Finding Inspiration Part 2 – Monday Motivation #41
Last week I wrote about the stories of two women; their stories are inspiring and moving – each on their own but even more so when taken in tandem with one another.
Both of these women have had life experiences that give them a “pass” – things that really give them permission to step back from the leading edge.
Malala was raised in the violent Swat Valley in Pakistan, under the oppressive hand of the Taliban in a “Wild West” kind of existence. She talked in her interview with Jon Stewart about terrorism and I’m guessing many people thought of “those terrible al Qaida and Talibani people;” for Malala, those people are right there in her neighborhood. They’re not a distant intangible threat that the military is handling – they exist right outside her front door. The thought of this very real situation had me considering all the people who are living destitute lives in third world nations, who’ll never know the joy of even the most basic things Americans get to experience. I thought about young girls who’ll never learn to read, of starvation, of people without clean running water.
Considering their hardships, comparing their lives to mine and began to feel down, heavy and somewhat ashamed.
And during Diana’s interview with Oprah Winfrey on Super Soul Sunday, she told a story of a time when she was a young swimmer being molested by her coach. She spoke of how it had affected her and how she found escape in swimming and in the water. She went on to say that she had told her story of abuse and of success as a public speaker at a number of events.
Again, I felt like I’ve not done enough in my life, like I have no excuse to be so “lazy” or to have accomplished so little.
Excuse: “What’s the point?” …
There is a place where even inspirational stories become oxidized by our inner voice, rusted by shame.
On the one hand, there’s a big bold happy voice that says “if they can do it, I can do it. Really, you can do anything you dream of.” This was the theme of Monday Motivation #40 – the approved public message that is supposed to come from stories like these – the “correct” message.
“Go get ‘em, Tiger!”
says that voice, smiling at me just like Tony-the-Tiger on the cover of my Frosted Flakes Cereal box.
But there’s a second voice too.
That voice says “why haven’t you gotten ‘em already? You don’t have half the obstacles those people had and yet this is all you’ve done with your life?!”
That little voice isn’t one that I allow to ever become audible; if I did people would shun those ideas and balk at them and maybe ridicule me for thinking such things. But in my head, those voices bellow, echoing off the inside of my skull and reverberating messages that keep me trapped in a state of malaise. Those voices actually then become my excuse to fail – the reason that I need not reach for my dreams – they offer me an excuse that is actually derived from the very comparison to these stories of inspiration:
“You are already an unmotivated couch potato. You’ve failed already – so why even try? You’ll never catch up to what you could have been.”
Diana went on to tell of a woman she met at one of her speaking engagements. As the elderly woman reached out to get something, she saw a serial number tattooed on her arm and asked if she’d been a holocaust survivor; the woman said yes and recounted her horrifying story:
She was raised born in Poland and, as WWII raged on, some SS soldiers appeared at her door insisting that the entire family come with them. Her father refused and was shot on the spot in front of his wife and children; her mother and six year old sister were then dragged away, never to be seen again. And she herself was immediately taken to be a concubine to the SS Officer who’d just killed her father. She was just 3 years old.
At this point, my inner voice is thinking we should get motivated enough to go find a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to snuggle up with before we hear the ending of the story – a fat failed couch potato is surely all I can succeed at being now… I’m nothing compared to the strength of these women!
Can I be excused…?
At this point, Diana gave my inner voice the volume it needed. She immediately apologized to the woman saying that she felt so ashamed for having brought up her “little story” of having been molested by her coach. Suddenly Diana felt embarrassed to have chosen to share this life struggle because it seemed so tiny in comparison to what the Holocaust survivor had experienced.
I was crying at this point, feeling precisely the same shame and feelings of failure just moments earlier.
I think so many of us do that though: we see the struggles of others and we think it invalidates our own struggle, we think that we must be weak and silly for having the feelings we do about the things we have experienced – the things we have allowed to traumatize us. Malala’s life has already been so much harder than mine and at 16, she has already gone so much further than I could have ever dreamed at her age. The Holocaust survivor – how can I possibly think that my life of childhood neglect and abuse were more than a tiny slap in comparison to what she survived??
We begin to shame ourselves all over again – taking a triumphant inspiring story and using it to beat ourselves over the heart with it, reminding ourselves of our unworthiness. We want to be excused from the proverbial table – triumph is a meal best eaten without losers …
Self-Compassion is not that same as an excuse …
The Holocaust survivor stopped Diana in her tracks before she could continue chastising herself and she said the thing that I think validates us all in the most perfect way. She said to Diana, “Don’t you EVER say that!
Every human being on this planet has their pain and their heartache and it’s up to all of us to find our way back to light.”
I’ll never forget what she said. Those words from a stranger validate me – they validate every single one of us.
Your pain is real. Your struggles are real. No less real than anyone else’s pain and heartache. You are like everyone else in that way: everyone struggles, and each struggle is different; regardless, no single struggle invalidates another.
(Ironically, I said something very similar in a comment on a friend’s blog back in August, but I think I’d barely come in touch with the essence of those thoughts back then).
In as much as your pain is real, accept this too:
Your dreams are real.
And so are your possibilities.
This is your journey, your pain, your story, your life.
I love when people comment! I would love to know your thoughts on this blog topic. Do you sometimes feel like when others succeed, it shines a light on the fact the you haven’t succeeded? What do you do to overcome that?
And if you would like to see Diana Nyad telling this specific story, you can find the video on YouTube here.