Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know. Actually, I feel safe in generalizing that we consistently, predictably, inevitably don’t know what we don’t know. There is so much about our physical world that is unknown, and that world is for the most part, largely observable and measurable. Now consider our emotional/psychological world. Much of that world is by definition, unconscious. This is undiscovered territory.
When I am open to exploring this undiscovered territory, I feel like I uncover something new about myself all the time. I know I’ve also made many assumptions about myself that I have eventually found to be completely wrong, assumptions in place and unquestioned for literally decades.
I know a lot of people who seem to be more certain about who they are, what they can do, what they know, than I am. Are other people’s beliefs about themselves just more on target than mine? Or is it that they have not yet begun questioning their own long-standing assumptions?
There are certain assumptions that I have made that I think have been good for me. I have always thought I was fairly smart, kind of cute, kind of fun to be with, sort of unconventional, pretty outspoken, a hard worker, a caregiver. Those are mostly good assumptions and helped me be an effective at my job and mothering (I won’t draw conclusions on the wife role I played for so long).
But there were also other assumptions that I think served only to confine me to thoughts and actions that were safe, but not necessarily true. For instance, I’ve always thought I was not creative, not artistic, not intuitive, not empathic, not attractive. Is there anything wrong with that? I mean, what does it really matter how I view myself and my capabilities or assets?
Some labels that I thought were good were actually sometimes bad. Often, I used the caretaker label to create an unnecessary and unhealthy burden on myself and dependency in others. The outspoken self sometimes over-compensates and isn’t able to self-advocate. The hard worker sometimes doesn’t know how to relax. Being invested in my smart self sometimes means that I over-value cognition when other talents, such as intuition and empathy are just as or even more important.
Probably a bigger problem with my prior assumptions was that I was quitting in areas “I was not good at” before I even started. I closed off to myself whole worlds of creativity, artistry, intuition, spirituality and empathy. I just knew I wasn’t good at those things. So why try? These parts of myself that I could’ve been exploring, cultivating, nurturing have just languished for decades. So have the same parts of my human potential. If this was my approach when I went to the gym, I might focus only on my strong upper body muscles and neglect my weak legs and buttocks, leaving me looking like some kind of female, tree-swinging primate.
At this point in my life, I want to try to recognize and cultivate ALL my strengths and interests, rather than being an intellectually, psychologically and emotionally lopsided, knuckle-dragging orangutan. I still don’t know what all my latent strengths are, but I have a much better idea of them than I used to. Some of these strengths and interests, like writing about and cultivating positivity and optimism in others, were not ever on my radar until recently. Once I was open to both self-discovery and not being so darn left-brained all the time, this passion came out of hiding.
I didn’t even know that I had these self-defeating and obstructive self-assumptions, self-images, self-perspectives. It’s easy to understand why they were there. By questioning my own assumptions about my hidden talents, I may also have uncovered unacknowledged, hidden liabilities. Way too scary to go there. So scary, I didn’t even know it should go onto my To Do When I’m Not Terrified list.
So, all those things that I don’t-know-what-I-don’t-know are there to protect me from myself. They keep me in my safe little assumption-cocoon where I don’t have to face the possibility of being worse than I already am. They also prevent me from facing the possibility that I’m better than I think I am.
It took me way longer to get here than it probably should have. But it’s a journey that I began only when I was ready to embark. I had to be ready to confront whatever I might find, good or bad. I had to be ready to admit that no one is perfect, least of all me. I had to be ready to forgive myself for just being human. I had to be ready to focus on my potential, not my shortcomings. I had to be ready to free myself from the burden of the unfair assumptions made by myself and others that I have carried for decades, and the feeling of freedom and empowerment that resulted from this release. I had to be ready to nurture all of me, not just the little pieces that I allowed myself to recognize.
The interesting thing about being open to all of my possibilities is that it’s like the Matrix. Once you see what your true (relatively speaking) reality is, you just can’t go back. And you really don’t want to anyway. The weather is nice in the undiscovered territory, come out to play.