“To live what is right and to let what is false die, that is the art of life.” A quote by Carl Jung that took me 33 years to internalize.
My journey hasn’t been easy. I’ve spent a lot of time striving to be someone I’m not, in the hopes of leading a “successful life.” Today — my mind at peace — the disappointments of the past are mended scars that serve as reminders of how far I’ve come to accept who I truly am.
A story can always be taken back to the fragile days of our childhood. “Fragile” because as children we are vulnerable, inexperienced, and our environment — something entirely out of our control — shapes who we are. My biggest cause of anxiety growing up was school, the teachers in particular.
I attended a strict private school where my instructors unabashedly yelled out their students’ grades, ridiculing the low marks and praising the high ones. I remember feeling overcome by panic the days our report cards were read out loud. I waited nervously in anticipation and prayed that I’d done well enough to avoid being humiliated in front of all of my peers.
Second grade was an especially traumatic time in my life. My teacher chose to blame her inability to teach on the “incompetence” of her students. Flashbacks come to me of an incident I had blocked out for many years.
My small, terrified, and defenceless body; face buried in my hands. The overpowering figure of a woman filling the uncomfortably quiet room with her shouts. The feeling of her angry hands grabbing me and pushing me around the classroom. A defeated “me” stumbling clumsily to my desk (once released from her grip) — face still buried in my hands — frozen in shame for the remainder of class.
Experiences like these quieted my spirited and imaginative soul, and I naturally drifted towards a path of dutifulness, achievement, and leading by example — all in the hopes of proving my worth and avoiding humiliation. As humble, conscientious, and hard working people, my parents understood this to be a perfectly acceptable path chosen by the eldest and most responsible of their three girls.
I never told them about the abuse I experienced in school. They were always very loving parents, who afforded me and my sisters luxuries that most modest middle class families couldn’t permit themselves. They always did what they thought was best for us. After all, I managed to keep my anxiety buried; it only manifested itself in subtle ways.
I was a straight A student, but only because I dedicated my life to studying. I had never actually been taught to love to learn. I just went through school robotically, spending more time memorizing than actually learning. The good grades would get me closer to my goal of leading a “successful life.” Never mind that the educational system was failing me.
Unfulfilled yet conditioned to endure for the greater “benefit” of being someone that my parents could be proud of, I dealt with stress by “controlling my world.” Only today, in writing my story, do I realize this to have been a coping mechanism.
My room was a museum that I cleaned manically every weekend and into which my sisters were prohibited to enter, for fear that they mark my recently vacuumed carpet with their footprints. I spent Friday nights slouched over my desk recopying class notes, so that my notebooks looked pristine — not a single word scratched out. A time consuming endeavor I prioritised over hanging out with family and friends.
Summers were the only time in the year that I received a brief repose from the pressures of the “real” world. My parents saved every penny to afford me and my sisters the luxury of traveling to France to visit my mom’s side of the family.
I spent hours on end in my grandparents’ backyard tucked away in a tree, contentedly gorging on juicy cherries. My cousins and I converted my grandfather’s pigeon coop into a little house, equipped with a kitchen and a bed, where I dedicated time to reading books I actually wanted to read. We made “magic potions” with the garden’s gooseberries, and trampled my grandmother’s flower beds in her oversized heels, picking roses and pansies for our make-believe weddings.
There is a recurring theme in my life of mother nature acting as my haven. As a child, she was the wise old woman who wanted to cradle me in her arms, and reassure me that I needn’t be so hard on myself. But that concept was foreign to a ten year old — conditioned to chase “success” — and my carefree ways were limited to my summer escapades.
The seriousness with which I confronted life intensified as college approached. The major I would pursue was predetermined to be one that aligned with my ultimate goals. Where my classmates opted to study subjects they were interested in, I lay awake at night projecting myself into the future — envisioning and crafting the life I was going to lead and the job I was going to succeed at. Feelings, interests, and likes were just semantics. I wanted to get to where I needed to be, never mind if I enjoyed the journey or not.
Little did I know then, that you cannot “reap the crops of success” if what you portray on the outside is not aligned with the very “semantics” I so blatantly dismissed. The essence of “who you are” is the key to success. Success, that is, in its rightful sense. How you choose to share your “gift” is the tool by which you empower yourself and others.
“Who you are” is born from within. It cannot be fabricated nor manipulated into something that it is not. That tactic will only lead to unhappiness.
Only when you are true to yourself, will success come knocking.
By Emilie Moore. To read more about her story check out her website www.emiliemoore.com