Tag: self-actualization (page 1 of 2)

Best Self

From the moment we are born, there will be people around us who will try to tell us what we should be doing, how we should be acting, and by what metrics we should be measuring our success. The influences of our families, societies, popular media, and a host of other sources try to inform us of what is “best”: best behavior, best performance, best goals, best cars, best social media platform, so on and so forth. With so much clamor from so many directions, the messages and influences that encourage us to validate ourselves, rather than seek validation from others, can easily get drowned out. It is one of the most subtly dangerous threats to our psyches that exist, and I cannot overstate how important it is to find our sovereignty within ourselves first and foremost.

There’s no universal set of rules or criteria that can be followed to achieve this. Our pasts, and our present, create a set of circumstances unique to every one of us. Regardless of where you’ve come from, where you are, or what you have or have not achieved so far, there is something that I can say I honestly believe is true for you as much as it is for me: you are worth believing in, and you can find that belief within yourself. I’ve dismissed that idea out of hand in the past, be it with a sincere if half-hearted “thank you” to whatever person was saying it, or acting in a sarcastic manner in reaction. Because of how I looked at myself, I neither saw nor internalized the truth of that statement. It was a denial of my best self. That is one of the biggest things that has changed about me, and that I’m dedicated to not losing sight of ever again.

Our best self comes out when we look within ourselves for our sense of validation. It isn’t easy. Those external sources, those structures of control, can be difficult to eject. Some of the influences, especially from parental figures and role models, dig themselves deeply into our psyches. And sometimes, they are directly detrimental to our self-actualization. Even when we can recognize them as toxic, if they have been a part of our lives for an extended period of time, the idea of being apart from them can be daunting. That challenge of making new choices I mentioned previously? This is where it’s at its most prominent, and where forging those new neural pathways can be its most rewarding and empowering.

As much as a lot of popular media is aimed at making one reach for an external sense of validation, be it financial success or reliance upon a relationship or some fleeting moment of fame or recognition, I’d like to cite three examples of stories in our popular culture that exemplify the challenges and empowerment of seeking and seizing validation from within oneself.

“I don’t have anything to prove to you.”

One of the best scenes in Captain Marvel is Carol’s last confrontation with the Kree Supreme Intelligence. For years, the Kree had been influencing Carol’s psyche with both direct and indirect manipulation; there was a device on her neck representing the direct control of the Supreme Intelligence, and her peers sought indirect control through exemplifying the Kree way of life. Even then, however, Carol didn’t quite fit in, wanting to be her own person. Returning to Earth showed Carol who she had been before the events that put her under Kree control. I love the scene where Carol’s best friend from her past, Maria, tells Carol who she is, or at least who Maria always saw her to be: “smart, and funny, and a huge pain in the ass… the most powerful person I knew, way before you could shoot fire from your fists.” Maria could see the person that Carol was, and wanted to help her see who she could be — to help Carol grow into her true self.

Carol resolved to forge her own identity, using both who she had been on Earth and what she’d learned from the Kree to become a new, better, stronger version of herself. She doesn’t want to go back to who she was before — she knows that’s impossible. And her identity as a Kree warrior, not to mention the entire Kree way of life, has shown itself to be a lie. She rejects the influence of the Supreme Intelligence; she physically removes the device (something else she’d been lied to about), and says:

“I’ve been fighting with one hand tied behind my back. What happens when I’m finally set free?”

What happens next is a direct manifestation of Carol Danvers as her best self. As Captain Marvel. And it came from within herself, from her own inner sense of validation.

“I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me.”

Aragorn, especially in the film adaptation of Lord of the Rings, is a man who is fearful of his legacy, the influences of his past. He knows that those who came before him failed, succumbed to their weaknesses and temptations, and he is afraid of doing the same, of not being equal to the task ahead of him. Because of the actions of others, he is inclined to invalidate himself. Even when actively encouraged by others, be they Gandalf or Arwen or Elrond, he secludes himself, more concerned with the possibility of failure than of success.

