Tag Archives: criticism

Life Loves You

I decided to accept a seven-day challenge given by Louise Hay and Robert Holden in their beautiful book Life Loves You: 7 Spiritual Practices to Heal Your Life. 

Yesterday was Day 7 so today I’m going to tell you all about this seemingly simple exercise that took me places I never expected…

Here’s the challenge (spiritual practice sounds nicer!):

Sit comfortably in front of a mirror. Inhale deeply. Say to yourself: Life loves you (or Life loves me), then exhale. Repeat this 10 times. Notice your response each time. Pay attention to your bodily sensations, your thoughts and your feelings. Write these responses in a journal. Be honest. And please don’t judge yourself.

The second part of this exercise is to look into the mirror and repeat this affirmation: I am willing to let life love me today. Once again, notice your responses. Remember to breathe. Louise Hay and Robert Holden recommend repeating this affirmation until you feel “comfortable sensations in your body, light feelings in your heart, and a happy commentary in your thoughts.”

Repeat this exercise for seven consecutive days.

So I knuckle down and I do it. Seven days in a row.

There are tears. And sadness. Anger makes a surprise visit.

My inner child wails. Self-worth wavers. I judge.

I witness my beauty. And I feel the love.

Physically, I experience tension in my shoulders and I struggle to catch my breath. My head aches.

I notice a panicky feeling in my chest. My insides fizz.

Sometimes I become distracted by my thoughts, by my eyelashes, my hair, teeth and makeup. Fears arise.

Ideas spring forth. I want to share this exercise with as many people as possible.

I doubt that life loves me. I hope that it does. I believe that it could…

Interestingly, I find it easier to say Life loves you rather than Life loves me. It’s as if I’m two separate people – one a wiser, more evolved, peaceful, loving being; the other a wounded, scared child who needs reassurance.

I make myself look into my eyes as I cry the tears of a frightened child who feels all alone and just wants to be loved and protected. I’m here for myself in this moment.

I have the awareness that every time I lost hope, I left myself. I promise never to abandon myself again.

I feel a fierce determination to let life love me. Gradually, this determination transforms into something gentler, something more accepting, something more loving.

I realise that I close down whenever I fear rejection. I decide to open my heart, to let in the good, to love myself and, in doing that, to let life love me.

As I gaze into my eyes, I actually become quite mesmerised. I get lost in the colours and the inky blackness of my pupils as they dilate and contract.

sharon vogiatzi life coach

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I recently started seeing an amazing guy who tells me how beautiful I am. As I stare at my reflection, I see what he sees. I can see the beauty in my eyes, the beauty in me.

By the end of these seven days, which are laden with emotion, insight and healing, I’m saying Life loves you and really meaning it. I’m also able to say Life loves me too. I feel happy, light and relaxed.

I could never have predicted what would have come up for me while completing this exercise. My inner child voiced how scared and alone she feels. So I started giving her the love, affection and reassurance that she needs.

It became clear that I regularly criticise and reject myself. I resolved to be there for myself and not to abandon myself any more.

I’m more aware of when I close off to others, to the world, to life and to myself. I’m going to give myself the love and care that I deserve. I know that I can make myself happy.

I’m happily choosing to open my heart. I can see the good in the universe. And everything that happens is a confirmation that life loves me. I just have to let life love me today. Because once I allow it, I can see it.

Since starting this challenge, I’ve been given countless proof that life loves me.

A sales assistant drops a free lip balm into my bag. Motorists let me pass. A barista draws a love heart in my latte. People smile at me.

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Image: Author’s Own

One morning, a friend gives me coffee, a Mars bar and a massage. Another friend gifts me with a red phone cover sporting a snowflake and a love heart. A loved one presses money into my hands for an upcoming trip.

And I can definitely feel the love with the guy I’m seeing. It’s in our hugs and our kisses, our texts and our glances. It flows in the things we share and the way we are with one another. My heart is so open when I’m with him and that feels really good.

