourishes them – sunshine, water, etc. – too many of us think that pleasure can wait and we deny ourselves what would feed our souls. Yet if we enjoy what we do, we are likely to deepen our skills and better contribute to the wellbeing of all.
Embrace difference. Peppers and eggplant need full sun, however spinach, chard and arugula can thrive even in shade. Rather than struggling to flourish in a space that doesn’t sustain you, acknowledge your needs and strike out for greener pastures. Think what you could do if your environment were supporting instead of hindering your growth!
Self-Discovery Tool Number 70
Every leaf and every petal is unique and so are you. Build on those things that make you, you. Offer your special gifts to the world and encourage others to do the same – our differences are our strength – our collective health depends on it!
Whether we call it the University of Life, the School of Hard Knocks, every one of us has experiences that have helped us to learn and grow. As June was the month of graduation ceremonies around the US, we suggest you take a moment to honor of the hard work you have put toward becoming who you are. Imagine you are assembling your “transcript of life” and awarding yourself a self-discovery diploma.
Sample Life Transcript
Street Smarts 101
Uncommon Common Sense
Communications: Intra- and Inter-personal
Contemporary Adult Civilization
Applied Mathematics: Making Things Add Up Even When They Don’t
Topics in Engineering: Pulling Yourself Up by Your Bootstraps
Creative Writing: Employment, Educational & Financial Applications
Modern Dance: Achieving Work-Life-Play Balance
Anthropology 101: Early Adulthood through Middle Age, Lessons in Exhaustion
Anthropology 201: Middle Age to the Golden Years, Lessons in Individuation
Advanced Physics: Things Are Not What They Seem
When looking back over all the ups & downs of your course load, can you see that the very act of getting through it all is an achievement worthy of celebration? Can you give yourself credit for the many triumphs in your transcript of life? Recognize the courage and commitment it has taken to persevere through life’s challenges. Feel your metaphorical graduation gown fluttering in the breeze as you take another brave step forward down the road of life. See your mentors smile and nod in congratulations as you cross the threshold to graduate. Watch them as they wave you on to pursue even greater adventures. As you toss your “hat” in the air, hear the cheers of friends and family in acknowledgment of a journey well travelled. Award yourself a self-discovery diploma such as the one below – you’ve earned it!
My ELS Diploma
In acknowledgement of my voyage of self-discovery, I hereby award myself the degree of Explorer of Life and Self – ELS. With this diploma I decree my Summa cum Laude status at journeying this far as well as recognizing with humility how much more there is to learn. By the powers vested in me by myself, I go forward into 2013 and beyond focused on becoming even more of who I am while sharing whatever wisdom I have to encourage others to do the same.
Self-Discovery Tool Number 61
How can you see yourself, no matter your age or position, as a “graduate of life”? How can you find ways to celebrate and honor all you have been through, thereby giving yourself the respect you deserve? What would it feel like to see yourself as a success; as having achieved something regardless of whether others would recognize it or not? Grant yourself an ELS degree today. Make an effort to love the unique transcript you’ve assembled – no one else has your experience!
Sometimes we find ourselves in a rut, feeling sluggish, bored and with too much time on our hands. Sometimes the opposite occurs and we feel like things are too busy, too rushed and too out of control. Yet what both these situations have in common is that change is needed. Even if we understand this intellectually, change can feel scary and intimidating. So how can we make change feel more comfortable and even fun? By starting small!
