People often say that we should try walking in someone else’s shoes. Or they will tell us to try to see things from their point of view. We may hear “if I were you, I’d…..”. But you’re not me. And I could put on your shoes and, whether they fit or not, the path I take is still my own. I can try out your glasses, even if they are rose-colored, and still not see things from your point of view. When we get lost in ourselves, or try to be someone or something we aren’t, it helps to take a step back and try to find a way out. If we can’t, we need to throw out a lifeline. It’s who is there to catch it and reel you back in that matters. You need someone real to reel you in.
It’s human nature to be self-centered to some point. We have to. Ultimately the only person who can take care of us is us. There are varying degrees of how much people put themselves first and how crucial they believe it to be. There are those who will tell you it’s a dog-eat-dog world. Or every man for himself. Then, there are those who like to remind others that “there is no ‘i’ in teamwork. No man is an island. There are also people who constantly surround themselves with others but still feel incredibly lonely. Others like to be alone and are perfectly content to be their own best friend.
But back to being lost in ourselves. That can take us to a scary place. Our self image is a conglomeration of judgements, feelings, thoughts, intuitions and ideas. Watch a baby when they first look into a mirror. They are completely fascinated. They will reach out to touch their new friend. Do they know it’s them? I don’t think so. They reach out and the image’s hand reaches back. They knock their forehead up against the glass and their little friend does the same. Now think about someone who has completely lost herself. I think at some point in life, we all look into a mirror and ask who the hell it is we are looking at. It’s often surreal. It’s the closest we can come to taking a step back and looking into our own life. We SEE what others see when they look at us. But we can feel something completely different. When we reach out our hand, there may be a deep-seeded doubt, or fear, whether or not the other person in the mirror will in turn reach back to us. We see a physical appearance that everyone else sees. But the feelings that the image churn up are unique to us. There are days when we look at that person with pride, and the shoulders go back a little more, the chin goes up, and the corners of the mouth turn upward in a complacent grin. Other days, we can look at that person with complete disgust, remorse, guilt and incredulousness that they did the things they did. Not us, but them.
We may attempt to splash cold water on our faces as if it could somehow change or clean up the image and the feelings associated with it. There was an old Saturday Night Live skit with Al Franken (now a United States Senator) as Stuart Smalley, where he would look into a mirror and tell himself aloud: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it people like me!”. The segment was called “Daily Affirmations”. Sometimes, we do need to convince ourselves that what or who we see in the mirror is okay. A little pep talk. Being able to do this ourselves, self-affirmation, is a hugely important skill. For most of my life, I have been way too hung-up on what other people think of me. My need for external validation was surpassed only by my need for ice cream. Learning to rely more on myself and my own gut-check and less on the approval of others is a life-long lesson in growth.
Without a drink in my hand, the mirror becomes less cloudy. The Greek in me has used the Windex to wipe it clean, little by little. And I try to remember this:
“And here is my little secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.”—Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince