This year I’ve decided that my goal is to become a fool.
This goal is quite different than any goal I’ve ever set in my life. Generally my New Year’s Resolutions have revolved around my weight or appearance, money, or something I needed to do more of or something I needed to add to the knowledge I’ve collected in my brain. Something to “better” myself, and usually something that would make me *look* better in the eyes of others.
I know it sounds vain.
I’m not exactly sure the intentions were vain, but maybe it fits the bill.
And although I was complicit in these goals to build myself up in the world and in the eyes of those around me, I’m not wholly to blame.
Ever since I can remember I’ve been praised. Praised for being obedient. Praised for being “wise beyond my years”. Praised for being smart. Or talented. Praised for being helpful. Praised for doing exactly what was expected of me (although, I’ve definitely made mistakes). Praised for listening to authority figures and doing whatever was asked of me. Praised for being responsible. Praised for winning awards. Praised for trying to make life easier for those around me. Praised for self-sacrificing. Praised for always being the first to apologize. Praised for being considerate and mature.
And don’t get me wrong. I don’t think this praise was given maliciously or manipulatively, although maybe some of it could have been given in order to reinforce behaviors that people liked to see from me and wanted me to continue acting out. But through this praise, I began to develop my identity. An identity that viewed myself solely from the perspective of how others saw me. How others perceived me. How they approved of me and what pedestal they put me on and how high that pedestal happened to be. I began to see what made people happy. What created what I believed to be peace. What pleased others and made them like me, and I became that person to the best of my ability.
And it wasn’t just that I wanted to be liked, although that is part of it, much of it was because I sincerely wanted to be helpful and good. I truly desired to be good and I thought this was the way to do it. I didn’t want to cause problems for people. And I didn’t want to let them down. I didn’t want to ruin the idea of me that they had built up in their heads. I wanted to live up to the expectations and not disappoint.
So for the people who called me smart, I made sure I was as smart as I could possibly be.
For the people who called me talented, I tried to be as talented as I could be.
For those who had authority over me, I made sure to check all the boxes of their expectations to the best of my ability.
I tried to win all the awards and become the best at everything that mattered to the people I loved. I tried to become the master of every area of life. I stacked more and more of these expectations and ideals onto my shoulders and into my heart. And for a long time, I was able to carry them.
Gradually, though, they became my cage and I began to be resentful. They became my many identities. They trapped me into a life I thought I wanted and believed I could live up to. They created within me toxic perfectionism. (I wore the badge of “perfectionist” with pride for many years.) These expectations, and perceived expectations, have ultimately caused me to drown. Like the “flaxen cords” that Satan uses to bind the Children of God into works of darkness, these same cords were used to bind me and pull me down on my path toward “perfection” (2 Nephi 26:22).
As these chains became increasingly entrenched into my identity and my life, I became more and more cautious of doing anything that might upset the way I was perceived. I became terrified of failure. Terrified of confrontation. Terrified to disappoint people. Terrified of not being smart enough or successful enough.
Terrified of being a fool.
Terrified of being me.
That’s the reality of it when it comes right down to it. I had become so enmeshed with the perception and expectations, or perceived expectations, of others that I had lost me. I lost my true identity and created alternate identities that put me on a million different pedestals for everyone else. And to be honest, I enjoyed those pedestals and didn’t want to lose them; but for a time, as a teenager, I found ways to rebel, living a “double life” to try to find a way out of my cage and off the pedestals because they had become too much for me to bear. Yet, even then, I did my best not to upset the way that those that I loved saw me. I became the master at controlling perceptions. I wasn’t trying to be manipulative; I was just trying to survive the only way I really knew how.
For so long I didn’t realize what I had done in trying to please everyone around me. I didn’t realize the fracture I had created in my life. I didn’t realize I didn’t even know who I was anymore. I had become a slave to the ideas of me that existed within myself and within others.
Over the last few years I’ve been attempting to figure all that out. It’s been a lot of work. It’s been painful and scary. I’ve had to tear down old narratives and seek for truth. I’ve had to do things that have made me uncomfortable and start setting better boundaries.
That plan was working until recently, when I finally just felt stuck. I still felt caged and I reached a point where I was completely lost. I had no idea where to go and no idea what direction I was facing. Totally disoriented. It was a feeling I had never really experienced before. During this process, I’ve always had some idea of what I needed to do next on my journey, or at least a general direction I needed to face. But that was suddenly all gone.
And I felt paralyzed.
I kept praying, meditating, studying, discussing things with my husband and friends, in hopes that I would find an answer as to what step I needed to take next. I looked inwardly and tried to analyze myself and my life. I wanted answers immediately. The discomfort was immense. But I kept sitting with it in hopes I could find my way.
No answers came.
This morning I participated in a group discussion about the archetype of the Fool. Going into the meeting, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, but I was interested in learning and hoped to gain something useful for my life. As we discussed the archetype of the Fool, I very quickly began to feel a bit sick to my stomach. The anxiety was bubbling up from deep within, and I recognized that my body was telling me there was something here that I didn’t want to address. Something from which I wanted to flee.
The Fool archetype is the starting point of every journey. The person who starts out on a journey starts out as inexperienced, naive, not fully informed, and basically unsure of what they are really getting themselves into. They might have some ideas of what is to come, but they are essentially a newbie. Within the Fool, all possibilities are contained. The Fool might succeed, they might fail. They might fail miserably. They will most certainly make mistakes and be wrong about things along their journey.
They are in no way Masters. But in order to become a Master of anything, they have to keep moving forward. They have to risk making a fool of themselves. They have to risk mistakes and misfortune. They have to encounter a bit of danger. They have to have faith.
Today I realized that over the course of my life it was required, or at least it felt required, of me to be the Master before I ever even got the chance to play the Fool. I was built up to be something that I really wasn’t yet. And as I identified with that more and more, the idea of playing the role of the Fool and allowing myself to go on new journeys, to make mistakes or be the beginner in a room, became increasingly difficult because in order to do so I would have to break that image of the Master that I had built up and that had been created around me.
The idea of allowing myself to be raw and real with everyone and not just a select few is a terrifying concept to me. I recognize that I have always admired people when they just lay it all out on the table and say, “Here I am, take me or leave me.” And today I understand why.
So this year, my goal is to allow myself to embody the Fool. To shake off the cage of expectation, to disappoint, to make mistakes, to not always have the answers, and to take more risks. To let go of everyone else’s understanding and belief of who I am and to exercise more faith in the idea that it is acceptable to be me. Because, the reality is that their perception of me is a mix of their own making and who I allowed myself to be around them.
And it’s not real.
So, I hope that this year I say some stupid things. I hope I make a few people mad at me. I hope I confuse somebody. I hope I pleasantly surprise someone. I hope I will allow myself to be a complete beginner and not try to hide it. I hope that I can introduce myself to myself, as well as to others. And ultimately, I hope I can tear off a few of those cords that have tied me up for so long.
I’m ready to play the Fool.
I’m ready for my journey.
I’m ready to be me.