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Finding Your Life Purpose (Part Four): Who Packed Your Bags?

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Please be sure to read Parts 1 to 3 in this series for context on the "camel" and "slaying".

Ready to get your slay on but feeling the weight of all that luggage on your back? As you step out onto your own journey in earnest there are a few things to keep in mind that will make the road less perilous.

Don’t beat yourself up, or anyone else for that matter.

First, have compassion and patience for your camel. Even more importantly, do whatever you have to do to get past the temptation to blame everyone who had a hand in loading you up. If you find that the burdens you carry lead you to feel like a victim, or trap you in bitterness and resentment, don’t hesitate to get the assistance of competent professionals to help you untangle yourself from these traps. After all, you need your energy for much bigger things.

Remember this: we all start as camels. You did, your parents did, as did their parents — all our teachers and everyone you have ever worked for. This isn’t meant to imply that you weren’t given a raw deal when you got your load assigned. Maybe you were. Simply recognize we all carry our loads, and do what you can to keep your focus on your own pack.

As Don Miguel Ruiz shares in The Four Agreements, we all become ‘domesticated’ early in life. This is simply a fact. You are a product of your culture, the era of your birth, your parents, teachers, media, birth order, religious upbringing and peer group, to name only a few influences. The messages we receive are pervasive and some can be quite subtle including messages about what is appropriate for our gender and age. We receive messages regarding our responsibilities to our family members as well as our family reputation, our extended family, and our community.

Further, we are taught how to evaluate ourselves. We are told whether pride in oneself is permitted or whether modesty is more appropriate. We quickly learn whether we are loved, valued, and are deemed capable of achieving greatness (which we must surely want) or whether we were a ‘mistake’, an unwanted burden, and unlikely to amount to anything. It is as though we have been born in to a House of Mirrors where everywhere you look a different reflection is cast and somehow you have to figure out what you actually look like.

Social beings that we are, we eagerly set off to figure out how to ‘do it right’ in order to achieve security and a sense of belonging. We inherently seek approval of those around us and we weave the messages we receive into this great tapestry called “Self Esteem”, a tapestry that continues to be woven throughout our lives.

Sometimes it’s the little things.

How can you know if you are in ‘camel mode’? Watch how you make decisions and notice when you begin to feel insecure or second guess yourself. This can be very hard to do alone because we can’t always see ourselves clearly. This is why working with therapists, coaches, and mentors can be so valuable. So much of who we are happens out of our conscious awareness because by the time we reach adulthood many of our responses are ‘conditioned’, habitual ways of reacting to situations we find ourselves in.

If, for example, you were taught early on that you were valued for how well you took care of others you may have become very skilled at anticipating others’ needs and filling them even when you don’t realize you are doing so. This can show up in subtle ways. You may get up in the middle of your meal when you see someone’s glass needs refilling. You may answer the question “where do you want to eat?” by attempting to mind-read the preferences of everyone else present and suggest the place you think they want to go. When asked what you would like to do, you may reflexively answer, “I don’t care, whatever you want” so quickly that you completely bypass any opportunity to actually consider that you really DO care about how you spend your time. In so doing, the camel with the “I live to serve others, I shouldn’t be selfish” pack on its back cleverly avoids the discomfort of suggesting a movie that everyone ends up hating or risking choosing a bad restaurant.

Peer pressure isn’t just for teenagers!

If I had a nickel for every man who confessed to me that he studied the sports statistics in order to gain credibility with his male bigwig customers and peers/superiors at work, even though he secretly didn’t like sports, I would be a wealthy woman. We want to fit in and gain respect and sometimes there are big prizes for those who play the game well.

If you live in the U.S. (I can’t speak for other cultures), it isn’t hard to see our love affair with rule books and programs. It’s practically a national obsession! We have programs for eating and whole product lines and endorsements to support us in our dietary quest for eternal beauty and ageless good health. We want to know the “Ten Easy Steps to Make Your Holidays the Best Ever”. Thinner thighs in five days? I’m in. The ten items I must have in my fall wardrobe? Off to the mall we go. Wearing white at the gala when black is THE color? Just shoot me now and kiss that promotion good bye.

We go to a lot of trouble to ‘do it right’. We purchase vehicles that we feel reflect our status (are H2s really necessary in the flat suburbs of Chicago?). Have you ever seen a CEO driving a Kia? Even a Volkswagen Jetta? I have heard people evaluate their date’s marriage potential based on what they believe others would think if they saw them together more times than I would like to admit. Many, many people live their lives in nearly constant awareness (fear?) of the judgments of others. Anyone living in fear of being turned over to the “What Not to Wear” crew knows what I mean!

While we may have gotten our initial loads from others, the truth is we receive lots of pressure to continue to pile it on ourselves. I remember sitting in an airport limo a couple years ago, with my long graying hair and hippie skirt, flipping through the magazine that had been provided for my entertainment during the ride. Before long, this independent 41-year-old, normally quite comfortable with herself and having a strong sense of her own style started to squirm. Criticized by article upon article for my long graying hair (never yet being the preferred hair color of the season) and my closet bereft of the 'must have' mini skirt, I actually started to feel tense! I hate to admit it but that little magazine actually made me start to feel bad about myself. But that's the point, isn't it? That's exactly the kind of pain the marketers were trying to induce; the kind that makes us buy things to make us feel better about ourselves. I started to feel like my tendency to stay away from the malls had become a social liability!

Luckily I recognized this and put the magazine away. I very consciously control my exposure to messages like these so I was able to recognize quickly how strongly they were affecting me. With phenomenally high estimates of our exposure to advertising messages each day, it is a wonder any of us are able to break free of the rule book without looking over our shoulder to see the disapproving looks of the trendsetters and respected members of our society.

Next up: Getting your lion to spring into action…

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About Laura Young