This month marks my thirty-eighth year as a card carrying member of planet Earth. As my birthday draws near I am naturally going through a period of personal reflection. A time in which I take stock, reevaluate, and move forward with new appreciations and (hopefully) mounting wisdom.
Every year since my thirty-sixth birthday, as I add another tic mark to my increasing age, my mind wanders to the remembrance of one person: Princess Diana. I was twenty years old when the People’s Princess died. She was (and still is) an iconic, larger than life figure who will be forever remembered in the history books. Passing at the age of thirty-six, she seemed so young. Yet in her short life she had accomplished so much, all of which made her seem so much older than her actual age. It wasn’t until I turned thirty-six myself that I realized just how young Diana was when she died– and how much I felt like I had accomplished next to nothing in my own thirty six years. As I compared my world to that of Diana’s all I saw looking back at me was stagnation and routine. It was then that I had an obvious slap in the face, dose of reality, press pause moment. What am I doing comparing myself to Diana, Princess of Wales – a clearly unfair and unbalanced comparison. There is no equitable association between her and anyone else on earth – let alone ME. Yet my self-conscious and relentless personal drive repeatedly ignores this in so many aspects of my life.
As I approach another birthday, having now lived two years longer than the great princess, I am again peeling back the layers of my existence. As I continue to struggle with the concept of perception versus reality, I once again reference one of my favourite quotes: “One person’s reality is another person’s dream”, for its message rings more truly for me during this time of year than at any other point on the calendar.
What do these wise words mean? Basically, enjoy your world, your existence, your now. Appreciate it, honour it. Someone out there is looking at you with rose coloured glasses wishing that they had what you have. I may not have children, lots of money, or my own home but I have a roof over my head, honest work, and loving parents. I know people who would give their right arm to have what I have. People whose only wish is to be free of financial worry and personal abuse; whose one hope is to feel safe from the moment they wake up until they can lay their head down at night. My reality IS their dream. Princess Diana’s reality was my dream. As I approach middle age, a milestone Lady Di never saw, I now realize that reality isn’t always what the package depicts. Crabgrass grows on the other side of the fence too.
Where we get stuck is not using our available resources to challenge ourselves for the better. We routinely fail to make it over the “if only’” and “what if” hurdles of our vocabulary. Taking a mental inventory of what I have access to in my own life – from a pile of abbreviated letters behind my name to a safe home environment – I am an extremely fortunate and rich human being. However, if I were to change that perception to that of an outsider looking in my suspicion is that I am viewed as quite the opposite – a nearly forty year old single woman living with her parents working a pretty basic library job. The reality however? I am the happiest I have ever been and look forward to each new day with excitement and anticipation. Life really IS good.
However, there is a definite shift going on in my life, one that I can feel with almost every fibre of my being. The energy around me is different yet I can’t quite put my finger on what is coming. Thoughts of moving have entered my mind as have career changes and possible risky decision making (in a good way). My snow globe reality has been stirred up and I’m not sure when or where the tiny glittery flakes will settle. All I know is that my internal reality is not what is being portrayed from the outside. I am a whirlwind of thoughts coupled with ribbons of vulnerability. Criticism and suggestions, no matter how well meaning will, at this juncture, only send me into a tail spin of self-doubt. I must use this time of reflection to honour myself, my choices, and the objects of my desires. It is in these moments I am reminded of a TED talk by famed shame and vulnerability researcher, Brene Brown. A poignant statement from her talk has always reverberated in my head since the first time I heard it. It goes along these lines: “I will only listen to your critiques and criticism if you’re willing to stand up here and do what I’m doing, to take the same risks that I am. If not, I don’t want to hear it.” I still exhale a loud “YEAH” every time I hear or think about that statement. You go Brene!
No one can truly know what is going through my mind – just as I can never truly know what is going through my parent’s minds, my friend’s minds, or a strangers mind. (Or, I should add, what went through Princess Diana’s mind). Their reality is so much different than my perception of it – just as others likely perceive my life so much differently than what my reality actually depicts. I have been training my literal self to look at the world in this way, to turn things around and ask, Erica, are you sure? Is it true? Is it YOUR perception or THE reality?
I implore you too to channel the Byron Katie and Thah Nhat Han followers of the world and ask, “Are you sure?” the next time feelings of envy, jealousy or even anger arise when you find yourself comparing your reality with another. The mental shift that follows can be life changing. It can literally turn your perceptions of the world upside down and inside out.
But in the end, you will be changed…for good.