This spiritual practice has shown me that I can feel this way all of the time, not just when I’m with a romantic partner. I can bring that openheartedness, warmth and affection to my interactions with other people too. And to the time I spend alone.

I greet people with a smile. I give people hugs and I’m present to what they share with me.

I listen to myself. I’m true to who I am and to what’s right for me. I’m nice to myself. And I appreciate life and all that it offers me in every single beautiful moment. Life loves me.

And guess what? There’s an abundance of love to go around because life loves you too.

Want to make sure? Try out this exercise for seven consecutive days. Enjoy. And please let me know how you get on.

self-love

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Just Because.

As you know, I recently injured myself while exercising. What I neglected to mention was that, prior to this, I’d regularly been getting sudden pains in my head.

At the time, it struck me that I probably needed to take it easy but I just couldn’t stop. I was always on the go and I was exercising more than ever. I felt tired a lot but adrenaline was fuelling me and I thought I was doing great.

When I hurt my Achilles tendon, I was forced to slow down. Interestingly, the pains in my head disappeared immediately.

I learnt a lot from the whole episode. I recognised the need for more balance in my life. It also brought home for me the fact that I had to be able to feel good about myself regardless of what I was doing or how I looked.

I realised that it’s all in my head anyway. I could feel good one day and shitty the next. Nothing external had changed, which perfectly proved my point.

However, there’s a difference between knowing something and feeling something. So when the physiotherapist gave me license to return to exercise, I did so that very evening.

The following morning, I was dismayed to discover that the Achilles on my other foot was paining me. Yet again, I had to resort to limping.

An acupuncturist advised me to lay off exercise for a week. I needed rest. My body, in all its intelligence, had created the pain that was making it impossible to do anything but rest.

Though I would never consciously ask for pain as a learning aid, I have learnt a very important lesson from all this. I’ve been doing things in order to feel good. I’ve also been doing things to avoid feeling bad.

Of course, it’s sensible to practise healthy behaviours that accentuate the good and eliminate the bad but it’s also worth remembering that it’s best not to rely too heavily on external routes to happiness.

Also, balance is key. Interesting how both my Achilles were acting up as, without the Achilles, it’s very hard to achieve balance.

Exercise is great. Healthy eating is wonderful. Working hard and taking action is commendable. Achieving success is admirable. But leaning too far in any one direction will upset the balance and, sooner or later, you’ll topple over and hurt yourself.

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I clearly need to listen to my body when it’s tired or sore. Replacing one gym session with a walk in nature would be a good idea. I deserve to take a rest.

And so those deeper issues of self-worth, self-love and self-acceptance make themselves known. I feel good about myself when I’m busy, when I’m doing and achieving. I feel good in my body when I’m exercising and eating healthily.

And I feel bad when I’m not doing all these things. I feel unworthy of love and care and acceptance. Or at least that’s how it’s always been. Until now.

Of course, I knew I should be confident anyway. I knew I was great. I knew I deserved love and care and acceptance. But now I feel it.

The other night, I asked for a sign in my dreams to show me what I need to see in order to heal. I dreamt that I called into my parents’ house to collect a couple of things.

Nobody was home. Minutes later, my parents returned. I overheard my father sniggering to my mother: “Sharon probably came here so she could sleep during the day.” My mother laughed and agreed.

An energy rose up in me. I was about to ignore it but I decided I wanted to stand up for myself. I told my parents that they should respect me even if I was sleeping during the day.

That afternoon, the meaning of the dream dawned on me. The dream was all about me. My body had been crying out for rest but I hadn’t respected it enough to listen to its wisdom. I had ignored it and pushed it even further.

Until it decided to give me a taste of my own medicine. It injured me so that I could finally heal a deep trauma.

In its intelligence, it had injured my Achilles heels. My weakness. How I always strive for perfection just so I can give myself permission to feel good about myself.

This morning, I told my Life Coach that I need to love myself no matter what before I attract in a partner. He said that some man will be lucky to have me. All of me.

