Am I A “Real Man”? Or, How to Know When You Need to Flex on Some Turkeys : )

I was walking to a local shop not to long ago, to attempt to pick up my phone from being repaired after it stopped holding a charge. While I was on my why to the train station, I noticed a flock of wild turkeys bobbing around, looking for grubs to snack on. I thought that it was nice that I’ve been seeing more wildlife in the area, turkeys and rabbits being among them. So, with that in mind, I continued on my path towards the train station.

About a minute after passing the turkeys, I turned around for some reason only to notice that two of the turkeys had begun following me. I figured it was mating season, and I must have infringed on their territory. So I continued walking thinking they’d soon get bored and quit the chase. This however did not happen.

The turkeys got more aggressive, getting closer to me while pecking in the air in my direction. I turned around to face them, walking backwards while swinging my backpack at them in an attempt to shoo them, only to find that this was not helpful. While this was happening, a passerby drove up behind them and started honking the horn at them. This did not deter the turkeys. They raged on in my direction with an arrogant indignation of my presence.

The girl in the front seat of the car couldn’t have been more than 13 years-old, and was laughing hysterically. And trust me when I say, the humor was not lost on me : )

It was in this moment of levity, that my savior came. It was a little Yorkie Terrier guided by a man in his thirties. The man was explaining how waiving my bag was only making the turkeys more bold, while a dog one fourth the size of one of the birds, chased them into the nearby woods. It was a site to see, for sure and if I had my phone I would have definitely taken a video for documentation.

Is That What a Man’s Supposed to be Like?

Being chased by turkeys got me thinking, “how should I have handled this situation” and “does being chased by turkeys make me less of a man?” The conclusions I’ve come to are, no and let me tell you why.

My Role Models Growing Up

In the time and place I grew up, being a man was usually paired with gratuitous violence and a black and white way to choose and practice your morals and values. Characters like Rambo and Arnold Schwarzenegger from “The Predator” embodied these behaviors, that men were supposed to emulate in order to be a man. That was the unwavering standard of what makes a man, a man.

And needless to say, these were unreasonable. But to an eight year-old, they make perfect sense. Through the eyes of a child, there is most definitely evil in the world and it needs to be smote by a muscle bound savior. Most likely fighting against all odds to save the day for the masses, or a woman. The dangerous part of this message is that, we were all led to believe that deep down, we (real men) are the good guys and we could use whatever means necessary to achieve the end goal of, fighting for the greater good.

This is, from my understanding, the way we rationalize using violence to achieve our goals. But as I see it, this use of violence is a form of letting our emotions take the wheel and control our actions. I could have charged the turkeys and released my anger and frustrations on them for trying to chase me and do them harm in the process. And I have a few people in my life that would have told me that a “real man” would have drop kicked those turkeys into the next zip-code. But would I be more of a man for doing that? No. Losing control of our emotional states is more a trait of immaturity. More child like.

And of course, this reaction takes root in the male role models we had in our childhoods. Professional wrestling was a huge proponent of this type of machismo attitude also. All the posturing and flexing, mixed with the bravado worked to normalize the use of violence to alleviate the discomfort of feeling unsafe. Because at the core of conflict is that somebody, something or animals in my case, are threatening my safety. Perceived or physical.

So if I’m right, most aggression is really a way to avoid the difficult emotions of feeling unsafe, or not in control of our safety and surroundings. So how do we make the shift from feeling unsafe and acting from our fear based emotions to a more stable emotional place? I think it starts with practice and a little help from some healthier role models. Let me tell you how I’ve been practicing this.

My Role Models Now

I have a few photos on my phone’s wallpaper that rotate at random. They are, Dana Schultz from Minimalist Baker, Adriene Mishler from Yoga With Adriene, 2 Pac, Tom Hanks, Damon Albarn from Blur, Tara Brach, Mark Twain, Rumi, D’ Angelo the R&B artist and Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold the rock climbers. As well as a few photos of things I’d like to have or achieve.

Adriene, Dana and Damon are there to remind me to keep at it, whatever it is. They are so prolific as artists, writers and doers and give me inspiration to keep writing or stay on top of my yoga practice or do my best in my work. Whatever it is I’m doing, when I see their photos, I’m reminded to try a little harder.

