William Shakespeare famously penned the line, “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players….”
If we think of the world as a stage, and ourselves as actors, how does that inform our behavior? The world of drama involves masks, lines, prepared scripts, villains, and heroes. We were born to fulfill a certain role and fill it we shall.
What happens when we switch the metaphor to a playground instead? Choice, fun, vulnerable, open. We drop the masks and stick out our tongues and chase each other up and down the ladders and slides. We learn lessons about ourselves and each other. We take chances. No breaking script or not fitting the part–there are no parts. Choose to swing, or play in the dirt, or play a game of hide and seek.
Of course, this is a false dichotomy. I suppose I should change the title of this post to “The World is Not Just a Stage, William. It’s Also a Playground.”
But the metaphor that you use changes your next step. If you’re an actor on a stage, you’re working towards a denouement.
Conversely, if you’re playing on a playground, your next step is to do whatever makes your heart sing.
Choose your metaphors wisely.
Most of the problems that I see in the world today are as a result of the word or phrase that we place after our most basic I am. I am American. I am gay. I am a mother. I am Puerto Rican. I am vegetarian. I am Buddhist. I am straight. I am Christian.
In our culture, we work so hard to not be placed in the box of conformity, and yet we deliberately place ourselves into the iron cage of identity.
We strive to find ourselves, but instead of going inside and tackling the real beasts to find our truest selves, we dabble with the surface qualities and apply labels: the diet, the sexuality, the career, the musical tastes, the race, even the religion. (We all know people who label themselves as being of a particular religion, but whose actual inner lives are a mess. That’s because they’ve taken on that religion as an identity rather than a spiritual venture.)
While our labels help to define us and make us unique, they unfortunately often create the differences that we come to detest in others.
A Semantic Shift
“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” –Ludwig Wittgenstein
Let’s try changing the language we use to to think about identity. I am not Muslim; I am a human being who is Muslim. I am not Korean; I am a human being who was born in Korea (or who has Korean parents).
Why the semantic difference?
By not limiting ourselves so quickly with a label, we broaden our view of what’s possible. I am a human being, and you are a human being. So we have our most basic identity in common.
Changing the language lightens the need to exclude, to judge, to reject. It acknowledges our core similarities.
Granted, it’s difficult to loosen the labels–they feel so safe and so, so right–but when we do, we finally see that we are all one. I am a human being, and you are a human being. Every single one of us is a part of humanity.
We are beautiful human beings who happen to be on this earth today expressing so many varied ways to be. By all means, enjoy who you are and showcase it! Be boldly and unapologetically yourself.
Let’s enjoy our labels, but let’s also wear them lightly, knowing that we are also much, much more.
When’s the last time you danced in your living room, alone, to your favorite song?
When’s the last time you walked slowly through the warm summer rain relishing the feeling of the raindrops on your skin?
When’s the last time you ate warm creamy pudding just off the stove?
When’s the last time you turned off the cellphones and made love for hours?
When’s the last time you stepped out into a forest with no roads, no civilization?
When’s the last time you sat on the floor with your puppy and just played?
When’s the last time you sang while doing dishes, read a novel, bought yourself flowers just because it was a Tuesday?
When’s the last time your belly was filled with butterflies?
When’s the last time you allowed yourself to just be, no agenda, no productive outcome?
When’s the last time you really lived?
When you look in the mirror, what is the first thought that pops in your head? Have you ever consciously listened to the words that you say to yourself? Start paying close attention, because your inner dialogue, your script, is a strong indicator of your beliefs about yourself.
It doesn’t matter if you actually say the words aloud. If the thought passes through your mind–even ever so briefly–it’s your self talk. You might look in the mirror, sigh, and say, “Wow. You look like you got hit by a train!” Or it’s just the sigh and a silent acknowledgment of your flaws.
If so, it’s time to change that self talk.
I’d like to propose a new greeting. Whenever you see yourself in the mirror, just smile and say, “Hi!”
When you get comfortable with that, when it’s automatic, you can add on to it: “Hi, gorgeous!”
More later on the more subtle silent script that surreptitiously runs your life. For now, let’s start with mirror talk.
Just a smile and a hi will do.
There’s no feeling of possibility quite like the promise of a glossy new self help book, binding uncracked, waiting to perform the miracle of transforming chaos to order, indifference to motivation, and hours wasted online to productive hours at the gym.
And yet that promise goes unfulfilled time and time again. Sure, there’s the initial jolt of motivation, but the fire fizzles before the new habits really kick in.
Another well-meaning book is tossed into the pile. But why is that?
New habit formation is a complex task, but I believe that there are three primary reasons why most self-help books don’t get the job done.
So, the takeaway is this: Do the deep work of figuring out your core values. Then align everything in your life–from the food you eat to the career your pursue to the thoughts you think–with those values. Sure, it’s not as easy as popping an Advil, but the outcome is far more rewarding–and is likely to stick around for years to come.
Having trouble figuring out your values? That’s the topic of my free discovery coaching session. Apply for a spot today by clicking here.