You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
in any direction you choose.
You're on your own.
And you know what you know.
You're the one who will
decide where you go.
Lately I've been giving a lot of thought to the path of my own personal development. I spend a lot of time walking down my own newly paved roads. This has meant leaving some people behind. This has meant moving closer to other people, people who are on the same path I am on or who support me in whatever path I choose. While I have to say that my search for happiness has been one of the best, most enlightening experiences I've had, it's not always challenge-free. One of the biggest challenges I've faced is dealing with people who don't get it, who want to criticize it, and who think, for whatever reason, that what I'm doing isn't the right thing to be doing. Though I have many, many more supporters than I do haters, I still find it challenging to deal with people who don't understand why I'm striving to improve my life through positivity and living in the present moment.
I'll be honest. Sometimes it's hard. Sometimes it really hurts when I try to explain something to someone and s/he just doesn't get it. It's worse when s/he pretends to get it, as if to pacify me. (You know what this is like. It truly is painful.) The thing about me is that once I get an idea in my head, I run with it. There's no half-way for me. It's all or nothing when it comes to me and my passions. I dive headfirst into the pool of my latest endeavor and then, a few months later, I resurface, gasping for air, claiming breathlessly, "I'm bored." I change (a lot) so it's no surprise that some people in my life would think, "Oh, that Dani! She's just in another one of her phases!" When I look back at my past and see all of the things I've become obsessed with and then abandoned after I'd grown bored with them, I don't blame people for thinking this way.
But it doesn't mean it doesn't hurt. It hurts, as we all know, to be misunderstood. Whether it's a rumor or a blatant "I don't understand you at all" statement, it feels isolating and frustrating when other people don't get where you're coming from. We might want to walk in other's shoes, to understand them, but it's not always that simple. Life, relationships, and people are always a little bit more complex than sliding your feet in a pair of shoes. While I'm a big believer of the idea that we should walk a mile in someone else's shoes in order to understand where they're coming from (or where they're going), I also think it's important to realize that not everyone will do this for us. You might be the kind of person who wants to understand others, but that doesn't mean other people want to understand you. Or, people might want to understand you but they just don't know how to slip into your shoes and go for a walk. Or, you might want to understand someone else, but you just can't get there when they're explaining their feelings/thoughts/ideas to you. It's, as we all know too well, complicated and often difficult to relate to other people -- especially those who are different from you (which is probably why most of us seek out people who are like us on some important level).
We can (and should) do the best we can to understand other people. Put their shoes on. Walk around the block. Try to get it. But we should also be aware of and accept the fact that there are no guarantees when it comes to the walk-in-someone-else's-shoes concept. You don't know if you can really walk in someone else's shoes (can we really ever understand others as they understand themselves?) and you don't know if others can really walk in our shoes (how well do you think other people really understand you?). We should always keep trying to understand others, but I also think we should make it a point to make sure we are walking every day in our own shoes.
You might be wondering, "What does this mean? Of course I'm walking in my shoes! I put them on every day and I walk around in them!" Yes, literally, you're walking in your own shoes. But when you think about the phrase "to walk in someone else's shoes" it means to understand them, to relate to them on a personal and intimate level. How often do we relate to ourselves this way? How often to we really connect with ourselves and understand who we are, where we're coming from, and where we're going?
I don't know about you, but I don't do this as often as I should. I spend a lot of time trying to get other people to understand me, to relate, to connect. Even now, as I'm working hard to develop myself personally, I don't know how much time I really spend walking in my own shoes, trying to understand myself. After all, why did I seemingly suddenly launch down this path to happiness? What reason are there, really, for this need to discover myself and the world around me?
I believe that in order to be in the best position to understand others, you have to understand yourself. While we may never fully be able to understand everything about ourselves (because, seriously, how much do you remember from your childhood? how much do memories and recollections get twisted and turned in our minds), we can make an effort to get to know ourselves better, to understand why we do things and how we can do them better. If we do this, really, truly walk around in our own shoes, I think we'll be in much better positions to understand others.
So, here you have 'em! My brilliant and fabulous tips for walking a mile in your own shoes...
How To Walk in Your Own Shoes
Try to understand your past in the present.
Okay, so we're not going to be able to understand everything about our pasts. As I mentioned above, we don't remember everything and, unfortunately, we tend to distort things too. But you can work with what you do remember and do your best to see it an objective light. What has happened to make you who you are today? How have events/people/things changed you? Understanding the past is one of the most important first steps to knowing where you are right now.