Tom and Tara are on there to show me that I don’t have to be so hard all the time. The lessons I learned growing up, the ones that told me I had to be calloused and unfeeling as a man just aren’t true. Tom, especially his role in “Sleepless in Seattle”, illustrates the vulnerability we all have. And not that it’s only a female trait, but a humane one. Tara reminds me to be patient and also to nurture myself along the way. All ways of being that I was taught weren’t a man’s job.

Mark, Rumi, Tommy and Alex are there because they are great at what they do/did. And what made them great was their persistence, resilience and dedication. When I see them, I know that if I work hard enough, I’ll accomplish my goals. Anything’s possible. “Courage is mastery of fear, resistance to fear, not absence of it” – Mark Twain.

D’ Angelo made the list to remind me that as a man, it’s okay to show emotions deeply. To feel deeply and to be seen. I was taught that men didn’t have emotions other than anger. And even though we showed anger freely, we were shamed for showing it. Of course we were relating to it in reactionary ways. This was unhealthy. I now recognize the full spectrum of my emotions as they happen and wait before I respond. Giving myself a little more leeway.

And 2-Pac made the list because “everybody and their lady got a little bit o thug in em.” I sometimes need to be reminded that it’s okay to break the rules sometimes. We’re not perfect and that’s okay.

So with these new role models, I’m rebuilding a new version of myself. One that is strong and flexible. Loyal and dedicated. Feels deeply and is not ashamed of it. Not afraid to take some risks, but also knows how to be soft when I need to be. Especially with myself. I’m building a better man, from the new resources I’ve been collecting. And it’s not easy.

The Road Is Most Definitely Difficult

There are definitely times that I want to give in to the feelings of being overwhelmed, or fatigue. As an old co-worker of mine used to say, the days when you “just don’t wanna.” Thanks Chris. But it’s worth remembering that feelings are fleeting. They never last.

There are times like today, when I wake up at 6:30am to work in a bakery/restaurant and then go directly to my second job at a family shelter, where on top of my professional duties, I also plan my personal responsibilities for the upcoming week. After 16 hours of working straight, I am definitely ready to do absolutely nothing.

And it may be easier to take the road I once did. Where I would work minimal hours and spend the rest of my time playing videogames and drinking. Chasing pleasure rather than building the connections and experiences that would persist and bring me joy in a sustainable way. But the “easier” way of living brought with it a consistent sense of fear and anxiety. Not to mention I had almost no close friends to share my time with. I was alone and I had no idea that it was connected to the ways I was isolating from everyone.

Isolation is yet another lesson I learned on how to be a man by my caregivers and culture. Something I’ll be exploring some more in next weeks post. There’s something deceptively comforting in thinking you can do it all alone. Though impossible to actually accomplish, we still try. This is mostly due to, I believe, being told and shown we can by the culture. Being afraid to ask for help because it means you aren’t in control was another lesson on manhood I received in my childhood.

But avoiding connection was all connected to running from the fear of being hurt in relationships. We all get hurt by one another eventually. It’s only a matter of time really. But we need one another. Because being connected and sharing experiences are what makes life worth living. We can’t do that on our own.

So When Is It Okay To Flex On Some Turkeys?

This is by no means an exhaustive list on the many pitfalls we face when measuring ourselves up against the standards of what it means to be a man. These are only my perspectives of the lessons I’ve had impressed on me and what I’ve learned from them. But know that if you have some fears or questions on what it means to be a man, you are not alone.

It’s hard to come to the conclusion of what being a man means to us on an individual level. And what it means to you may not be what it means for me. But we’re all on the same journey together. And sometimes our paths do cross and we walk for a little while together. Hopefully my experiences have helped you in some way understand your experience a little better.

