1 January 2021. Today is a day of transition. Marking a beginning and an ending. It’s the first. The first day of a new year. A complex and challenging year. I have sat with this chapter for a month. I wasn’t sure I wanted to write it, or even how to write it. But I’m letting go … I’m leaving it as is. It doesn't have to be perfect. It just is. And I accept it. It isn’t all of me. It’s a moment of me. A beautiful intention for the year ahead …
Why is life measured by a series of firsts? From the moment we are born: from first smile, tooth, step to first love, job, house, etc.
Or coming first? Conditioning our children – and ourselves – that the top of the podium is the ultimate goal. That being the best is the barometer of worth. Maybe this wasn’t or isn’t your experience – but I have felt first’s need and greed many times.
First is a lonely place – it’s a single digit, solo spot, solitary moment. A love and loathe position. A beginning or an ending.
It’s also a split second – far from the spectrum reflection of all that led to it, and all that will follow.
It craves competition over community, self over service.
I remember a turbulent time of ‘firsts’. That resulted in me actively fighting against being ‘first’. I craved it, yet I cringed from it.
I was 13, Head Girl, and in my last year of primary school. It was the final prize-giving of the year. First place awards were being presented for each subject. The master of ceremonies called my name. I smiled inside and walked up to collect by certificate, medal and trophy. But then he called my name again. I hadn’t made it back to my seat yet. My hands were full. What should I do? Continue to my chair to put my things down and then head back up … or head straight up and try to carry them all?
I went back to my seat. Everything was quiet. All eyes were on me. I looked down as I turned and walked back up to collect the second award. The master of ceremonies gave a nervous little laugh as he read my name again … five times in total that evening. I was proud but I was on a precipice. Like that day at the pool, I felt that my light was too bright. I sensed something in the school hall – the energy of envy and frustration. I palpably felt the room shift … and something shifted inside of me.
My excellence experienced embarrassment. My academic achievements had come naturally. And in hindsight, perhaps there was some guilt that they had come so naturally.
In many ways, we are taught that anything worth having is worth fighting for; that input equals output; that hustle equals success; that someone has to lose for someone else to win. But what if this isn’t true, or at least isn’t the only way? What if we’ve got it all wrong? That there is enough for everyone. That we don’t have to swim upstream. Instead we can go with the flow: simply following our joys and talents for a life of more ease, enjoyment and expansion.
Perhaps, as a child I had found my lane … but that evening’s events contributed to me going off course; getting lost.
We all have talents, no matter how unconventional or ‘not a job’ they might appear. What if we could all just do what we were divinely designed to do, instead of bending and breaking ourselves; of moulding and morphing ourselves into somebody determined by outside forces, societal conditioning and perceived expectations? Why should we fight against the many to achieve the same things; the things we were told to gain and attain? I recognise that this is also a position of privilege, but perhaps then it comes with an even greater responsibility.
They say the answers are within … but do we know how to find them? Is ‘struggle’ a rite of passage to awaken to the truth, our truth?
The evening ended with me getting the Dux award and giving a Head Girl speech: after which I felt I had let myself down. I said what I thought everyone wanted to hear; what I thought I was expected to say … arguably a theme of my life. To please and appease. I wanted to be liked. Perhaps this was a counter to the energy I could sense. I wasn’t being authentically me. I didn’t even know what or who that was. And even now, I am still trying to find my voice. In many ways I see it all, but I don’t see myself. This was a pivotal point. I began to tire of pole position, I wanted to merge with the many.
To end, I would love to share an extract from Marianne Williamson’s book ‘Return to Love’ – as much for myself as anyone reading. It has found its way to me twice this year: in April during lockdown when I read her book and just a few weeks ago, sent by a friend. Famously used by Nelson Mandela in his inaugural speech, here it is:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”