A regular customer came into the store the other day and, while waiting for his order to be finished, said (referring to one of my coworkers), “I can’t believe she was a homecoming queen.” I smiled, and said, “She is a lot more rad than you’re giving her credit for.” He didn’t let it go at that, saying “In what way? Tell me.” So I responded with a few really cool facts about her and her life.
That’s when the customer said, “So, what happened to her?!”
What I wanted to say (a partial list, in no particular order):
- She got stuck in a service industry job being judged by pricks like you;
- A really crappy ex-husband;
- It’s tough making a living as an artist, despite being incredibly talented;
- Anxiety about how to feed her kids and keep a roof over their heads.
What I actually said: “Life.”
And it’s true. Life happens. Among other things, it brings challenges and disappointments, dangers and hurts of the kind that drain us of energy, tarnish our sparkle or steal our mojo: leaving us shell-shocked or bewildered as we shamble on through each day.
And yes, many of us end up shambling through our lives like sleepwalking bears – clumsy, unfocused, breaking things. Even if we believe that we create our own destiny by making our own choices. Even though we know that our own attitude and “positude” can be major determinants of how fulfilled or happy we are each day, not to mention in the long-haul. Even if we believe in inspiration and motivation and all the quotes and memes we post to remind us that we believe these things. Even then, life happens and it can bring us down.
When other people judge us or find us lacking, it hurts. But the truly hard moments are when we stop shambling and wake up enough to look at our lives and judge ourselves as lacking. We ask, “What happened to me?,” and the answer is both “Everything” and “Nothing”.
“Everything”, because if we take the time to tease them out, we can follow the threads of experience that lead to each moment when we felt ourselves fail, discovered we were not up to the task, were diminished by hurt or the actions of others. Mostly, the everything that happened which drained us of inspiration, motivation and resolve just feels like an amorphous blob that blotted out our inner spark.
But that’s only half of the answer. “Nothing” is also part of the answer, and it is the hopeful part. Because despite the things that have happened to us, the talents, gifts, experiences – the spark that is our true self – is still there. Obscured by the grime of daily living, perhaps, but capable of sparkling again.
I’ve seen the truth of this in the lives of some pretty incredible people who managed to turn their inner lights back on after they were dimmed by life’s “everythings”. And I have the proof of my own reawakening to life after years of shambling along (where do you think I got the image of the sleepwalking bear? That was totally me!).
If there’s one thing I’ve learned through both observation and personal experience, it’s that not one of us gets back to our true self without the help of others: friends who become our cheerleaders; personal trainers who address our wholeness, not just our bodies; loved ones who set aside their own fear of change in order to help us realize the changes we hope to make. Synchronicity and serendipity get involved too, bringing us into contact with virtual strangers whose guidance and support touch us at the very moment they are most needed.
When our customer asked “So, what happened to her?”, I felt defensive on my co-worker’s behalf. And I realized in that moment just how important it is to look for ways to support the spark in those around me. To dig deep and find a well of compassion for the “everything” that has happened to them – and, when appropriate, to use that compassion to help the other person breathe new life into that spark. To help them remember that “nothing” has also happened…they are still talented, gifted, and have a wealth of life experience to draw from.
I also intend to use that same compassion with myself. When I look in the mirror and ask, “What happened to you?”, I intend to acknowledge both the “everything” AND the “nothing”. And then nurture the heck out of the intact talents, gifts and experiences that are the stuff of my own inner spark.