“Throughout our development, we form adaptations to cope or deal with pain and fears. Yet these adaptations, which initially served as survival mechanisms, later come to limit us.”—Lisa Firestone, author of Conquer Your Critical Voice (2002)
It takes 27 days for our skin to replace itself, to be fully exfoliated, revealing the new skin – radiant, anew and ready to best care of us – perspire, breathe, protect.
Exfoliating with scrubs and doing so regularly can be quite soothing and blissful, but if we haven’t been tending to our skin properly, not only will our skin look dull, but the dry skin wishing to be removed can prompt itchiness and an uncomfortable feeling even when we’re wearing clothes we love and going about our daily lives in a normal fashion.
In more severe cases, if we’ve had a sunburn, as the skin begins to heal itself, the old skin begins to peel and visibly ask to be removed as it looks out of place and no longer serves its purpose. I share all three of these examples today as I currently finding myself and my life in the middle of the ’27 days’ of losing old layers of a previous life and not yet full exfoliated, to continue the analogy.
Over the weekend, I took some time to make a list of each of the areas of my life in which something was being removed or let go to either be replaced or make space for something new and better in alignment with the life I have consciously chosen to live. The list was far longer than I anticipated, and staring at it revealed the reason for stress I have been feeling as of late that I may not have fully acknowledged to myself.
Now don’t get me wrong, most of the items on the list were chosen, desired, long-anticipated and hoped for, so to feel any stress doesn’t sit well with me and thus why I may have been unconsciously denying its emotional toll.
Early the next morning my mind needed to be calmed down as the discoveries observed after making the list were lingering still. I went outside into the garden and finished weeding my herb garden. How in the world, you may be wondering, Does weeding have anything to do with shedding layers of our old self?
Let me explain . . .
A small portion of my garden – three feet by maybe seven. I love this area on the south side of my house. The herbs love it too – well watered (next to three sprinklers) and oodles of hours of sunshine. Now the space also includes a couple of tomatoes both of which are reaching for the sun and look happy in their home. The bird’s breakfast café is situated here as well, and everberry strawberries provide the natural edge. The grass from the lawn also loves this space and has spilled over into any free soil pockets, creating a messy, grassy-with-some-herbs plot.
Sometimes our lives work well, so well in fact, that ‘hangers-on’ creep in and become a part of the space. They aren’t horrible, these ‘hanger-oners’, but after a while, they take over, absorb the space and crowd out what we fell in love with in the first place. An extraction, or exfoliation, must happen (not a perfect analogy, I realize), but along our journey we meet people or we pick up habits that may have helped us function – the friend who was there when you were struggling, but as your inner-strength and confidence in yourself and your journey grew (not into arrogance, just a steady sense of self), your friend’s insecurities and jealousies reared their head. However, if we aren’t mindful, these habits or people become limiting and thwart growth – we begin to feel bad for feeling good and shrink ourselves to stay in the friendship as our friend has a fixed mindset about their lives (the grass growing into the herb garden overtaking the ability for the herbs to grow well and even be seen in some cases). Compare the lawn to our need to eat food. Our old unhelpful habit we wish to shed is overeating or eating unhelpful foods as they bring us temporary comfort, it is not food (the grass) that is bad. It is the overeating that is bad (too much grass, growing where it wasn’t designed to be).
A significant reason it is difficult to shed our old selves is that most of the time, these layers are not wholly bad or evil or destructive. They possess some value and positive aspect or wonderful memories we hold dear. To let go, we might tell ourselves, is to be ungrateful.
However, if you accept that in order to live well growth must be involved, no matter what our age, then layers have to be shed from time to time. If we shed layers regularly, it isn’t difficult, but routine – healthy and non-disruptive to ourselves and others. However, if what we are shedding is something that has not changed in years or ever, than there is no doubt it will be hard. You held on to that relationship, that job, that habit for a long time for a reason; however, now you have the self-awareness to know it no longer serves (maybe it never did, but you didn’t know that at the time) the life you want to live.
Now you may be asking, how do I know what to shed, what to let go?