He told me that I’m already perfect. My “imperfections” are what are making me vulnerable. My vulnerability is pushing me to grow. And that growth is leading me to greatness. Which doesn’t take away from my present greatness.

So I’m listening to my body. I’m resting. I’m taking a break from high intensity exercise. I’m acknowledging my greatness. I’m believing that I deserve love and care and acceptance. And I’m feeling good just because.

life coach kildare

The Judge

Yesterday, I came up with an exercise to assist people to get to the root of certain destructive behaviours or patterns. The behaviour I had in mind when I designed the exercise was that of judging or criticising.

Last night, I wondered if I could do the exercise. Who am I judging or criticising? I realised that the person I’m currently judging most is myself.

So I completed the three steps to this exercise. The first step is to ask yourself these questions:

1. When you’re judging, is there an underlying fear? If so, what is it?

My answer astounded me and brought me to tears. My fear is that I’m imperfect. I go deeper with this realisation. If I’m imperfect, I believe that I won’t be loved or accepted. I go deeper again. Then, I’ll be rejected. Cast out. Abandoned.

Suddenly my mind is flooded with snapshots of childhood, teen years and early adulthood, where I felt my imperfection brought about rejection, humiliation, anger, fear and withdrawal of love.

Messages I internalised from an early age convinced me that I had to try to be perfect in order to earn love or even just acceptance. I couldn’t be myself or feel the things I was really feeling. I had to try to be what others wanted me to be. Otherwise, I’d be left alone in this world. And to be all alone in this world means certain death.

This made perfect sense when I read Harville Hendrix’s brilliant book Getting The Love You Want. Hendrix describes the structure of the human brain.

The brain stem, which is the most primitive layer, oversees reproduction and vital functions such as breathing, blood circulation and sleep. Then there is the limbic system, which generates vivid emotions. The main concern of this portion of the brain is self-preservation. It is constantly on the alert, trying to ensure your safety. Hendrix refers to these two parts of the brain as the “old brain”.

The third part of the brain is the cerebral cortex, which is most highly developed in Homo Sapiens. This section of the brain deals with cognitive functions. It’s the part of you that makes decisions, thinks, observes, plans, organises information and creates ideas. Hendrix calls this the “new brain”.

The new brain is logical and tries to find a cause for every effect. This part of the brain can moderate some of the instinctual reactions of your old brain.

With regard to my self-judging, I believe that I need to be perfect. If I’m not perfect, I won’t be loved. I will be abandoned. This primeval fear comes from the old brain logic that tells me that the world is not safe. When love is withdrawn from me, I am filled with a fear of death.

So, in answer to the first question about the fear underneath my self-judgment, I am afraid of abandonment. I am afraid for my very survival.

This leads on to the second part of the exercise, which is to ask yourself the following:

2. When you judge, what are you hoping to achieve?

When I judge myself, I’m hoping to change aspects of myself. I’m longing to be perfect. Maybe if I criticise myself enough, I’ll change. Then I’ll be loveable. Both to others and to myself.

I am hit by another huge insight. When I see myself as imperfect, I question my right to be loved.

This makes me feel depressed. I close off a part of myself. My vital force shuts down. I no longer feel alive.

I am abandoning myself. I’m actually killing off a part of myself. Yet again, the old brain is pretty sure I’m going to die.

Having answered these questions and hopefully arrived at some interesting insights, you’re ready for the third part of the exercise, which is this:

3. For one whole day, every time you notice yourself judging, stop and ask yourself: “What would it be like to accept this?”

Yes, it’s good to be the best that you can be and to do things that make you feel good. But for so many years, the only way I could silence my inner critic was to do do do.

However, this was just a temporary fix that didn’t unearth the root cause of the problem. And so these deep-seated beliefs, fears and behaviours were repeatedly resurrected. When I got sick or tired, or when I just couldn’t do all the things that boosted my self-esteem, my superficial confidence crumbled.

