To Thine Own Soul be Authentic
Christmas morning my sweet little family has a tradition to watch whatever movie Santa has left for us under the tree. In the age of streaming, that looks a bit different for us now. We now check out the Christmas Day releases on the various streaming services that we have. This year, we watched the new Pixar film, Soul, and let me tell you it is the gut punch that we all need right now.
About six years ago, I went through one of the most personally painful chapters of my life. I weighed close to 300 pounds and I was unhappy in nearly every way. I made the decision to get weight loss surgery to lose all of the weight once and for all. I was taking steps to regain control of my life and then depression hit. Regret for a terrible choice that I had made began to eat me alive and I made the decision to end my life. I kissed my kids as they slept and said goodbye. I kissed my husband and told him that I loved him. I then proceeded to take a handful of pills and let myself go to sleep. I remember praying for God to bring me home and to take care of my family.
I had the most beautiful dream that night. I was told my work wasn’t done and that I couldn’t come home yet. I woke up, very groggy, but I woke up the next morning with a sense of peace that I couldn’t explain and a grateful heart that I failed at my attempt to die.
It was then that I discovered the work of Dr. Brené Brown. She is a shame researcher at the University of Texas. Her book, Rising Strong, saved my life. Her gospel is authenticity and being enough just the way that you are. Her “Manifesto of the Brave and Brokenhearted” became my creed:
MANIFESTO OF THE BRAVE AND BROKENHEARTED
There is no greater threat to the critics and cynics and fearmongers
Than those of us who are willing to fall
Because we have learned how to rise
With skinned knees and bruised hearts;
We choose owning our stories of struggle,
Over hiding, over hustling, over pretending.
When we deny our stories, they define us.
When we run from struggle, we are never free.
So we turn toward truth and look it in the eye.
We will not be characters in our stories.
Not villains, not victims, not even heroes.
We are the authors of our lives.
We write our own daring endings.
We craft love from heartbreak,
Compassion from shame,
Grace from disappointment,
Courage from failure.
Showing up is our power.
Story is our way home.
Truth is our song.
We are the brave and brokenhearted.
We are rising strong.
I learned how to pick myself up and dust myself off. Recognized the inner courage that I had to put myself out into the arena of life and love with abandon, own my story, and realized that I was enough just as I was. I learned to stop listening to the shame gremlins, the ones that tell you that you aren’t good enough, that no one likes you, that you’re ugly and stupid. I learned how to put them in their place.
In comes Soul, a beautifully done film about a man that doesn’t feel like he is enough. Joe Gardner is a middle school band teacher that wants nothing more than to be a big-time jazz musician. When he plays music, he gets into the zone; the zone where everything else disappears and you are one with your great passion, something I have experienced first-hand when I write.
Joe has an accident, and his soul is separated from his body. Throughout the film he is constantly trying to get back to his body so that he can make it to the big gig that he finally lands. In his attempt to avoid The Great Beyond, he becomes a mentor to 22, a soul that has never completed all of its training before going to Earth. In a very Pixar turn of events, Joe and 22 make it back to Earth and Joe unintentionally teaches 22 how to live, what life is about. We see 22’s wonder at the small things, like a lollipop at the barber shop and seed falling like a helicopter, that we all take for granted every day.
Joe is hung up on his purpose, like I was and many of us are. He’s more concerned about what other people think of him and his accomplishments, or lack thereof, instead of just being who he is supposed to be, who he was made to be. Joe didn’t need to be some big-time jazz musician to be loved and accepted. He just needed to be Joe. Joe the teacher that shared his passion with others. As soon as he realized he was enough, he was able to help 22 battle her shame gremlins that made her a monster of a lost soul.
The most powerful scene in the film is when he sees that he has become one of her shame gremlins. As a parent, it made me painfully aware of the power that my words and attitudes have on my own children. It reminded me that I can either be an instrument of shame or love and acceptance. That scene cemented for me that my responsibility to the children I have been entrusted with is to teach them that they are enough just as they are. To teach them that they are loved and accepted. I must model authenticity.
In Braving the Wilderness, Brené Brown relies on the Maya Angelou quote, “You are only free when you realize you belong no place—you belong every place—no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.” To be the person that God, the Universe, or whatever you believe called you into being, is the greatest source of freedom. You belong to yourself. It took two near death experiences for Joe Gardner to figure that out. It took me one.
The price of authenticity is high. Being yourself and not making any apologies for it scares people. We’ve been taught for so long that to be accepted we have to be perfect. We have to have the perfect house, perfect job, perfect body. I’m here to tell you, it’s ok. Soul reminds us that we are perfectly imperfect just as we are. The way that we are made is exactly what the world needs.
We don’t need to hustle for approval. Adapting our clothes, attitudes, and opinions to fit whatever social group we are trying to be a part of is not what matters. Hustling for approval is exhausting. Joe did it by constantly scrambling to fit with his mom, with school, with anyone that he interacted with. 22 was just 22 while she was on Earth learning. And the neat thing to watch was how others responded to 22. They felt at ease and opened up. They didn’t feel threatened or nervous. They felt the freedom to be vulnerable, to be real. Authenticity begets authenticity.
I don’t think that you need a near-death experience to learn how to be authentic. You just need to learn how to put down the armor and be willing to just be you. It’s scary at first, but I can promise you it’s worth it. The connections that you will make will help others see their light, their spark.