Accept who you are (and who you're not).
Oh man...this is a hard one. It's definitely not easy to come to terms with who we are (and who we're not), but let's face it -- we are who we are. Try to be objective about this. Don't judge yourself. It's okay if you're not perfect because absolutely no one is. We all have good and bad within us. If you can figure out what you are and what you're not, you will most certainly have a better understanding of yourself and why you see life the way you do. Acceptance is one of the best things you can do for yourself.
Listen to those who know you best.
While this isn't always the easiest thing to do, it's important. The people who know you best can see things about you that you can't (or maybe don't want to). They know you and they love you anyway. It's important to listen to these people, to absorb what they know about you, and to incorporate it into your understanding of yourself. However, don't forget that these people have their own mental filters that may distort things. Value your opinion of yourself over the opinions of others, but take some time to learn what you can about yourself from someone who is outside of you.
Identify your flaws and love them anyway.
This one ties in with accepting yourself. Once you've identified what you are and what you're not, you have to just go ahead and love yourself. You may have to change some things about yourself to make your life better (for example, I had to work on that negative attitude of mine), but there are some things that just may never change. Be okay with that. Love yourself for who you are and you will find that you are in a much better position to relate to those around you. When you love yourself, you can be more empathetic. You can be more understanding.
Think about why lies beyond your thoughts.
So you have a thought. There it is. A thought. But what's behind it? Where did it come from? There is usually more to our thoughts that we realize. Let's say someone is annoying you. S/he is doing something you find so obnoxious and you just want to scream. "S/he is annoying me" is the thought. But why? Why is it so annoying? Why are you reacting with tension and irritation and frustration? There is always more underneath our thoughts. We need to take time to figure out what lies beneath in order to better relate not only to others but to ourselves.
Look at the path you are walking on.
It's important to understand where you're going and why. You're on a road. You've chosen this road. Why? Why are you going in this direction? Are you speeding down a dirt path? Are you cruising slowly down a paved road? What does the path of your life look like? What's behind you? What's in front of you? You have made a choice to be on this path and every day you make a choice to stay on it. You could turn down another street or veer wildly into the grassy field beside the road. But you don't. Why? Understanding the path is very important to knowing who you are (and who you want to be).
Don't ignore the painful parts of your journey.
Walking in your shoes isn't always easy. There are times when you're heels are blistered and your soles are aching. There are times when your toes feel cramped and feel like your feet might be breaking. Don't ignore the pain and keep trudging along. Address it. Get a band aid or a new set of shoes if you can. Walk on your tip-toes or rock back on your heels. Everyone's journey has some painful parts. You can't avoid them, but you can do your best to understand them, to learn from them, and to avoid them in the future.
Allow yourself time to take a break.
You've been walking for awhile. You're tired. The road seems too long. It's alright to take a break. Sit down and relax for a bit. It's your life and there's no need to rush through it. The finish line is the end of the race, and I'm not sure you want to get there just yet. We often forget to take a break from our lives, to just rest and to just be. It's not easy when there is so much going on -- things to do, people to see, places to go -- but it's important to do this for you. You have walked and walked and walked and you deserve a rest (even if it's just a little one).
Give yourself credit for coming this far.
To me, one of the most important things you can do when you're walking in your own shoes is to give yourself credit for doing so. We all have struggles. We all have days when we just want to give up, kick off our shoes, and say, "Forget this!" But we don't. We might have mini-meltdowns or days when we decide it's better to stay in bed than face the world. But, eventually, we get up, we put our shoes on, and we start walking down our path again. Give yourself a big pat on the back for this. It's not easy to keep going, but every day you do it.
Just as it's not always easy to walk in someone else's shoes, it's not always easy to walk in our own. Sometimes we don't want to deal with understand ourselves. But if we don't want to understand ourselves, why would anyone else want to? Every day I'm trying to understand myself and why I'm living the way I am. I'm trying to find happiness in everything, struggling to transform myself from the person I used to be. My path is not an easy one. But it's the path I'm choosing. As Dr. Seuss said, "You're the one who'll decide where you go." It's up to me to choose my path, to walk in my own shoes. If others can't understand the path I've chosen, that's okay. It might hurt sometimes. It might make me feel alone sometimes. But it's okay. I have brains in my head. I have feet on my shoes. And I am choosing to go in the direction I choose.