I’m in Cleveland this week to kick off the fourth semester of my Master’s program - a week-long immersion in positive organizational development and change known as the “residency.” Classes start on Sunday afternoon and run straight through Saturday afternoon.
The residency is not just a full immersion into the subject matter, it’s a full immersion into oneself - fully witnessed and supported by 30-some other members of a cohort. The amount of personal, as well as professional, development done during these times together is nothing short of life-altering. Tomorrow I will leave Cleveland, just as I have every time before, drained and exhausted, but exhilarated and eternally grateful for the week that just happened.
It is a fantastical, amazing, once-in-a-lifetime alter universe.
One would think, with all this deep self-examination and magical-unicorn-like growth, it would be all sunshine and roses. And how I wish that were true. But, the fact of the matter is, with this much introspection and change, shit can get scary. When so many of your historical assumptions - about yourself and your world - are deeply examined, and turned upside down and inside out, you can easily lose sight of your north star. You can just, kinda, get lost sometimes. Before you even realize it, the demons can start to creep in and you find yourself resorting to old behaviors to cope.
It happened to me this residency as a matter of circumstance. The majority of my cohort stays in the same hotel while in town so, even when we are not in class together, we are living - and playing - together. And playing, for a good portion of the cohort, means spending time together every night after class at one of the many local restaurants/bars. I tried to join in a few times this past week, but in each instance I ended up uncomfortably full from poor food choices and grazing for too many hours on end. I am just not in a space right now where that kind of temptation is a good idea, so I essentially segregated myself.
In staying behind, however, I got to spend some quality time with a few other members of the cohort who also chose not to go out - taking long walks with them or talking for hours over one - just one - glass of wine.
I hiked up my big girl panties and patted myself on the back as I told myself how proud I was of me for recognizing my limitations and giving myself a little grace.
But then, as the members of the cohort who had gone out together, en masse, began to pour into the classroom every morning, giggling at their inside jokes - jokes I was no longer part of because I had missed out on the long night at the bar - I started to shrink. I was jealous… sad to not be a part of those inside jokes, sad not be “in the know” and sad to be on the outside.
It set off a vicious cycle of emotions and self-doubt… a metaphorical ought-self shit sundae.
First layer: A solid base of FEAR
Was it all going to unravel?
When did being “in the know” suddenly begin to matter to me again? That was a demon that had been dealt with long ago in therapy, after all. I hate it when I think I’ve conquered something only to find out that it still has the power to sneak back in. Because, if that lesson can be unlearned so easily, what other lessons was I going to start unlearning?
Forget that it took me 40+ fucking years to learn the wrong lesson in the first place… I should correct that shit overnight, right?!
Second layer: A steaming pile of SHOULD
Where’s Waldo? And by “Waldo” I mean my goddamned gratitude.
Where the fuck had my attitude of gratitude gone? I mean, it’s not like I was holed up in my hotel room, alone, after all. I had been party to some amazingly intimate and personal conversations and moments with other classmates. My sadness was a dishonor to them and I really should just be grateful for their fellowship.
Third layer: A heaping ladle of SELF-DOUBT
It’s not you - it’s me?
Even though I tried not to do it, I couldn’t help but question why I was no longer on the “inside.” Was it really a matter of circumstance or was it a matter of choice - their choice? Had I done something to offend them.
Yes, all of them… because self-doubt is so not rational.
Fourth layer: A thick ribbon of INSECURITY
“Why nooooooooooot?” asked in the whiniest voice ev-ah.
How could I even beginning to imagine such ill intent of such amazing people?! They’re just doing what they always do, after all. I can’t expect them to alter their plans because of my Tiny Tummy.
“But, why not?” I whined in my head. I would have changed my plans if they had made such a request.
Fifth layer: A thin layer of PANIC
Christ on a cracker! Another lesson unlearned!
The voice of therapists past crept up in my mind. “Why didn’t you ask? What’s the worse that could have happened?” Fuck! Another lesson unlearned.
The cherry on top: A fuckload of SHAME
Fuck, I should have asked! Healthy people ask for what they want. That’s one of the most important lessons that my coach ever taught me. The coach I lambasted just a few blog entries ago. What the hell, let’s throw in some guilt for being mad at a him.
My precious snowflakes, sometimes it is simply exhausting to be me. Or, you know… human.
While I live for these moments of introspection and, more importantly, realization, I long for a day when the self-doubt and the shame and the “shoulds” go away permanently. My bank of psychic energy is finite and I would much rather spend it learning new lessons that reviewing those of old. I suspect, however, that we never become so enlightened that some of the old self-doubts can’t creep back in. The trick, I believe, is to be able to quickly recognize them and cycle through them before they do too much new damage.
So, tonight, instead of beating myself up for falling back on old behaviors that no longer serve me well, I choose to be grateful for the fact that the I was able to recognize and stop the shit sundae before it stole an entire week of amazing experiences.
Be gentle with yourself tonight, my precious snowflakes… and you too, Ursula Ann.