When he puts that fear aside, and makes the decision to use what has been given to him to its fullest potential, we see a change. He’s been able to lead in the past, when tracking Merry and Pippin or at Helm’s Deep. But when he rides out of Minis Tirith with an army behind him and has to inspire them to stand with him to give the world a chance at peace and freedom, it’s through his own inner sense of validation that he validates others. He knows he might fail, that it might all end in darkness and death. His belief that he can be better, that he chooses to be better, makes all the difference. It allows him to face his fear and, in turn, help those with him to overcome theirs. And that is why they prevail.

“… this spark in you; it’s amazing! Whatever you choose to do with it, you’re gonna be great.”

Miles Morales in Into the Spider-Verse has to find it within himself to “put on the mask”, to be Spider-Man. He’s in a situation where he knows his powers give him responsibility, and he aspires to be like the Spider-Man of his world — Peter Parker, now deceased. (Whups, spoilers.) The Peter Parker from another dimension, who’s come to care for Miles, tells the young man that he’s not ready, that he doesn’t quite have what it takes to tackle the major threat. This is a sentiment backed up by Gwen Stacy, Peni Parker, Spider-Man Noir, and Peter Porker. They all care about him and want him to be safe; they feel his inexperience makes the situation too dangerous. His father, coming to his door, tells him that he’s worth believing in. In the end, it’s Miles himself that helps him realize that he does, in fact, have what it takes to be the kind of person, the kind of hero, he wants to be.

Into the Spider-Verse immediately became my favorite Spider-Man film, and favorite Spider-Man story period, because of Miles Morales. I mean, yes, the art style is mind-blowing and the attention to detail is staggering; I adore the worn-out alternate universe Peter Parker, the incredibly confident and empowered Spider-Gwen, the uniqueness of Peni, the wonderful delight of Nicholas Cage just doing the most, and my inner 8-year-old can’t stop giggling at the Spectacular Spider-Ham. But it’s the story of Miles, and how he grows and changes, that is sticking with me. From his father to his uncle, not to mention not one but two Peter Parkers, there are a lot of external influences that could push or pull Miles in one way or another. The focal point of the story, however, is how Miles makes his choices in terms of who it is he wants to be. The most important thing to Miles is not living up to anyone else’s expectations; it’s not earning validation from peers; it’s not seeking attention or affirmation through external shows. The most important thing to Miles is being Miles, the best Miles he can be — for him, that’s to put on the mask and take a leap of faith.

Much like redemption, validation is at its most powerful when it comes from within oneself. The people who truly love us want nothing more than to see us succeed, for our own sake and on our own terms. They want to believe in us. Here’s the thing: if we can’t believe in ourselves, how can we expect others to believe in us? If we don’t respect ourselves, why would anyone else respect us? It begins within ourselves. It’s not something that’s touched on often in the media that permeates our society. There are tons of businesses who will be more than happy to sell you something in the name of fulfilling a need within yourself. It’s an easier solution to reach for. To try and find these things on your own, to eschew the expectations of the world, is considered an abnormality. There’s something about it that can, and often does, feel dangerous.

With everything that’s happened, and everything I’m learning, I’ve come to believe that choosing and working become one’s best self is a difficult thing, sometimes even a frightening thing. Your success and failure is entirely on you. If you’re detached from reliance upon and validation from others, you run the risk of either buying too much of your own hype or focusing overmuch on minor setbacks as evidence that you can’t make your own way. Again, this will vary from person to person, but that seems to me to be the nature of the challenge, the flavor of the danger. And it’s understandable to be afraid. But just like deciding to seek your best self, you can also decide how you handle that fear. I used to let it make the decisions for me; now, I can acknowledge it exists, see it for what it is, and then find it within myself to make my decisions on my own terms.

In other words: being one’s best self is often a matter of stepping out under one’s own power, seeing the challenges ahead, choosing to show the fuck up anyway, and saying:

What’s up, danger?