And I think the answer lies in something that Adriene from “Yoga With Adriene” says often, “find what feels good”. Only I’d add, in a sustainable way. Peace : ) and thanks for reading. Oh yeah, if you found that you’re being chased by turkeys, the common wisdom is to show dominance by waving your arms wildly while shouting and slowly walking towards them. Also having a dog on a leash helps as well. One more reason to own a dog : )

Image Credits: “I had to inch my way past this gang of local hooligans to get out of my driveway this morning. #lifeinthesuburbs #morningcommute” by Lorianne DiSabato is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Healthy Responsibility: How to Tell What it Looks Like & How Our Past Shapes Our Idea of What it Means

When I was a child in the eighties, responsibility was a word that was used liberally. It was also gender specific. This usually meant that the man in whatever situation, work or family, was responsible for the well-being of, well, just about everything. They were the breadwinners, kept those in his charge safe, and provided for them and their needs as well. The women were prizes to be won and looked after what the man provided and who he provided for. This was/is a large amount of responsibility and was solely on the shoulders of the man.

How to be a Man

As a child taking this role in, using black and white thinking to navigate my world, this was overwhelming. It was most definitely the case for me growing up and what I was taught about what it means to be a man. And I’m certain that I’m not alone. So my question is, if we’re taught what the role of a man is, while we’re using black and white thinking to make sense of our world, how do we broaden our perspective to take in other ideas of what it means to be a man? I.e., what does a healthy amount of responsibility look like?

This is no easy task. But necessary if we want to become whole and healthy individuals. I’ll be sharing some of my experiences and the lessons I was taught growing up. What I was told and how I made sense of the role I was given to fit into. And also, how I’ve changed the definition of what it means to be a man for myself.

Man Up… or Don’t?

The phrase, “man up” was used a lot when I was a child. It essentially means to be tough. Whatever is happening in the moment, if you were a “real” man, you’d be able to handle it. No matter what. This was definitely the unspoken rule in my family and in society at large at the time.

So this is how I lived my life. To the measure of a “real” man. This meant drinking way to much, to prove I could “handle it”. I was also mean and condescending to others that I viewed as ineffectual or “weak”. Which I later realized was me preying on vulnerabilities I saw in others as they (the vulnerabilities) had been abused in me. In short, I was angry, abusive and uncertain of myself and supported in this iteration of my personality by those closest to me. Largely because it was how those who supported me were as well. And all of it monumentally unhealthy.

When I realized how unhealthy my definition of a man was, it was terrifying for me to realize what I had been striving to become. I had turned into my own abuser in a way. By punishing myself for not being invulnerable in the ways I was taught I needed to be as a man, as defined by my family. And to top it all off, I was supposed to be responsible not only for myself, but being a man meant, I was also responsible for the women and children in my family.

You’re the Man of the House Now…

I think this advice was dispensed to every boy whose parents divorced and whose mother had custody of the would be new man of the house. I was told this by every male family member when my parents split. As well meaning as their sentiment may have been, it felt like the world had just been laid on my eight-year old shoulders. Overwhelming.

And the worst part of the entire experience was, no one told me what that meant! I was eight, my family was falling apart, and according to all the adults in my life, I was in charge. It’s so absurd to think about now, that it’s funny. But it sure didn’t feel that way then. But I took on that responsibility none-the-less.

I studied my caregivers like science projects. To find out what it was that I was supposed to be doing. As I’ve said before on this blog, that didn’t turn out so well. I ended up living as they did, which happened to be how Jim Morrison lived. As my friend Melba would say, this was no bueno.

And even after watching “The Doors” movie on repeat through my high school years, I still had no idea what was expected of me. I drank a lot, found myself in some pretty dangerous situations, but never had any direction on what I should have been doing. While my peers were studying to get good marks, so they could attend a respectable college, I was drinking to numb the pain of the neglect I had experienced while fumbling around and looking for some center. Some stability.

And I never did learn what it meant to be the man of the house. Because all the men who were supposed to show me how, left. Also, the female caregivers in my family were consistently saying how they didn’t know how to raise a man. So I was abandoned and alone. And as a result, I made some pretty poor decisions. Later in life, I had left my then beautiful wife, for a woman two thirds my age and who had been racing towards the bottom in the same ways I had been. The Marla Singer to my Taylor Durden. But Luckily, this is where I turned it around and started making healthier choices.

Choosing to Be a Better Man

Exercise

It took me until I was in my thirties to recognize that I needed to make a change. But when I did I hit the ground running. Literally. I started my journey with exercise. First running, then yoga. I had been so sedentary for such a long time, that I had become unhealthy and out of shape. I was playing enough videogames to satisfy the hour requirements for a part-time job, and drinking maybe half my caloric requirements for the day in alcohol.

