I’m having one of those mornings where my brain is firing a hundred thoughts a minute. There’s a larger idea that all these rapid-fire thoughts are coalescing towards, and I can sense that it’s there, somewhere, and so my hope is that if I just write my thoughts down in an essay, I can start to comprehend that larger idea. This is going to be one of those essays that I’m probably not going to edit very much at all — just start writing completely in a stream-of-consciousness style and just see what happens.
I had a very strange dream last night. I was observing myself in the third person. I was having a union organizing conversation with a worker. She was opening up about intense emotional and physical trauma she had experienced both at work and in her personal life. She was so wrapped up in her story, and rightfully so, that she didn’t notice that I was so wrapped up in my own head and not *truly* listening deeply to what she was saying. As a third-person observer of my dream, I could observe myself wrapped up in my head thinking stuff like, “Wow, I am such a good organizer. I was able to create such a ‘neutral’ ‘nonjudgmental’ ‘listening’ space that she felt it was safe to open up to me. I’m super super awesome. And how do I navigate this situation moving forward.” I wasn’t being present at all, I wasn’t with her at all, not in any real sense, and as the third-party observer I started to get disgusted with the “organizer me” I saw in the dream. “Organizer me” was using her opening up about her trauma to serve my own ego instead of using that “ego energy” toward actually listening to her deeply.
I woke up from the dream and sat up from my bed. My room was dark, and again my thoughts started to spin. And I felt guilty that my thoughts were spinning, in real life, just like the dream — that was the problem. I was thinking too much and not being present in the moment — not being present in the moment with this imagined worker, and apparently not being present in the moment with myself in a dark room. I tell myself that I do all this organizing work for other people, and in many ways I do, but if I do not dissolve my ego more — despite being someone who tells himself that he does do the work of trying to dissolve his own ego (which is creating an ego around not having an ego!) — then I am not able to truly “give” to workers, connect with others, and be an effective organizer, in union organizing and beyond. In other words, I need to dissolve my ego more, and not develop an ego around dissolving my ego.
Sometimes what I do when I’m trying to push myself in self-development is that I write things down on my arm. That way, throughout the day, I’ll catch a glimpse of what I’ve written down on my arm and it will remind me what my goals are. This morning I wrote: “1. Dissolve ego. 2. Authentic self. 3. Growth. 4. Self-awareness.”
I started to feel proud of myself. There are a lot of people who laugh off self-development — people who think that spending a lot of time thinking about “dissolving your ego” “journaling” “fitness” etc., is dumb. And like I said, I started to feel proud of myself: at my best, I do try to work on myself, and I spend a lot of time and energy in doing so. Improving myself — and seeing how far I’ve come in a year (I turn 26 years old in a few days and so I’ve been reflecting on what I’ve done this year) — has been hard, hard work, and I’ve come far.
But also, as I write this, I’m thinking: I need to not develop an ego about “dissolving my ego” and self-development in general.
What is the way out of this paradox?
I think it’s two things in particular:
1. Practicing being present to the moment. Meditation is a great practice for this. Trying to make sure that you’re running your own thoughts, that your thoughts are not running you.
2. Which ties into the idea of that “self-development” is not about “stuff that you do” or “stuff that will make you feel better.” Self-development is not about what you add to yourself to feel better. It’s about becoming who you are, getting rid of that which is inauthentic to yourself, revealing to yourself who you have always been authentically.
It’s the difference between “doing self-development” and just “being.”
Here’s some self-awareness. I know the above will seem sort of “out there” to some. Sometimes when I post essays like these, some people will appreciate them, and a few people sometimes reach out in concern.
Here’s why I’m choosing to post this. It goes back to the four-part list I wrote on my arm this morning.
1. I don’t believe this essay I’ve written serves my own ego. I’ve written down exactly what is in my head and in my heart, no matter how strange or weird it comes off to others. (Or to myself for that matter.)
2. And I think there is value in demonstrating that self-development can often be strange and weird. Most of us, true story, if we were to really, really, really authentically describe exactly what are thoughts + feelings are would find that our own thoughts + feelings are strange. And that is OK! I think there is tremendous, tremendous value to ourselves to be in touch and OK with our own strange thoughts + feelings. And I feel like demonstrating what this looks like for me is worth it. Maybe it could provide a demonstration to others that thoughts + feelings, if authentically expressed, can oftentimes be strange and weird and that that it is OK.
3. Writing all this down this morning makes all the feelings I’ve been trying to work through: physical.. This essay serves as part of my process in my self-development.
4. This is meta, but while the above essay is authentic to me, I understand that it could be off-putting to others, and I’m trying to acknowledge it here; I’m trying to be self-aware.
I think that’s the point I want to make more than anything with this essay, I’m realizing: self-development is strange and odd and totally weird. Even to myself. But that is OK.
I don’t appreciate that society can often shame self-development, although I also understand it.
In the last year, in particular, my life has gotten so, so, so much better. My life has gotten so, so, so much better in large part directly because I’ve been on a self-development journey. I am so grateful that I was able to start my self-development journey, and it is so worth it. I’ve got one life to live, so I should take responsibility and make myself the best person I can possibly be so that I can best serve others to the best of my abilities.
Self-development — being in touch with my own emotions, trying to be even more in touch with my own emotions, taking lots of action, improving myself, etc. — is so worth it.
The only caveat is, at this stage in my journey, I need to learn not to create an ego around organizing, self-development, etc. I don’t want to be the organizer I witnessed in my dream.
I do, however, want to actualize my best self.