500 Words on the Mirror

It can be difficult to recognize the face that looks back at me in the mirror. Especially since I’ve grown my hair out and started styling my facial hair in certain ways. But the eyes are still there, the eyes I’ve had since I was a child. They’ve seen a lot, perhaps more than they should have. I see them in the mirror, these mechanisms through which I see the world, and try to process who’s looking back at me.

Is this a person worth fighting for?

Movies with Mikey‘s “Creed” episode draws attention to a mirror moment, where the protagonist is told by his coach (Rocky Balboa, in this case) “that, right there, is your toughest opponent.” A somewhat unspoken agreement — a ‘creed’, if you will — between fighters is discussed. It’s simple: “I fight, you fight.” If you step into the ring, so will I, and we’ll each give our all to prove ourselves to ourselves and to one another.

(Seriously, if you’re not watching Movies with Mikey, do yourself a favor and check it out.)

I’ve started repeating that creed to myself when I see myself in the mirror.

“I fight. You fight.”

Who or what am I fighting, though? Is it that other person, the one in the mirror?

Yes and no.

In the past, that person in the mirror has resembled someone else. Someone I don’t recognize. Someone who had been influenced by other people.

First of all, some of those people are fucking monsters.

Not everybody has your best interest at heart. People will seek to take advantage of you, to exploit your weaknesses. Those sorts of abuses, which can hurt more deeply and thoroughly than any punch or cut, give fuel to the monsters that live in our heads, the voices that say we’re better off dead.

That’s what I’m fighting. Those voices, those monsters, those irritating head weasels.

You can’t see them, though. And it’s very, very hard to fight what you can’t see. Ask anybody who has a chronic pain disorder or a mental illness. Ask about their experiences with doctors, with society. You’ll see how hard it is to fight the unseen.

What we can see, though, is the person in the mirror.

“I fight. You fight.”

The final trap in this is the one in which we fight against ourselves, not with ourselves. The difference is that in the former case, we make ourselves an antagonist, a foe to be conquered. But what good do we do ourselves if we cast ourselves as our own villain?

We can be our greatest ally, instead. Whatever the threat might be is one that both entities fight together. You can see what was, or you can see what could be. When you see the image of yourself in the mirror, it’s yours. The you in the mirror is a you that needs you.

You can fight it, or you can fight for it.

“I fight. You fight.”

On Fridays I write 500 words.

The Challenge

Dueling Pistols


I challenge you.

I may hear you across a room.
Read your messages or tweets.
See you in a mirror.

Doesn’t matter.
I demand satisfaction.

I challenge you to love.
Let compassion prevail over myopia.

I challenge you to change perspective.
I know another’s shoes don’t fit;
that they’re painful and weird,
especially to walk a mile in them.

I challenge you to walk in them anyway.

I challenge you to silence your fear.
Allow light to dispel the shade
you’d throw on another.

Would you want another to diminish your shine?
Then I challenge you to not diminish others’.

I challenge you to rise above your bullshit.

I challenge you to be mindful.
To listen to the lessons of music.
To say “I will survive”.
To break “the sound of silence”.
To remember that you’ll never know
“who lives, who dies, who tells your story”.

I challenge you to unchain your heart from the pain of the past.

I challenge you to learn from failure and doubt.

I challenge you to move in the direction of tomorrow.

I challenge you to embrace the joy of simply being alive.

I challenge you to take up arms, to rail against ignorance and indecision, to fucking fight for yourself.

I challenge you to believe.
Believe in yourself.

And if you’re gonna dig,
I challenge you to dig for the heavens.

Merely A Setback

Kael'thas by ArtDoge
Art by ArtDoge

Been feeling the Blizzard bug nibbling at me lately.

As much as I would love to dive back into Azeroth and prepare for the new expansion to World of Warcraft, there are a lot of things I need to take care of in the real world first. Things have been quiet on the YouTube channel (save for someone having fun with the dislike buttons – you go, whomever you are! *big grin*); despite picking up a new microphone and finally getting Balthazar in a running condition, I haven’t produced a new video for the last couple of weeks. This past week was a six-day workweek, and I’ve been having bouts of insomnia every night of it, yet haven’t had much energy to be overly productive outside of work.