Here are a few simple ideas to get you going – the point is to step outside your usual patterns:
Spend a few minutes outside, even if the weather isn’t perfect, to refresh yourself and stimulate new thinking
If you always do the cooking, let a family member or a restaurant take over this duty; if you never cook, give it a try
Test out a new style that appeals to you but might be described as “too much” – too dressy, too attention-getting, too colorful, too young, etc. – release the judgment temporarily and give some aspect of it a try
Don’t say “yes” just because this is what you always do; say “no” when you can and want to say “no”
If you typically order a particular coffee, sandwich or entree, when you go out, pick something a little different
Give yourself permission to temporarily “unplug” as the messages will be there when you return
When you hear something that irritates you, remain quiet or change the subject instead of arguing; or, if you usually avoid sensitive topics, calmly share your point of view without, of course, expecting instant understanding or agreement
Ask a friend to think of something simple that she/he has always thought you should you try – a new walking trail, book, cuisine, etc. – and then help you get what you need to experience it
If you never listen to music, put the radio on, if you love TV, try a magazine, if you typically surround yourself with noise, try a little silence
Wear your hair differently; if it’s short, change where you part it, if it’s long, put it up or wear it down; see how it feels to do the opposite of what you typically do
Make someone’s day, pay a stranger a compliment instead of keeping your admiring thoughts to yourself
Request an opinion from someone who seems very different from you and see if you learn something unexpected
Take a break from needing to make your own or others’ actions “good” or “bad,” instead try to experience events without labeling them
Ask “why not?” instead of “why?”
Self-Discovery Tool Number 60
We tend to think that we need to do big things to bring about growth and yet growth comes from small steps as well as large ones. Get into the habit of making small changes, they are the foundation upon which big, long-lasting shifts can be built – give it a “small” try today!
We all like to have explanations for what happens in life. We feel more secure when we can point to a clear cause and effect. Sometimes, however, needing these reasons gets in our way and gets us down. If we struggle to explain the way things evolved, we may be setting up ourselves and those around us for a sense of failure. Instead of seeking reasons that may unfathomable or unsatisfactory from a logical standpoint, let’s discover ways we can understand the events in our lives from a “success perspective.” Let’s start seeing success where we may not have realized its existence due to our very human insistence on things being explainable, rational, and organized. Let’s nurture the feeling that we are in active partnership with a higher purpose and/or higher power and that even if the results of this partnership are not obvious, we have fulfilled what we set out to do simply because we are here and are living each day as best we know how.
We did our best. To see events in this way, we need to let go of the view that success always means persevering through thick and thin. Of course there are times when it is important to keep going when the going gets tough, and yet it is not the duration of our efforts as much as it is the quality of them that’s important. If we have sincerely given our best with the skills and knowledge we posses, we have truly done it all and done enough. After all, what more is there to provide when you have already given your best?
We are manifesting “the whole” by working the parts. When we can see the small, but by no means insignificant success of simply having the courage to move step-by-step through each day, we can release ourselves from the burden of needing to have all the answers or be “perfect.” True accomplishment comes from being present and facing what comes, good or bad. Being able to say we have achieved some outward standard of excellence, although wonderful, is not possible in many instances. Further, these accomplishments are certainly not as important as the internal satisfaction of moving forward when it would be easier to hide from our challenges or stay stuck.
We have grown. Interestingly, when we make positive changes we can still feel that we have failed because these changes may reveal that some of our relationships and circumstances are no longer a good fit. Rather than celebrating our increased self-awareness and rejoicing in our improved conditions, we beat ourselves up, get scared, and try to change back in order to make ourselves and others feel more comfortable. When we can see that we are changing our connection with what is familiar rather than cutting it off as we move forward, we put things into the proper perspective. We realize that we can continue to show love and respect for our old friends and our old ways and thereby help others not to feel threatened by our new level of awareness and development.
We have made a difference. Another way to see success is to look at our life in terms of the opportunities we have had to make a difference. When we evaluate our performance with a gratitude mindset, we open ourselves up to see how, as challenging as a situation or relationship is or was, we were probably able to do something that was constructive, helpful, or kind. Sometimes a smile is all it takes to brighten someone’s day and we may have been the person who gave that simple gift of warmth. Give thanks for these little opportunities to make a difference and see them as the successes that they are.
Self-Discovery Tool 50
We may not feel as though we have a say in how our lives unfold, but we do get to control our reactions to its ups and downs. How might you cultivate a “glass half full” attitude? Where can you see bright spots in dark times that, if they were made the focus of your attention, would have positive consequences for all involved? Notice success in small things and watch it multiply in large ways. Choose to see success – it’s all around you!