Running and yoga were ways for me to reconnect physically with my body. and the world around me. I had spent so much time staring at a screen that it was almost like I was living in a two dimensional world. Taking care of my body’s needs, helped bring me back into the third dimension. I remember asking a co-worker what the third dimension was once. He did a comical rendition by bouncing up, down, left, right and back and forth. I had spent so much time in front of a screen that I literally didn’t understand practically how dimensions worked. And I went to architecture school for a semester!

And the more I got up and out the door, or on my mat, especially when I didn’t want to, I became more uncomfortable with the feeling of wanting to avoid my responsibilities. I began to enjoy the work I had previously avoided. By playing video games and drinking. And I now work harder because of it.

Learning to Cook for Myself

This was a big portion of my life that I had been neglecting for a very long time. And what’s strange is, that I worked in the restaurant industry cooking and baking for a majority of my career. It should have been second nature. But drinking was still my main priority when it came to my caloric intake.

Again, in my thirties is when I started to take responsibility for my nutritional needs. It was also the first time I started viewing eating as fulfilling my “nutritional needs”, instead of just eating what I felt. This was a big shift from eating whatever I could find around the house and ordering takeout three to four times a week. Also better for my budget. Something I’ll be going over in more detail next week.

I began my nutritional journey by going vegan. It was a little extreme looking back on the decision now. I’m eating vegetarian currently, but still cook mostly vegan for myself. My weight is the healthiest it’s ever been and I’m also feeling much healthier. Win win. And the long term health benefits for going veg are undeniably the healthier nutritional option. Also cutting back on large amounts of processed foods helps as well. Reserving them mostly for occasional treats or snacks.

Budgeting

When I began making the switch to healthier choices and decisions about my life, I was also about 130k in debt. Health bills, student loans, credit cards… If someone was lending money, I was most likely looking to borrow it. Getting on a budget and taking responsible for my financial world, came rushing in all at once. This is when I found Dave Ramsey and started following his baby steps to getting and staying out of debt.

I began by taking stock of what I had. All my debts, all piled up in one place. So I could see just how deep a hole I had dug for myself. I then came up with a plan to pay down my debt by making and sticking to a written budget. This wasn’t easy.

There were definitely months where I looked at my grocery budget of 250$ and realized that I overshot it by 500$! These were difficult months. But the more effort I put into sticking to my budget, the more it paid off. I started to make some real progress on my debt goals. And have cut my debt to nearly half of what I originally started with.

Not to mention, that I’ve also had the time and resources to make plans for retirement. As well as setting up an emergency fund for a little financial peace of mind. I’m feeling more responsible for my life now and it’s also given me more focus and direction on my career path and goals. Taking charge of your money is a great place to start recognizing what healthy responsibility looks like. Because it touches so many different aspects of our lives.

Being a Man & What it Means to Me Now

The messages I received as a child, of what it means to be a man, the gun and porn collections of my childhood caregivers, the bravado, these were not sustainable ways to be a man. Let alone sound advice on how to live your life. I’ve come to realize that those who were showing me the way in my youth, were struggling themselves with what it means to hold healthy amounts of responsibility.

For me now, being a man means to take care of my needs first. Not in a selfish way. But in a way that allows me the security and peace of mind to know that I’m on a solid foundation. That no matter what comes up, I’m able to take care of myself while it’s happening. Then I can begin to focus on helping others on their paths.

Knowing Your Limits

But it begins with understanding where our unhealthy patterns of taking on too much responsibility lay. Are we consistently spreading ourselves too thin by feeling obligated to do as much as possible for others at our own expense. Our first obligation should be to ourselves, then we can judge how much of ourselves we’re able to give, without completely overwhelming ourselves.

So if you’re struggling with feelings of being overwhelmed and exhausted at the amount of responsibility you have, maybe it’s time to check in with yourself. What are the areas of your life that are feeling too much. What can you do to ease some of the stress? Are there small changes you can make to your routine that will shave off some of the responsibilities you have, to a more manageable level?

