But how exactly?
How, for example, do we discern and distinguish our own path from others’? How do we hear our own voice above the noise and courageously honor our own callings in the face of resistance from others?
Sometimes we lack a sense of vision, purpose or the ability to hear our calls. Perhaps we have a limited degree of self-awareness, and in the absence of self-knowledge and respect, look to the external to define our sense of worth. Sometimes our paths are laid out before us by others, and we blindly follow what we are often unable or afraid to discover for ourselves. Perhaps we internally judge ourselves as unworthy or incapable of making a different choice, choosing powerlessness over self-empowerment. We allow fear to overshadow the gift of authenticity and allow the opinions of others to trample our own. Sometimes, we may find ourselves in a different role — judging others, perhaps harshly so, as if our subconscious’ way of defending the fragility of our own choices and ego.
But if we are ever to honor the truth of who we are and embrace the essence of all that we have to offer; if we are to bravely walk our own path and become a leader in our own lives, we must learn to silence the critics, whether our own or others. We must learn to courageously own our truths, live our values, and follow our heart.
Integrity is more than moral fortitude. To live a life of integrity means to live a life that embraces the wholeness and essence of who we authentically are.
In my ever-evolving quest and determination to listen, discern and honor the callings of my own true path; in an effort to simultaneously hold on to my values and dreams while exploring ways to share my gifts with the world, I recently found myself judged without mercy. It was the worst kind of ‘mommy-wars’ conversation; a relentless and toxic onslaught of judgement from someone whose need to be right exceeded her capacity to simply listen and be a supportive friend.
In the wake of both misunderstanding and mis-aligned values, I asked her to stop. I asked if we could change subjects. Three, four, five times. Yet she continued — unabashedly and without a trace of empathy, respect or understanding.
With a degree of uncharacteristic anger rising from within, I pointed out that she could not possibly know what it is to walk in my shoes or to harbor my dreams, for neither my path nor my lessons are her own. As she abruptly stormed out of the restaurant, my other friend rendered speechless, I found myself emotionally and physically spent, as I tried to make sense of it all.
Why is it so difficult to honor the sacred journey of another? Why is listening with the intent to judge more prevalent than listening with the intent to understand? Why, in the face of difference, do we try to beat others into submission of our own views and values? Why is it so difficult for women to support other women whose choices and circumstances differ from their own? Just as importantly, in the face of our critics, how can we stand strong in the truth of who we are instead of allowing others to rob us (if only momentarily) of our joy, our peace, our dreams, and our value?
Years ago, I would have taken her words to heart. I might have allowed her judgement to cloud my own. But the dis-ease of that moment reminded me not of my limitations, but of how far I’ve come; that I can filter and extract another’s advice from their judgement, recognizing that their words and actions reflect their truths and values, not necessarily my own. I can choose to surround myself with those whose respect for self and others create space for difference, and walk away from those who cannot.
Most importantly, that evening reminded me that just as we are part of a collective whole, we each walk our own path; just as my values, dreams, gifts and talents are unique to me, my struggles are my own to overcome, too, reflective of the lessons I need to learn to reach the places I am called to go.