Embrace your shadow. We all cast one, why ignore it? In the brilliance of a warm, sunny afternoon that shadow is well defined and clear to see, but during a cold hazy day it is much fainter and difficult to notice. Does that mean that on the cloudy day the dim shadow is any less real? No, it is just hidden away from the observing eye.
There are parts of ourselves that are much like this shadow. These are the deepest parts of our souls that we hide away from plain sight. Doubt, fear, insecurity, pain, resentment, and shame get buried far away from the sunshine of reality in a place that not even those closest to us share.
Why do we tuck genuine elements of our real self away? Self-preservation, pride, denial or simply being unaware of our own reality most likely, but from this hiding comes a stagnancy that cripples our developmental and emotional growth as humans, as leaders, and as genuine people who try our darndest to create long-term relationships with others. We cannot grow if we cannot be honest with ourselves.
I learned this lesson the other day. I was participating in a growth exercise that I’ve devised with a close friend of mine. This is someone I have shared many laughs, many struggles, and if I had to take a bullet for him, it would be an easy choice and I know he’d do the same. He and I work together on tools designed to help people grow in understanding how human thought, emotions and behaviors impact outcomes, and through our many late night discussions around these philosophical topics we’ve devised a strategy to discover the real current self and design the real aspirational transformed self that a person desires. The real you. The real me. We have used this strategy with hundreds of strangers, but I’ve always played the researcher…not the test subject. My friend had asked me repeatedly to do it with him. I balked. “I don’t need to do it”, I thought. “I am keenly aware of who I am. We can just do it for other people to help them.” Well, he never let me off the hook and finally locked me in a room one day until I did it myself. He led me through the process like a real pro and I participated like one too. I shared my strengths, shortcomings and how I thought I could improve. He challenged my thinking when necessary and I responded and in the end I felt really good about the final results.
The trouble I’ve learned since was that my shadow was very hidden that day. I was certainly upfront and honest during the process, I shared many faults, many successes, and many desires, but what I didn’t share was the true depth of my real self, my deepest, darkest secrets. I kept hidden that I had been recently operating at about 20% capacity. I kept hidden that I was fearful and insecure about my talent level. I kept hidden that I was resentful of others and jealous of their success. I shared only the tip of what was real.
Don’t we all?
Tonight I had dinner with him again and I opened up and shared a glimmer of this shadow. What I will tell you now is that in that moment of shame, I was enlightened. Enlightened partly because he was genuinely thrilled that I felt truly open with him, and partly that going through this process works. Most of all I was enlightened because I refused to let the shadow remain hidden in the dark gloomy world of my subconscious. I brightly shined a light on who I am so that I could see the shadow for what it was… an element of myself…not a definition of myself. I cast the shadow and live with it, but it does not define who I am. I must understand it and deal with it, and I’ve discovered that the absolute best way to do that is to be honest with myself.
What am I afraid of?
Why am I afraid of it?
Why am I resentful?
What am I insecure about?
What makes me doubtful?
What makes me afraid?
Why am I ashamed?
Asking myself these questions with complete honesty and humility forces me to answer and deal with them in profound ways. Through this process I’ve become self-aware of the realities behind the emotions and as a result, I get a fresh starting point to dramatically eliminate them. If I don’t ask the questions, I will not get the answers. I will continue blindly living the lies or deceit that the shadowy emotions provide.
Don’t be afraid of your shadow. Embrace it. Understand it. Cope with it. Share it with those you trust. Most of all, learn from it. It is there for a reason, one you may not understand today, one you may not understand tomorrow. It is in a relentless journey of self-discovery where you will one day find yourself, understand yourself, accept yourself, improve yourself and most importantly, love yourself. You and your shadow.