Who do you consider your life’s greatest teachers?
When I reflect on the lessons I’ve attained in this life so far – the lessons that have shaped me into who I am today – I’ve come to realize that by and large, they were instilled in me not by an individual but rather, an emotional experience. My greatest teachers have been deeply uncomfortable and have shook me to my core. They are experiences we all strive to avoid as best we can. And yet, they left me changed in profound ways.
Perhaps you’ve danced with a few of these intruders. Or maybe you’re in the throes of one now.
I thought I’d been intimate with grief before my mother’s death. My parents got divorced in my early twenties, and that really shook me to my bones. For more than a decade, I lived in that murky, gauzy, in-between space that only grief can usher into your life. IYKYK.
As a result, I thought I had lived the grief experience in some profound way that battle-tested me for future encounters. I could not have been more wrong.
When my mother died, the proverbial bottom really fell out. Grief rolled in like a thunderstorm, moody and mercurial. Nothing had prepared me for that type of unmooring. I have written about it throughout the years, and as the journey was unfolding. (You can find those here, here, here, and here.) These were efforts to assemble my insides; Like Humpty Dumpty, I was just trying to put myself back together again.
But grief also dared me to carve out a life of my own and to white-knuckle gratitude, in spite of grief’s presence in my life. Grief challenged me to live with sadness and happiness, simultaneously, and to dance on the pinhead of hope despite my aching. I am more resilient, self-compassionate, and tolerant because I have tangoed with it. Grief taught me more about myself than therapy, meditation, or any other form of self exploration. I stopped waiting for grief to go away a long time ago and instead befriended her as a reminder of love that was lost.
An aloneness settled into my being after my mother was gone. Not loneliness (that’s something else entirely), but rather utter aloneness. This aloneness terrified me. Honestly, it haunted me. New fears arose, and old ones came back.
But aloneness also taught me how to tango with emotional discomfort. It revealed important dynamics in many of my key relationships, which had previously been completely past my emotional sightline. The people in my life became more transparent to me, like a new sense had been awakened inside of me. The sheer pain of this type of aloneness left me more attuned to the energies around me.
From aloneness, I emerged with a new sense of boundaries, a stronger capacity to say no, and deeper empathy.
I know – I really, really know how alone certain chapters can feel. And I know this not in some clinical or intellectual way, but rather through my lived experience.
Without aloneness, I would never have pursued my career with the same vigor. I would not have formed the deep friendships that have become my family. And I would not have embarked on the internal journey of self-compassion, kindness, and forgiveness.
I am a softer, gentler version of myself because of aloneness.
I have lived my whole life afraid. Yes, all of it.
If I am completely honest, I have never been sure of anything when I was starting out. Nothing. And I am not just referring to my career here. If someone had asked me along the way, I would have hedged my bets and snuggled into the comfort of self-doubt. Doubt is my first instinct about myself, all the time.
Doubt has crippled me at times, held me back from the edge, and made me tango with fear (fear is doubt’s partner in crime). When I reflect on the things I have not done, the dreams I have not pursued, the conversations left unsaid– all of them lead back to doubting myself.
But doubt has also taken my hand, nudged me forward, and pushed me to challenge myself. Doubt has swept me off of my feet and whispered, “Do it anyway. I dare you.”
In many ways, doubt has been a loyal companion throughout my life, always by my side. And, in reflection, after I have faced the “thing” (insert your own doubts here), doubt is the first to sit down beside me and say, “Look at you, my darling – you are so brave. I am here to show you that.”
I hope if you are going through something – anything – that this lends some salve, in some way.
I hope your teachers, as harsh as they may be, reveal to you aspects of yourself you had not previously seen.
And I hope you know, I root for you.