These are all little ways where you are able to make a large impact on how you view and manage your responsibilities. And above all, know your limits. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and like you’ve taken on too much, trust that your intuition is right. Listening to yourself is the first step in taking on a healthier amount of responsibility. As always, peace & thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “What’s a weekend?/Resource overload” by AllieKF is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Updated: 11/27/22

Selling Image, Selling Belonging

Buying Into Belonging

Finding Belonging isn’t always easy. So naturally there are many ways to take advantage of our not feeling belonging. For example, there’s a store nearby that sells all things home related. Bedding, mugs, kitchen wares, furniture and the like. And, as part of my evening routine I’ve been in the habit of burning candles. I find they set a relaxing tone with their ambient light and they help to ease some of the stress from the day. So off I went, to said local store, in search of some candles.

As I was looking through the candles on the shelf, opening them up to see if their scent was something I’d enjoy, I came to one that had “Namaste” written in playful cursive across the front. I enjoyed the scent so I picked it up and walked to the check-out line. I was feeling a little off buying the candle for some reason that I couldn’t place. The message seemed to be in line with my meditation and yoga practice, so it wasn’t the phrase. If anything the word should have brought me some peace of mind.

Image and Belonging

I bought the candle anyway, brought it home, unwrapped it and left it on my shelf next to some plants. I looked at it again and still found I had some aversion to the lettering and the word. It vaguely reminded me of something my sister would purchase. It was white, floral scented, nothing assumingly off about it. Then I understood what was bothering me about it.

The candle itself was fine, it was what it was trying to sell me that bothered me. The image of what it feels like to have the divine in me, recognize the divine in you, that had me feeling a bit off. I was being sold a gender specific version of how the world should be viewed according to the ethos of the company that made the candle. I was buying into the image of the store who was selling the candle and supporting the message with my purchase, all to feel belonging.

Gender Roles and Image Branding

If you’ve read my post on toxic masculinity, you’ll know that buying into gender specific roles such as self-care being a woman’s job, were the teachings I received from my early caregivers. And something I’ve been re-parenting myself around. Knowing that feelings and emotions are not gender specific, but part of the human experience. Also that self-care is just part of it, has not been easy.

And the feeling that this candle’s branding seemed to embody is that emotional peace and well-being are only available for a specific demographic. Most likely active, young and fresh smelling women. Who are probably successful, tan, wear a lot of white, and burned the types of candles I just purchased. Probably in an immaculate house, next to a freshly washed and folded stack of white linens. This all seems absurd to me. Or at very least, that I need someone who filled that description to provide for me the care I could not give myself. Which seems equally as absurd.

How We’re Raised and How That Effects Our Views

I recognize that I have a biased view considering my upbringing. And if someone finds peace of mind by burning that candle, I’m happy for them. But I feel there is a large gap in the yoga community, where men aren’t represented. This too can be a loaded topic. I’m sure women have found yoga to be a healing outlet. One to get in touch with their bodies in a healthy way. Especially after experiencing trauma or abuse. Most likely at the hands of men. But this still leaves men in my situation of not knowing whether or not they belong.

If we believe the gender specific ideas we are being sold by companies like the one who made the candle I bought, then yoga and that form of stress reduction belongs squarely in the realm of the feminine.

And I don’t mean to argue that the yoga community is gender bias. I’ve always felt welcome at every class I’ve attended. I’ve also had excellent instructors both male and female. But the idea that I somehow got a gender specific correlation with the candle I bought was unsettling. That I was sold a gender specific sense of belonging to a community where, according to the candle company’s sales team, I don’t belong.

Feeling Belonging is Important

I could be reading into this a bit. I have a minor in communications so the critical side of me comes to the forefront whenever I see advertising involved. Especially involving something I’m interested in. But I feel like this candle is part of a larger problem. If we hear time and again that something we’re interested in is exclusive to a certain demographic, we may begin to feel like an outsider. Like we’re not worthy of belonging.

The term “yoga pants” comes to mind as I’ve never heard them in reference to men, always how a woman looks in them. And if some of the joy we derive from our interests involves being a part of a community, then we could be missing out on the quality of our experiencing what brings us joy.

