I was stuck for decades. Years and years of writing the same thing in my journals, suffering through jobs that didn’t feel like they fit me, relationships that weren’t working, trying on different identities in search of myself… all in search of making whatever felt wrong go away, and start feeling right.
Things finally started coming together when I recognized that everything and everyone that pushed a button in me, positively or negatively, were mirrors of myself. They reflected parts of me that I couldn’t or wouldn’t see. While the clearest mirrors were relationships, they also included certain movies I watched compulsively. And by studying what I saw in those mirrors, I could either find my authentic self or understand the process to do so.
I started looking for the common denominators in The Matrix, Wanted, Divergent, and, more recently, Unbreakable. These were the movies that captivated me, and I wanted to know what I was trying to tell myself through compulsively rewatching these movies.
Bottom line, they are all based on the same plot line: the hero’s journey. The next few posts will outline what they have in common that guided me in my own path to finding my authentic self. The first two:
Honor the splinter in your mind.
In all four movies, the heroes struggle with the sense that something isn’t right with their lives. The mind splinter drives us mad for a reason; it’s telling us that we aren’t where we’re supposed to be… that we are settling for less, or missing our mark completely. Ignoring the splinter doesn’t make it go away; we just cover it up with distractions like overwork, overplay, busyness, alcohol, and other addictions. Or we continue trying to be someone we’re not because it’s familiar, it’s rewarded by those close to us, or it’s what the world tells us we should be.
Society (family, friends, region, religion, etc.) dictates an endless list of expectations about how we’re supposed to look, who we’re supposed to love, what kind of risks to take, what career we should have. And we end up with a society of sheep instead of the wonderfully diverse tapestry of individuality that make up this country. Because we’re biologically wired to fit in for safety, we buy into these stories.
I believe that our desire to fit in is quite possibly the #1 reason for depression, suicide, and substance abuse in this country… because we have abandoned our true selves in favor of belonging to the wrong tribe through either birth or choice. And that self-abandonment is more than most people can handle.
If your splinter shows up as a fear of abandonment, start here: with all the ways you’ve abandoned your authentic self, and start reclaiming and owning who you really are. Find a new tribe in which your unique individuality is celebrated. You might find that fear of abandonment magically eliminated, as I did. Which leads to the second lesson:
Own it all, even what seems crazy.
Neo rejected Morpheus’ belief that he was the one. David in Unbreakable rejected the notion that he had superpowers (BTW: we all have superpowers). Wesley in Wanted thought it was ludicrous that he could be part of the Fraternity.
“I’m not the One, Trinity. I’m just an average guy.” — Neo, The Matrix
These movies show that even if your truth is staring you in the face, you might be blind to it or simply reject it out of hand. Not only will our truths not appear self-evident, it’s often the last thing we want to consider because we’ve bought into other conflicting stories about how life should be. And when we’re married to our stories, we can’t see other possibilities.
So how do we know what to own? In the movies, an outside Teacher magically appeared to inform our heroes of their potential and truth, and train them in the new way. Wouldn’t that be nice? Alas, in reality, we usually have to be our own teachers, and we only find clues if we’re paying attention. These clues nearly always reflect what is already true for you.
One essential clue is the word “should,” particularly as it relates to identity. Most of us “should” ourselves constantly, which is great if we’re paying attention. It’s a dead giveaway of the stories we’ve bought into that are actually not true for us. It helps us juggle our sense of reality so we feel better. Should provides a great starting place for surfacing and owning what is. Make a list of all your should’s, and next to it write what is actually true. Now embrace and own that second list.
Our greatest potential is being more of who we already are. The more we embrace, even the parts that we don’t particularly like, the less of a struggle we’ll have fighting our own natures. And this ownership, this grasp on reality, provides a firm foundation for evolution and growth. Now we know what we’re working with, hairy warts and superpowers and all, and we can find where we really belong.
That wraps up part 1. Stay tuned for Part 2. I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Do you have any good go-to movies for self-improvement that I’m missing? Any parts that aren’t clear?