We’re drowning in advice about personal transformation; books, articles, speeches, and blogs chock-full of how-to’s and sage advice. In my earlier years, I ate it all up. I thought I needed to transform myself into who I wanted to be.
Today, after a couple decades of what others might call a mid-life personal transformation — changing my appearance, my career, my country of residence — I now realize that I didn’t transform at all.
I’d simply (finally!) taken off the mask, and then my outer world easily evolved to match my insides.
THE TRUTH IS, WE NEVER REALLY CHANGE
This may be an unwelcome truth, but here goes: we never really change. Just as a dog can’t change into a lion, or a mountain goat into an eagle, we can’t escape our realities. Here I am, like it or not.
We are our truest selves when we’re kids. If you’re one of the lucky ones, you stayed true to that identity as you grew up. But a lot of us — bewildered, believing we weren’t OK as we were, or sensing that we’d get more love if we showed up differently — donned masks to fit in.
Reassuring masks that helped other people feel more comfortable with us.
Constraining masks that squeezed us into boxy jobs designed for specific outputs, not for complex humans.
I kept wondering why I wasn’t content… why things just didn’t work the way I wanted, or why I couldn’t force myself to do the things I thought I should do. Perhaps Mindset 101 was simply too hard for me.
I was driven by the idea of personal transformation, which implies that there’s some magical process that could turn me into the person I wanted to be but wasn’t currently. I sought to eliminate the gap between me and my mask by changing myself to better fit into it… instead of simply taking it off.
I didn’t know that I was yearning to be mask-free — no wait, that’s not enough — to be seen and heard and appreciated for what was underneath the mask. Sound familiar?
Dazzled by too many options
As a coach for “rebels with a cause” — gifted outliers who are dazzled by too many possibilities — I’ve seen how capable we are. We’re quick learners, and it’s alluring to believe we can transform to be someone we’re not. Or that we can fit into snazzy-sounding jobs that really don’t suit us. Or that we can maintain relationships by being what they want us to be.
I can make this work, dammit. This was my refrain for too many years… until finally I accepted that I couldn’t be anything or anyone I wanted. I could only be myself. And the moment I reached this acceptance, everything changed for the better.
Transition, not transformation
Today I think of it more of a transition than a transformation: the same human transitioning into ever-more authentic levels, stepping into their own brilliant truths, making new choices that are more deeply aligned with our passions, strengths and limitations.
The butterfly is already encoded in the caterpillar’s DNA. It transitions; it doesn’t become something entirely different. Its true nature is — and always has been — to fly.
The process starts by seeing and hearing and appreciating ourselves for who we are: no but’s, should’s, self-criticism or judgment. It is enormously liberating to say, I love how unique I am. I don’t need no stinkin’ mask. I don’t need to fit into a box that someone else defined for me.
And I damned sure don’t need personal transformation.
When we finally step into our truth that we’d forgotten, we see all the ways that change truly is needed: not within ourselves as we used to believe, but in our outer worlds and lived experiences that we’d chosen to fit someone else.
The people who have only known your mask will believe you’ve transformed, but you’ll know you haven’t; you’ve simply accepted your true nature… and your wings.
Inviting others, but going alone
We can invite loved ones and friends to get to know us all over again: to set aside what they think they know about us, and enter into truer, deeper relationships. Some of them will, gladly, deeply grateful for the opportunity to know the real you and be known in return.
Others — the ones who love your mask — may be quite upset by this process. They may accuse you of abandoning them, of changing in ways that they can’t track. Eventually you may need to leave them behind, knowing that they’d be happier with someone who is genuinely the person you only appeared to be.
Yes, it’s hard to imagine a thriving, authentic life that fits you like a custom-made suit when that’s never been your experience.
But a lack of imagination doesn’t mean it’s not possible. And you don’t have to make any hard decisions right now. This whole process can be much easier than you might think; when we stop fighting against the current and simply fall into the flow of what is, embracing what’s true, magic happens.
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PPS: I coach rebels through transitions – within themselves, their personal lives, their careers, or even taking their businesses to the next level. I’d be happy to chat with you if you need a sounding board; you can book a no-obligation call here.