Don’t waste your life living out other people’s visions of you

Earl R. Smith II. PhD

(Read More From My Blog)

Like most such observations, the title of this chapter is subject to misunderstanding. I suppose it is inevitable that some readers might take the easy way out and prefer the simpler interpretation. But I’m not writing for those people. The idea in this chapter is both subtle and complex.

In order to help navigate the reefs and the shoals that we will most certainly find along the way, I suggest that we employ a guide. In this case, the American mythologist Joseph Campbell would seem to be a good choice. As we proceed on our journey, we will encounter signposts in the form of quotes from Professor Campbell that may prove helpful.

One thing before we get started. It’s going to be important that you understand that, within the category of other peoples’ visions of you there resides visions of you by the avatar which you have created and have taken to calling your “self”. You may find this idea difficult to wrap your mind around at first. The idea that you are actually two people may generate a sense of vertigo. But that virtual version of yourself in a virtual reality is one of the principal dangers that may keep you from living your life as you might.

So, let’s find our first signpost:

The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.

Campbell isn’t talking about some manifest destiny that inhabits all human beings. His short prescription contains a trap that casual reading might fall into. The key words are “who you are”. Professor Campbel is drawing on an ancient understanding that is found over and over again in human mythology; the idea of a second birth. In those societies, there was the idea that a human is born twice. The first birth is the biological one while the second is the birth of a human into the person that they have become. He is thinking of knowledge of yourself without the trappings of the vision that other people have laid upon you.

Every religion is true one way or another. It is true when understood metaphorically. But when it gets stuck in its own metaphors, interpreting them as facts, then you are in trouble.

Here it might become a bit clearer. As you grew up, you received lots of ‘descriptions’ of who you are from a wide range of sources. During your early years, these visions coalesced into your personae. You were a ‘good boy’ or ‘rebellious’. You were a ‘quiet girl’ or ‘obsessively organized’. In an important way, this coalesced vision formed your own personal religion – a religion that defined who you are. This vision became your self-definition – your concept of your self. It became your fact.

Computers are like Old Testament gods; lots of rules and no mercy.

But, as you grew older, you became someone that was different – or should be different – from that vision. The second birthing is brought on when the increasing conflict between that vision of self begins to conflict with the needs of you as the person you have become. In my mentoring practice, I see this conflict in various stages that range from an irritating itch to a full-blown internal conflict. For example, a person may have convinced themselves that they should be a businessman only to begin to suspect that there might be another use for their life that would be more fulfilling. In a more advanced state, a full-blown mid-life crisis might lead someone to throw away all that they have become – to wipe the slate clean – and start over. As its base, the cause is almost always the same. At some stage, a person comes to suspect that they don’t really know themselves very well and that the choices that they have made are not leading them to a fulfilling life.

We’re so engaged in doing things to achieve purposes of outer value that we forget the inner value, the rapture that is associated with being alive, is what it is all about.

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