In 2012 author and psychology expert Firestone wrote an article detailing the process of knowing how we are limited by baggage and what baggage we must relinquish. While I will list them generally here, I encourage you to explore her entire article for more specific anecdotal examples. Let’s take a look.
- Identify the critical inner voices in your life not only about yourself and your own abilities, but the world at large and others. Firestone’s definition designates such a voice to be wholly negative and unhelpful. To engage or to not tame or remain unaware of the stream of negative thoughts is a destructive pattern and habit that “forms an anti-self that discourages individuals from acting in their best interest”.
- Identify the negative traits and behaviors of early caretakers that you saw as your only model to how to engage with the world. Again, we are all influenced by our caretakers, and hopefully we had predominantly positive, growth mindset individuals rearing each of us; however, sometimes there are traits that while not defining the entire person, exhibit a behavior that would not be healthy or helpful to model in our own lives. The next step once you have identified the negative traits is to acknowledge you practiced them in your own life and change course moving forward. Self-awareness is a super power, and one we can all learn, but in so doing, we will have to acknowledge truths about ourselves that may make us bristle. Keep in mind, the bristling is a part of the growth in the direction you wish to go because you see how such behavior was not helpful and you wish to change.
- Now it is time to start shedding the unhelpful layers that allowed you to adapt, cope and even survive situations you had no control over or thought you had no control over at the time. Did you have to put up rigid walls to protect yourself because those around you took advantage for their own gain whatever kindness you extended? If you are following these listed steps, in #2, you began to make changes. Some of those changes will have required you to let go of people, permanently in some cases, that were hurtful, perhaps in actions more passive or manipulative or simply unknowing, but they are not changing. You have removed yourself from the chronic unhealthy people and/or habits, and are now opening yourself up to new people with a new you to present to the world.
- Develop your own moral compass and meaning for life sans outside influences. Interestingly enough, #4 can be happening as you navigate through the previous three items on the list, and it is important to remind yourself to have patience as you find the courage to embrace and share your true self with the world. In episode #307 of The Simple Sophisticate podcast, inspired by the book The Way of Integrity, Martha Beck writes about the benefits of stepping into your true self, and in particular, I break down how exactly to do that. It’s not easy, but it is simple, and it becomes easier as you experience the rewards and the freedom in choosing to be who you innately are and can be.
Shedding the layers of your old self is easier when you are no longer in the environment you now acknowledge is not helpful – you’ve changed careers, you’ve moved to a new town, state or country, you’ve left the relationship. What makes shedding old selves difficult is when everything else, the people, our routines – personal and professional – are not changing. I have written more than a few blog posts on the topic of change and how to make it stick (explore the titles here), each of which address the latter dilemma – an environment that doesn’t drastically change.
Let me take my own experience of choosing to shed so many layers at the moment and what motivates me to continue to see through the ’27 days’ and arrive on the 28th to savor the exhalation of relief and appreciation:
The Herb Garden, after grass which invaded it, was removed. Seemingly a small change (I don’t have a before pic – argh!), but actually quite significant – I can see my herbs – sorrel, chamomile, more sorrel, and the tomatoes along with the newly added Siberian Irises (strawberries too).
Joseph Campbell’s words ring in my ears and fill my mind whenever I contemplate stepping courageously into a new way of living, “We must be willing to let go of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” In fact, these words inspired podcast episode #41 – Letting Go & Hanging On: What Falls Where?
Letting Go & Hanging On: What Falls Where?, episode #41
Part of the reason I chose the name Le Papillon for my house was to serve as a reminder daily of the benefit of courageously choosing to grow, navigate through uncomfortable, even difficult times so long as the reason is to grow into my full potential.
Today, if you too are in the middle of stepping into a new approach to living in any way – large or small – know it is significant as it will change the quality of your daily experience with life. During the transition period, it will be uncomfortable, sometimes extremely, but continue to practice patience and explore the four strategies for calming your fear that the shedding of your old self you have chosen may not be worth it. It is, it will be and when your 27 days are up, the quality of your life will cement your confidence your decision was wise.