Repetitive Messaging and Our Belonging

And having a constant reminder on display is a good way to let a message settle in and get comfortable. Not to mention the advertising that we are inundated with day in and day out. While companies vy for our resources at the expense of excluding large groups of people. Their message being that you don’t belong. You’re not welcome here unless you fit our standards.

I could have just left the candle on the shelf. I could just chalk it up to not being in line with my personal taste. But it doesn’t feel right just to let it stand. The way I’m sure it doesn’t feel right the way some women may feel uncomfortable when they decide to put on a pair of yoga pants for fear of being ogled on there way to a yoga class or a coffee shop. The coercion of being corralled into thinking that you don’t belong to what you find enjoyable. That and feeling manipulated into unease around what usually sparks joy.

What We Can do About it

And I did like the candle. It was simple, white and had black lettering. I just didn’t like the implied image it was selling. So what’s the solution? How do we undo what advertisers and large corporations have successfully accomplished? Using an impressive amount of resources to brand their products to a target demographic? How do we shed our targets and live a little truer to our authenticity? Let’s look at some of the ways we may be taken advantage of, to understand better how to recognize and sidestep the trappings we often find ourselves in.

What’s Trending

Trends can be fun. It can feel nice to be part of something that is just for enjoyment. For instance, liking a new band for their hit song can be a pleasant way to remember a time and place. And the people you connected with at that time without going too deep. But there are a lot of ways that our wanting to feel belonging can be taken advantage of. Usually for someone else’s profit.

Trying to Buy Belonging

When I was in my mid-twenties, I was kind of obsessed with Pottery Barn. I liked the clean lines and muted tones they used while still feeling rustic. It was how I pictured my future home to look. Filled with a clean, conservative aesthetic. At the time I was planning to go to school for journalism. So I imagined I’d have a serious and important role to fill. Informing the masses of misdeeds and lapses in morality from those who held positions of power. And of course I needed a desk that would look as important as how I felt my duties would be.

So naturally I spent a large sum of money on a desk that held little more than a decanter of whiskey or scotch. Also don’t forget about the matching chess table which sat next to it. As though my desk was so important that it needed an assistant. I was just barely scraping by working as a social worker and had probably just enough money for groceries. More like beer actually. Buying an expensive desk from Pottery Barn that I barely used was definitely not in the budget. But there I was, with an expensive desk in an empty room. How did this happen? How was I so manipulated into feeling that this desk would not only help me to achieve my goals, but help conjure them into fruition? It starts with what we find value in.

Finding Value In Ourselves Not Our Things

What I didn’t realize at the time was, that the desk I purchased played to my perceived values. I thought that buying something that looked like those who had those values would have, would then thrust me into the mindset/mentality of the values that I wished to embody. Along with underlying currents of confusing taste and style with what I valued.

For example, I was a hippy in my late teens. Something I haven’t really shed. Mostly because of the feelings of when I was first introduced to the culture. Also the aesthetic was so positive, along with many of the values that most modern day hippies embody, are still in line with my current values. I.e. recycling, organic farming and living sustainably while fostering open and caring community. All aspects of the culture I value. Also values I wish to embody in my day to day life. Including my clothing and style.

Knowing When You Are Embodying Your Values and Not the Values of the Things You Own

There is also a serious side to me that very much likes order and to bring structure to chaos. So the rustic feel of the desk, looking as though it were made from reclaimed barn wood. Blended with the clean polished lines of the industrial, flat black, minimalist metal frame and the wood’s mirror finish, the desk appealed to both sides of me simultaneously. My enjoyment of a caring, natural community, represented by the look of reclaimed barn wood, mixed with the clean metal and highly glossed wood finish that filled my need for order. Both lead me to believe that this desk represented my values.

But it was not substitute for them. This is the trap that most people fall into when purchasing things they feel are in line with their values. The same ways I did with the desk. The wood was not reclaimed. In fact it was most likely harvested in a way that was environmentally unsound. Something not in line with my values.

You Can’t Buy Your Values

So it was no surprise that after buying the piece of furniture, I was left with my manipulated values sitting at my desk wondering, “why do I feel empty”. As though something didn’t add up. This was the other message that was being sold to me. That you could buy your values. Values from my experience are, something that you work to embody. Something practiced. Not something bought. In order to feel fulfilled from your values, you must first put the hours in.

