For much of my life, I let my personality and my ego lead the way. While many may have differing ways of interpreting this comment, I am comfortable with it. It is neither good or bad, it is just the way I functioned. We could analyze it and critique my successes and failures, but I am not looking backwards.
In recent years I have been going through changes. Upon turning fifty I declared that I would “make 50 to 75 the best years of my life”. This is still a work in progress (I am now 54 years old). I have started living by the motto “Try New Things”. It is the best thing I have ever done. The list of things I have done is growing, and some may find a few of the adventures interesting. The byproduct of of trying new things is it is changing how I engage in the world.
In the past, if someone criticized me it would bruise my ego. Maybe even hurt. Badly. But know, negative comments or critiques, while not joyful, they are mile markers. If someone is upfront with me about a mistake or flaw, I listen and try to learn from the input. If their opinion of me is negative, I have come to learn I cannot control the narrative they have written in their mind. What they think of me may or may not even be true, but to defend myself will never change their mind. In fact, people dig in deeper on their opinions if challenged.
Meditation and searching of my own soul has become a daily practice. I have come to find that my soul is hungry to learn from my shortcomings and desires to improve. My ego and personality just want to win or be right. Well, I have not always won, and being wrong is part of being human. My ego can be bruised, and I was always trying to hide any pain. But others cannot hurt my soul in the same ways.
The big lesson this has taught me is that we all judge other people on the little pieces we see. Our minds write narratives, and that becomes our view of that person and is rarely ever open to change. People (myself included) do not forgive people for their shortcomings, and rarely seek extra information around their judgement. Guilty. But now I try hard to get past looking at other people as ego and personality. It is harder to see their soul, but I look. When I have a negative memory of someone I now want to always grant them a fresh canvas, as a small glimpse into someone through limited interaction is not enough to fully have an opinion.
Recently I got an email from someone who wanted to share how I offended them ten years ago. They felt disrespected by me. Five years ago their email would have made me angry and defensive. Instead I read it, heard their point of view and did some soul searching. I have no memory of the incident, but can see how it happened. I was extremely insecure at the time around this person, and my ego would have put up walls. I cannot create a time machine and fix the problem. Plus it was clear that this person will never change their opinion of me as a human. For her own reasons she wanted to share the story with me, and I respect her sending the email. The part that is sad is that I had so much respect for this person. Maybe more than just about anyone in my industry ten years back. Her feeling disrespected makes me so sad that I was not able to communicate my feelings and that my actions brought her negative feelings. I almost cried when I read her words and considered to never respond. But I decided to say “I am sorry”. And I am sorry.
Her words made me feel my ego and personality in ways I had not in a long time. But I sat quietly and realized that I was wrong and today I would have handled the situation differently. Since I do not recall the exact exchange, I cannot let my ego write a narrative to fill in the blanks. Instead, my soul is embracing my flaws and trying to just be okay in the moment. My mistakes of a decade ago are not a yoke on my soul today. And while it is taking some effort for my ego and personality to not be defensive, my soul is embracing the lesson.
While there are few second chances with other people, you can give yourself as many chances as you need to expand and grow. I choose to be a better man tomorrow than I was today.
By the way, this is hard. I spent years protecting my personality and ego from difficulties, but my soul seems to be more flexible and willing to face the pitfalls of being alive and engaged with others. It is more grounded and true to who I am, not any image I wanted to portray.
You can bruise my ego, but not my soul.
Thom Singer is a work in progress.