Hooray! I’m depressed again!

There are times when depression leaves one with enough energy and motivation to go about some basic tasks – feeding myself, taking a shower, getting to and from work, being on my game at work, etc – but beyond that, one has very little in terms of both of those things. There are others when victims of depression don’t even have those to go on, and I’ve certainly had my bouts of building a blanket fort and curling up inside. But this is not one of those times. This depression, be it the usual pervasive mix of hindsight and contrition, or seasonally affected, is merely a setback.

Likewise, losing yet another home, having my car sit in a non-street legal state, and playing perpetual waiting games with potential oaths of upward motion are all merely setbacks.

I’ll keep doing everything I’m able every day. I’ll find a new rhythm. I’ll move to a place of my own. I’ll return to writing fiction, to vlogging, to streaming Hearthstone, to truly loving life. I’ll learn to cope with my moods and thoughts in an active amd positive way, as opposed to merely in hindsight with a mix of nostalgia or contrition. I’ll learn to love myself – fully, truly love myself every single day.

Thank you for bearing with me in the meantime.

Agency and Redemption

In case this week’s vlog didn’t tip you off, I am a huge fan of Mad Max: Fury Road. Long after having seen it several times in cinemas and at home, I still want to talk about its greater meanings, implied or intended, regarding personal autonomy and agency, the depth of truly human characters, and all of the great moments of storytelling in what is, on the surface, a bone-crunching action romp about weird cars and weirder wasteland denizens.

I’ve already talked at length about the film’s merits in both this review and this post about characters. But what about its influence upon folks like me when it comes to inspiration and motivation?

Courtesy Warner Brs.

There are messages woven throughout the film, but one of the most simultaneously potent and subtle one is that of personal agency. When the film opens, Max is seemingly a pawn of his own unbridled emotions – his anxiety, his rage, his fears, and the memories that haunt him. He gets muzzled, restrained, and used for his blood, completely at the mercy of the people around him. It takes external influences – Furiosa’s escape in the War Rig, the subsequent pursuit, and the incredible windstorm – to give Max the opportunity to seize control of the situation as much as he can.

Once Max is able to focus on reclaiming agency of his life, an interesting thing happens. He initially goes after selfish goals – hijacking the War Rig for his own escape, ignoring the plight of the women, and getting the damned muzzle off of his face – but the more time he spends in that Rig, the more he finds himself supporting those around him. He seems to realize how important it is for Furiosa and the wives to seize their agency, make their escape, and in Furiosa’s case, seek redemption for everything she had to do in order to survive. Because the War Boys immediately reduced Max to a thing, and Immortan Joe has been using people as things for presumably a long time, their drives and motivations become aligned:

Courtesy Warner Brs.

I mentioned in the vlog that idealizing, romanticizing, or demonizing the people in our past is an awful thing to do. It robs them of their agency. It makes them things. See above. There are very few things in this world that can be more harmful to those we care about than to view them in such damaging, dehumanizing ways.

To my great shame, I have found myself doing it, up until recently. (Like, a week ago or so…)

Seeing the people we care about with clarity, without any shade of glasses (rose-colored, ash-colored, etc), is the best way to respect them. If they have passed, it honors their memory. If they yet live, it frees them to be who they are and, ideally, grow into better versions of themselves tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that, as they push themselves down their hard road of self-realization and self-actualization.

As I said, that’s the ideal situation. Others may arise. But that is how others live.

Your focus, my focus, must be on how we, as individuals, live.

The roads ahead of us stretch out to the horizon, into the unknown quantities of our futures. One is the desolate, plain, unthreatening road of doing what we’ve always done, avoiding facing or challenging ourselves, and letting go of opportunities to grow and change as individuals. The other, harder road, fraught with the perils of facing truths about our words and deeds we do not wish to admit, can be intimidating and unnerving, leading as it does through the Shadow and the hard lessons of the past. But I maintain that it is the right road to take.

It is the road to agency. To growth. And, ultimately, to redemption.

Don’t you owe it to yourself to be the best human you can be?

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