Finally, I was no longer prepared to continue running on this ridiculous treadmill of turmoil. I kidded myself that it made me feel good to be doing something but it got me nowhere and, every so often, I’d slip off and smack myself in the face.

So, I’ve stepped off and decided to look deeper. And this exercise has facilitated the process.

Now that I have an understanding about why I’m so self-critical and why these judgements make me feel so bad, my behaviour ceases to be unconscious. I’m now conscious of my seemingly destructive patterns. I understand what’s happening and why it’s happening.

Therefore, I can consciously introduce a new way of thinking and behaving. A way that’s healthier and more beneficial than my previously misguided, outdated attempts at self-protection.

The next time I call myself fat or wince at my grey hairs, I’ll remember that what I’m really experiencing is fear. My critical voice is just trying to prevent me from dying. It wants me to be loved.

As an adult, am my primary care-giver. am responsible for caring for me. I have a choice to love and accept all of me as I am. I’m not going to abandon myself any more. I am safe.

This exercise can be applied to any thought process or pattern of behaviour that is causing you to suffer. Remember, the old brain got its name because it’s been here for a long, long time. So be patient with yourself as you recondition your thinking. And know that you are safe.

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Flaws

After posting Wednesday’s blog, two people very close to me suggested that I could be more confident. Having made a list of the qualities I’d like in a romantic partner, I’d asked myself if I possessed these desired attributes. And I’d acknowledged that there were a few things I needed to look at.

However, I’d zoned in on the fact that I could be a better communicator. I’d actually thought I was doing quite well in the confidence arena.

But in the last few days, two people have remarked on my confidence. They’ve done it because they want the best for me. They believe that I’ve a lot to offer and a lot to be proud of.

One of these people asked me if there’s a possibility that I’m going for men who are unavailable. I reflected on my most recent crushes. Perhaps she has a point. The men I fancy are usually not right for me, they wouldn’t be good for me, or they have girlfriends.

If I want to be in a relationship, why would I lust after unavailable men? Unconsciously, perhaps I don’t really want to be in a relationship. I decided to tap on the issue.

[For more on tapping (or Emotional Freedom Technique), click here: http://www.thetappingsolution.com]

As I tapped, something interesting revealed itself. I don’t allow myself to get too close to men because there are certain parts of myself that I don’t like. And there’s only so long that I can keep those parts hidden. I’d even done quite a good job of hiding them from myself.

Yes, I have a lot to be confident about. And yes, I’m much more confident than ever before. There are times when I get it, when I genuinely love life, when I have fun and I’m in the flow.

But I’m still placing conditions on my self-love. I have to look a certain way and I have to be doing certain things. I can’t just love me for me.

Usually when I feel unloving towards myself, I retreat. I don’t want to go out or see people. Yesterday, I decided to do things differently.

I opened up to a friend. I confessed that I feel sad that I’m not allowing myself to get close to a man because of these conditions. I told her that I feel upset that I’m not loving myself unconditionally.

She advised me to love myself, including the part that isn’t loving myself. But I don’t know how to do it. I don’t know if I can.

I want to. I’m sick of this issue raising its ugly head over and over again. But I still don’t know how I can love myself anyway.

I know I’m resisting reality. I am the way I am. I also know that I can’t love somebody unconditionally when I can’t do the same for me. And I know I can’t expect someone to love me unconditionally when I can’t do it for myself.

Maybe bringing this to the surface will help. I did feel better for having shared my deepest darkness with someone who sees and encourages my light.

I know I’ll get there eventually. I’ll be okay. I’ll be more than okay. One day, I’ll break down those barriers and love myself unconditionally. Imagine how life will be then…

But for now, I give up. Not in a feeling-sorry-for-myself, life-isn’t-worth-it kind of way. But in a I-just-don’t-have-the-solution-right-now kind of way.

Today, I walk alone down a beautiful country road. I put my iPod into shuffle and enjoy the music.