But that takes work. Something I was not inclined to do in my twenties. And if I could buy a desk that looked the part, while allowing me to avoid the work I could have been putting in, then that was what my younger self would do. Of course at the time I was unaware of the dynamic at play. I was just trying to fill a part. One that looked most appealing and trendy at the time. Luckily for me there are plenty of stores willing to aid me in looking to avoid work.

So therein lies the danger. Being told that buying something that seems to embody your values is just as good as putting the work in to practice your values. And companies spend a lot of resources in order to sell you an image. Of what it feels and looks like, to embody your values by using their product.

The Perennial Problem

I’m not stating anything new here. And I hope I’m not blowing any minds. But I’m often surprised at how it feels like every generation finds another way of buying into this system of buying values. I feel a large part of this cycle is perpetuated by the feeling of a lack of belonging. If we’re trying to fill our sense of self worth with the values we hold closest but only have a desk to represent our values, then we’re left as I was. Behind a desk, feeling confused and a little empty.

Feeling confused and a little like a empty left me thinking “why do I feel this way?”. Which led to me feeling slightly guarded, not wanting people to see that I wasn’t confident in myself and the values I was trying to represent. The vulnerability of not knowing that the things I buy don’t guaranty my belonging, but also of not knowing what would if I couldn’t buy it.

Where Are We Learning These Lessons

These feelings and beliefs are deeply entrenched in our society. I know I’ve learned them not only from companies with assistance from large advertising firms, but also from my family. I mentioned this in my Search for a Blog page. When you question your own belonging to the people who are supposed to accept and love you unconditionally, there’s usually a fear that comes with the uncertainty.

“Who will or could love me now”, may take the place of love and belonging. And if we let it, it will dominate our thoughts and actions in our relationships. This is where I believe Brene Brown’s phrase, “hustling for worthiness”, may take control of our reasoning selves. If we feel we’ve been rejected by the people we love most, than the most important goal becomes how do I get back what I lost.

That’s when we turn to whatever feels good in the moment. Or somebodies “answer” to your feeling a lack of belonging. What Tara Brach refers to as “false refuges”. This could be anything from alcohol to shopping (as were the cases with me and my family). But also drugs or even using other people, are also examples of false refuges. And unsurprisingly, they aren’t sustainable and they usually cause harm to ourselves and others. Which is why they’re named false refuges.

Finding Our Way To Belonging

So how do we find our way out of these trappings of the false refuges or hustling for worthiness? One way is through acts of self-care. If you’ve read my post on why self-care is so important, you’ll know that it’s a way of dialoguing with our emotions. And also getting to know who we are and what we need to feel belonging. Most importantly to ourselves. Or as my dad likes to say, “be yourself, everyone else is already taken” -Oscar Wilde. Showing yourself that you care, you’re a priority, gives you the courage to find what your values are. The you without the “hustle”, or the “false refuges”.

Be Patient

Other ways to avoid the hustle is to be patient. After you know what your values are and you’re embodying those values by practicing them, dialogue with how something new makes you feel. After the excitement of something new subsides, is what you’re doing a way to practice your values? Or is it just novelty?

More often than not, the things that you do to bring joy to you practicing your values, won’t cost money. For instance, if you value spending time with friends, cooking a meal together can be more intimate and enjoyable than eating out. Or a rowdy night at the bar. But going to see a concert together can be a joyful experience as well. So it’s important to take a deeper look as to why you’re doing something. And ultimately it’s you that will know the answer. AKA, trust yourself.

Be Trusting and Forgiving

And sometimes we’ll make mistakes. After all, advertising is a large industry designed to make you spend your money. So be forgiving when you do stumble. Just because you’ve been fleeced, doesn’t mean that you’re doomed to feel unwanted or unloved. Stay true to and trust your values, they’ll guide the way.

I hope you’ve found this helpful in some way. It isn’t always easy, but don’t worry, the work becomes easier the more you do it :] Good luck and Peace.

Image Credits: “1960s Advertising – Magazine Ad – Campbell’s Soup (USA)” by ChowKaiDeng is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

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