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Thursday, 19 June 2014

Time for a new T Shirt

Every one of us walks around wearing a T shirt which bears a slogan in invisible ink. Each slogan is different, but all of them spell out, in just a few words, our inner most de-motivational force. Perhaps yours says “Can’t Finish Anything” or “Care too Much About What People Think” or “Uber Control Freak.” Maybe it’s more like “I Come with Baggage” or “No One Gets Close to Me” or maybe it’s just one word: “Superficial.”

What do you think yours says? And who gets to see through your invisible ink? Can you?

Well, I have a few T shirts. Some I’ve given away because they are of no use to me anymore, while some are worn as thin as my favourite pair of pyjama pants. The one I wear most often has become so comfortable and shmooly, I’m worried the words have sunk through the fabric and permanently marked my skin. They read: “Not Good Enough.”

But there was a time when all of us didn’t own even one of these shirts. Before we branded ourselves with criticism and correction, we freely expressed ourselves and openly recognised our greatness. We were unbridled by fear and rejection. We were 5.

I know this because I stumbled upon my old Montessori report a few weeks ago, and flipped through it expecting to gain some perspective on how far I’d come since those carefree days of scrambling in the sandpit. Perhaps I would find an affirmation that I was on the right path, if there is one. Perhaps it could offer me some kind of comforting insight. Instead, I found myself in the midst of a 3 day emotional melt down after discovering that I might have peaked in Nursery School. Ah Crap.

The front page of my report showed two pictures of this awesome kid with no inhibitions and a complete disregard for what was stereotypically accepted as “fashionable.” Fuck Barbie and bobby socks, I wore a polka dot sweater under a lace flapper dress with my hair in a messy side ponytail.

The detailed report went on to say how I would lose interest in things once I understood them and how I would only partake in exercises that offered me a new challenge. In my mind all I could hear were the words of a palm reader I met in India just 3 years ago: “You are curious. You will always be curious in life, don’t feel bad about it. It’s a good thing to be.”

I read further… Carly often requests that we mark her work as if she were in “Big School” and sometimes cuts a star out of gum paper to stick on her forehead when she’s done a good job. Remember when you didn’t need someone else to tell you what your worth was, at the office, in a relationship or otherwise? Recognising that I once possessed such confidence and belief in my capabilities, made me sad and angry. Why can’t I do that now? Why do I need to hear these things from other people in order for them to be true?

Carly has been the clear leader of the class this year. She has very good manners and will often correct the other students if they do not say Please or Thank You. Once upon a time I didn’t have a filter that sifted through what I believed in my gut in order to output a response which was acceptable and comfortable for everyone else. I said what I meant and I meant what I said, with no apologies or sugar coatings. I stood up for what I knew was right. No second guessing. No self-scrutinizing.

I don’t really know what I expected to feel when I opened those yellowy creased pages but what was presented to me shook me to the core and made me vastly aware of a deficit in my soul - part of myself that I had boarded up for everyone else’s convenience.

Everyone uses the phrase “It’s time to grow up,” well you know what I think? I think it’s time to un-grow up. Undo all those things that quieten our voices, scrunch up all those nasty reviews that make me, and maybe you, believe that I am “Not Good Enough.”

I came out of the darkness and stumbled on the thought that maybe I could be good enough. Maybe I always was. But it didn’t sit right. It felt cumbersome and awkward. How could I be? I needed something else to say, a mantra to convince myself of this revelation. And I found one.

I watched a show on Maya Angelou, a famous poet and a personal heroine of mine, and in it she quoted the Roman playwright Publius Terentius Afer who said: “Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto” which translates to: I am a human being. Nothing human can be alien to me.

As soon as I heard it my body tingled and twanged with truth. I suddenly thought, why not? Why can’t I be as successful as Obama, as gracious as Mother Theresa, as marvellous as Marilyn Munroe? They are all human, we’re all made of blood and guts aren’t we? If they can reach greatness, scientifically there’s no reason why I can’t.

And just like that, I started wearing a new shirt. Not every day and not all day. I get the feeling it’s one of those shirts that grows on you. The kind people are always complimenting you on because it looks good on you. Because it matches what you have on underneath it all, under the material and under the skin, under all the stuff you protect yourself with. A shirt that reads: “I Can Do Anything”

My old shirt is lying at the bottom of a pile of laundry. Maybe someday it will get lost or maybe I’ll wear this one so much, I’ll forget all about it. Either way, I’m so grateful to that little 5 year old for teaching me how to unlearn, how to be unmeasurably authentic and how to know when it’s time for a new T shirt.