The warmth of the sun settles on my skin like the softest blanket. Field chamomile makes me smile. Lush leaves reach out to something that I can’t yet see. And this song starts to play at just the right moment.

I’m Always Here

Mindfulness is a buzz word of the moment. And being present is a recurring theme in my blog posts.

Yesterday however, I realised that there’s an element of resistance in the way I’ve been practising mindfulness. I’ve been using my version of mindfulness to criticise myself and block self-expression.

Living in the now is being present to experience life as it happens. It’s not about dredging up the past or catapulting into the future. It also isn’t about trying to change how things are. Mindfulness means nonresistance.

Mindfulness has certainly enriched my experience of life. It has enabled peace of mind and improved my sleep. And it’s giving me a deeper appreciation of myself, other people and the world around me.

I’ve also become pretty adept at catching myself as I catastrophise a situation. When I worry about what could possibly go wrong, I can quickly bring myself back to the present moment and know that, right now, I’m okay. This potential future I’ve spun dangerously into doesn’t even exist. All that exists is this moment.

Recently however, I’ve been a little hard on myself when I find myself in my head. Get out of there Sharon, I shout. As if my head isn’t part of me.

When I feel excited about something, I immediately shut off that excitement. I tell myself that I’m silly for fantasising. I insist on being present. There’s no place for dreams Sharon, I scold. There is only now.

I convince myself that hope is a dirty word. Where there’s hope, disappointment will follow. 

It’s as if Eckhart Tolle has infiltrated my inner voice and I can hear his disapproval every time I slip into expectation or attachment. Of course, there’s massive wisdom in Eckhart Tolle’s teachings. And mindfulness is a wonderful practise. But what’s important is how we internalise these concepts.

Yesterday, I complained to my Life Coach that I’m not being present when I fancy a guy. I described being alone in my room thinking of a man I like.

The Life Coach asks me what that feels like. “It’s nice,” I answer. “I feel excited. But then, if things don’t work out the way I’d hoped, I feel so disappointed. I’m not being present.” I frown.

“Are you not being present?” he wonders.

Suddenly, I realise that I am being present. I’m actually always present. I’m always here.

I’m aware of myself as I fantasise. I’m aware as I attach hope to someone or something. I’m the witness, the consciousness, that’s observing everything, all of the time.

When I feel disappointed or excited, in love or anxious, it doesn’t mean I’ve taken a step back spiritually. It just means that I’m human. I’m experiencing and learning.

Being present doesn’t eradicate emotion. Mindfulness doesn’t obliterate thought.

I can be present in my hope and disappointment. I can think thoughts and I can watch myself as I think them. I can allow the inner child to play and get excited. And I can open up to love instead of closing myself off for fear of losing myself.

Mindfulness isn’t about being perfect and feeling zen all the time. It’s about being present to everything exactly as it is. It’s about observing and accepting.

With this new understanding, I feel relieved. I feel looser. I give myself permission to be a human being with wants, needs and desires. I allow myself to feel, to play and to love.

This frees me up to recognise myself as something bigger also. The witness who sees everything and doesn’t judge or criticise. And so I can allow all that is and be as I am.

meditationandmindfulnessforchildren.blogspot.ie

meditationandmindfulnessforchildren.blogspot.ie

Basic Human Needs

Last night, I read Marianne Power’s most recent post on the six basic human needs. Yes, it may seem like I’ve become obsessed with this woman and maybe I have. But not in a lesbian way. In an admiring, respecting, fellow-blogger-and-self-help-enthusiast way.

Anyway, I found Marianne’s post really interesting. Marianne is regurgitating self-improvement guru Tony Robbins’ work and I, in turn, am regurgitating Marianne’s work. But we’re all putting our own spin, experience and insights into it.

So here’s my take on Marianne Power’s take on Tony Robbins’ take on the six basic human needs. First of all, let me give you the six basic human needs, in Marianne’s words:

“Need 1: Certainty/Comfort
Our need to feel in control and secure.
Need 2: Uncertainty/Variety
Our need for variety, surprises.
Need 3: Significance
We all need to feel important, special, unique, or needed – some of us get a feeling of significance from our work, some do it by having a flash car or by getting a thousand Twitter followers. You can get significance by having more or bigger problems than anybody else (moi) and criminals get it by the attention they get for their crimes.
Need 4: Love & Connection
We all need love but many of us are terrified of it and settle for connection, through our romantic relationships, friendships, our pets, walking through nature.
Need 5: Growth
If you’re not growing, you’re dying – whether that’s growing your business, your relationships, your education etc.
Need 6: Contribution
‘Life’s not about me; it’s about we,’ says Tony, who reckons that giving is what life’s all about.”

Marianne suggests (or maybe it was Tony Robbins who suggested it but I can’t keep up) asking yourself the following question:

OUT OF THE SIX HUMAN NEEDS WHICH TWO HAVE YOU BEEN VALUING THE MOST?

For me, Significance has definitely been one of my biggest needs. I want to feel special and I get that feeling by writing this blog, taking selfies, getting likes on Facebook, doing well in school and college, and having men fancy me. I like to be liked. I love to be loved. And I want other people to think I’m nice, pretty, talented, funny and desirable.

Love and Connection is also high on my list of priorities. I don’t feel comfortable unless I’m connecting. I achieve this connection by communicating with others, meditating, and communing with nature. I seek connection through affection, intimacy and even technology. And through all this connection, what I’m really hoping to experience is love. Pure, beautiful, all-encompassing, unconditional love.

The next question is: WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES OF VALUING THOSE NEEDS?

The consequences I face are feelings of sadness, loneliness, rejection and depression when I delude myself that I’m alone, insignificant and unloved. I don’t deal well with criticism. And rejection is almost physical in its ability to wound me (hopefully not for much longer as I’m participating in this Rejection Therapy game).

In order to protect myself from the shadow side of significance, love and connection, I withdraw. I shut down. Or I try to be perfect because I convince myself that no one will love me otherwise.

Now, ask yourself: WHAT WOULD BE YOUR TOP TWO NEEDS NOW FOR YOUR LIFE TO TRANSFORM? 

For my life to transform, I have to prioritise Growth. Growth keeps you moving, learning, improving and evolving.

When I stop being so hard on myself, I can acknowledge that I actually am growing in all areas of my life. I’m attending courses, seeing a Life Coach, reading, making progress in my career, and changing the way I relate with life, other people and, most importantly, myself.

I also choose to focus on Contribution. Significance brings up a competitive streak in me. It’s all about being better, smarter and prettier. The need for significance fuels a striving to be more popular, more talented, more successful, more loved.

But life isn’t meant to be a competition. We’re all in this together. To be really spiritual about it, we’re all one.

Once I understand that, I want to cooperate and collaborate rather than compete. I want to help and share and give.

Tony Robbins says that Growth and Contribution are the needs that make you happy and fulfilled. He calls them Spiritual Needs, while the first four are the Needs of the Personality.

I actually felt chuffed that I’d got it “right”. There I go racing back to my need for Significance. But I’m aware of my tendencies now and the reasons behind them. I’m learning. There’s growth in that. And I’m sharing all of this with you guys. So I’m contributing.

Random image of my friend and I dancing on a mountaintop

Random image of my friend and I dancing on a mountaintop

Now to go off on a completely different tangent, today I remembered Marianne’s challenge to smile at strangers. I thought: That’s easy. I’m always smiling at strangers. 

Until I walked past an attractive man on a bridge this morning. I considered smiling at him but he was scowling. Cool, handsome scowling but scowling nonetheless.

I realised that smiling at strangers isn’t easy at all. I found it hard to look at this man, let alone smile at him.

I’d love to tell you that I felt the fear and smiled anyway. But I didn’t. I bottled it. But I did look at him, which is more than I’d have done before. Baby steps.

