06 Aug

The invisible shackles of systems

The invisible shackles of systems

Ever noticed how some situations, conversations, or moments get vividly etched in our memory bank? I’m sure there is a reason why this happens. The other day, one such memory came by for a visit with me.

It was a conversation taking place many years ago with a university career counsellor during an assessment debrief. My career was well on its way by the time I enrolled in university, and what this assessment suggested was that my interest was for arts-related careers. That was not the path I had been travelling for many years, establishing a management career in the hospitality industry. We talked about that. The counsellor explained that he had noticed a pattern with individuals having been raised in Europe being steered away from the arts through their education. Isn’t it interesting how our environment can have such an impact on who we become?

The prospect of having a career in the arts, be it visual arts, design, communication, writing was thrilling to me. By the time this discussion was taking place, I had moved into management roles, distancing myself from the creative aspect of my trade—cooking. After a few minutes of joyful dreaming, I walked out the counselor’s office having decided that there is no way I would jeopardize what I had achieved to date in an attempt to redirect my professional path. Wasting my achievements to date is not something I “should” do. Whether that was the right decision or not, I’ll let you decide.

That conversation reminds me of the saying, “We are known by the company we keep.” Through our environments, we tend to inherit the beliefs of those with whom we spend the most time. Most environments we evolve in are framed by systems and beliefs that have been relied on to define rules and expected behaviors, establishing what is acceptable and what isn’t, ultimately leading to the creation of formal or informal codes of conduct, which often result in a lot of “shoulda.” Families, education systems, traditions, faith-related practices—all the communities we belong to influence who we are and who we become.

The systems’ philosophies eventually become part of our subconscious mind. Indeed, research shows that we function largely with a subconscious mind that has been programmed by others.

There are merits to having organized systems to function in; it avoids chaos. But I have been pondering the question, at what point do the systems we evolve in become invisible shackles, preventing us from being who we are meant to be? Are we clear on what we chose and what found its way to our subconscious? What is the cost of fitting in, and what is the cost of not fitting in?

When we work on fitting in, we evaluate environmental norms for the purpose of determining how we need to behave in order to be accepted in a group. This happens in families, at work, and in most communities and gatherings we want to join. As a human, we are wired for connection, so for many of us, it seems normal to put efforts toward being accepted in a group. However, when we have to pretend to be someone who we are not in order to fit in, it leaves us unsettled, unfulfilled, and can put our physical and mental health at risk. On another hand, when we evolve in systems where we are accepted for who we are, we belong. It’s important to remember that, as humans, we are wired for belonging. You know the feeling you have when you are with your people? How sweet is that? That’s what it’s all about.

To get or return to life circumstances that embrace who we are, we need to be first clear about just that—who we are. Call it purpose, mission, or whatever term resonates. It’s about knowing what matters to you and why. By being crystal clear about things that put a bounce in your step you begin the journey of inviting more of it into your life.

Perhaps my passion for coaching is rooted in its essential principle that as a coach, I don’t need to tell you what to do, but I commit to helping you articulate what you already know about yourself.

The silver lining in the current slowdown is that it can be easier to take a step back and decide to dedicate time to authenticate our journey. Many of my recent coaching discussions have been with individuals giving themselves permission to ask the important questions that are emerging.

Now is a good time—it always is—to create opportunities to stop doing and start being. Observe yourself and your life, without judgement. What comes up for you? Are you happy with what you see? Are you witnessing yourself living your life or a life forged by other people’s expectations?

In one of his guided meditations, Deepak Chopra explains, “As humans, we have the amazing ability to change past conditioning. We can achieve this by releasing negativity, interreacting with like-minded people, and engaging in uplifting activities. We can clear the subconscious of all that doesn’t serve us. True transformation is brought about by the qualities inherent in consciousness: attention (focus) and intention (clear vision of a desired outcome).”

Can we truly suppress our true identities in the long run? Perhaps, but at what cost? While I don’t promote living in the past, I value the opportunity to look back in order to feed forward.  Here I am, writing to you today, which brings me fulfillment.

My invitation to you is let go of invisible shackles. Create your own path, find your voice, your audience and your people. Be who you are, whoever that is. You are enough. In fact, you are plenty!

What do you want to focus your attention on? What is your intention?

Attention energizes, intention transforms.

Are you living your life?

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