Another realisation I had on that bridge is that it’s easy to smile at strangers when they’re already smiling. Handsome, scowling men don’t invite smiles. But smiley, kind-faced people do. So I think we should all smile more.

And to waffle on for just a little longer, after last night’s post on wanting men to beat down my door (metaphorically of course), I received a random text from a man I went on a date with once. This “putting it out there to the Universe” stuff might actually work.

So, here goes… Are you listening, Universe? I would like a successful career that I love and that helps others to be all that they can be. I would like an abundant, happy life filled with peace, love, fun, laughter, beauty, friendship, enjoyment and adventure.

While I’m at it, I would like to be financially secure, own a great house, and go on lots of amazing holidays around the world. I would like health, wealth and well-being for myself and all my friends and family and the whole wide world.

And if you’re still listening Universe, I would like to get swept off my feet by (and have a healthy, wonderful relationship with) an older, available but equally smouldering version of Zayn Malik.

Even if he is scowling.

Even if he is scowling.

Image of Zayn Malik: http://www.heatworld.com

Into the Wild

“We’re supposed to be different. Thank goodness.”

I posted these words on my Facebook page yesterday evening along with a quote from Susan Cain’s insightful book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

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In Quiet, Cain explores the differences between introverts and extroverts. In a society that seems to reward the confidence, charm and exuberant energy of extroversion, introverts often feel the need to step up, speak out and pick up the pace just so they too can succeed at life.

In the questionnaire at the beginning of the book, I scored a whopping 18 out of 20. This signifies that I’m more of an introvert. It means that I enjoy my own company. I need space and time alone. I recharge by spending evenings in with a book or a movie. I get energy from walks in nature and lying in the sun. And I like to sit in stillness and reflect on my feelings and the meaning of life.

I’m a thinker and a writer. And I’m sensitive. Sensitive to beauty, music and wonderfully worded pieces of prose. I’m sensitive to energy, people’s moods and violence on the television.

I feel deeply. I get depressed. An act of kindness can bring me to tears. I marvel at the many miracles of the universe. Spirituality is more important to me than material things. I’m passionate about life. But at times I feel like I’m drowning in it.

When I feel intimidated, I shut up. It can take me a while to feel comfortable around new people. On nights out, I’d rather not compete with the loud music and the din of chatty pub-goers. So I don’t. My voice just doesn’t seem to carry. If someone really wants to hear what I have to say, we have to lean in to one another.

However, when I’ve had a drink, none of that matters. Cain likens an alcoholic beverage to a glass of extroversion.

Most people aren’t exclusively introverts or extroverts. I love being around people and I lead a fairly busy social life. I enjoy meeting friends and trying out new hobbies but I much prefer participating in deep conversations with one or two people rather than chatting in large groups.

I recognise the benefits of team playing and brainstorming but I work best alone in a quiet room where I can retreat, silence my phone, and concentrate.

When something is bothering me, I tend to write, meditate, read and think. Then I discuss my problems, one-to-one, with someone I trust.

I end romantic relationships if they’re not right. I’d rather be alone than with someone who doesn’t help me flourish.

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Last night, I watched Into the Wild for the second time. This true story is based on American adventurer Christopher McCandless. At twenty-four, Chris has fulfilled his parents’ dream of getting good grades and going to college. Then, instead of attending Harvard, he burns the remainder of his college fund, cuts up his social security and credit cards, and disappears, without a word, into the wild.

One of the reasons I love this film is because I feel it’s quite balanced in its storytelling. The different characters have different viewpoints, personalities and lifestyles.

We learn of Chris’ perspective on life. He resents the control and expectations of society and his parents. He wants to roam free. He needs to be independent and true to himself. He’s happiest when he’s diving into lakes, climbing mountains, and living off the land.

When he enters Los Angeles, he regards the skyscrapers and city-dwellers with an expression of disappointment and despair. We can almost see his soul dimming as he trudges through the metropolis. He imagines how his life could have been and he doesn’t regret his decision to break away. He can’t even stay one night there.

We also hear his sister’s version of events. She understands Chris’ reasons for abandoning the family. Her parents desperately desire a particular way of life for their son. Their intentions are good. This is the only way they know how to guide and protect him. But they’ve also caused their children a lot of pain. Ultimately, we watch them suffer too.

This movie really got me thinking. Was Chris acting selfishly? Was he foolish and naive? Or was he right to go on his own journey, to figure out his meaning of life, to really live and experience and come to his own conclusions?

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I’ve often felt different. I’ve struggled to fit in. I’ve felt stifled by society and I’ve agonised over the following:

What is being true to yourself? And what is running away? When do you stop living in the clouds and finally conform? When do you “settle down”?

Then there are the shoulds and norms of society. You should be responsible. That’s what being an adult is all about. You need a good job. You can’t live without money. You need your own home. When are you going to find a husband? Will you have enough time for children? For goodness’ sake, you won’t survive without a pension.

I got 525 points in my Leaving Certificate but secondary school may as well have been a battlefield for all the anxiety I experienced. I did well at swimming and athletics but competition didn’t sit well with me. I dropped out of college twice.

Truthfully, the only reason I went back to college as a mature student was because I felt I had to. How else would I become a functioning member of society?

I obtained a First Class Honours degree and received the Sunday World Cup for Best Student of Journalism with a Language. Though proud of my achievements and happy to gain approval from the people I care about, it added to the pressure I felt to do more with my life, to live up to my potential and to succeed.

And I don’t do well under pressure. So instead of applying for jobs in journalism, I threw myself into an alternative world of acupuncture, homeopathy, personal development and spirituality. And I’ve never been happier.

Of course, I still experience paralysing moments of fear. The voices in my head go something like this: What are you doing with your life? Grow up. Be normal.

So I tentatively move forwards with one eye clamped on everybody else in the world who’s doing things the “right” way. I compare, criticise and compete. I alter my behaviour and try to change who I am in the hope that I will prosper. I worry that I’m not adult enough for this big bad world of business and mortgages.

But what does “adult” mean? How “should” a 34-year-old woman live? Why must we all melt into one right way of doing things? We’re not all the same. That much is very clear.

Yes, there’s a reason why most of us follow the well-trodden path in life. There’s safety and security in the tried and tested route. Most people want to see life’s landmarks so they know where they are and what to expect around the corner.

But some of us thrive on change. The unknown excites us. Newness is revitalising. It’s what keeps that spark inside of us alight.

It’s a relief to realise that we don’t have to be the same as one another. We don’t have to compete because we each have unique gifts to bring to the world.

There’s no point trying to do things his way or attempting to be as good as her because you’re not them. You’re you.

Some of us want to climb the career and property ladders all the way to the top. And some of us are quite happy to keep our feet on the ground.

Whether we’re commuting to our permanent jobs, bringing our children to school or backpacking across the globe, we can be fully alive and true to the essence of who we really are.

Whether we’re writing fantasy novels, saving lives, cleaning the streets or designing websites, we can be the people we’re meant to be.

Whether we’re introverted or extroverted or a dollop of one and two tablespoons of the other, we are unique and perfect just as we are.

We’re different and brilliant in our all of our shade and all of our colour. We blend and we clash and we all come together in this stunning masterpiece of humanity.

We may think we know who we are. We stamp ourselves with neat and convenient labels so we can understand and make sense of the world around us. But life changes. We change. We grow and develop and we dip in and out of lots of different attributes and characteristics. Every colour of the rainbow is available to us to try on and see what suits us best.

And whether we’re paying into our pensions or collecting the dole, none of us can really know what to expect next. Nothing is certain.

The weather is unpredictable. And the terrain is constantly changing. We may want to know the exact directions to a predetermined destination. But we are all, in fact, walking into the unknown. We are all on a journey into the wild.

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