Posts Tagged ‘measure of safety’

Learning from Others: Adding A Little More Zest to Our Lives

May 29, 2014

Whether it’s nurture, nature, or simple mimicry, our personalities usually include a mishmash of attitudes and behaviors that we’ve picked up along the way. Admiring others and wishing we were more like them is something we’ve all experienced. After all, imitation is the highest form of flattery, right? Framing this line of thinking in a more quotidian manner, if you could take a technique or ingredient from someone else’s recipe and apply it to your own, what feature might you choose? Zesty chilies? A long, slow simmer? Roiling boil? An undertone of ginger? Sweet, slippery mango? The French word pastiche is a cognate of the Italian noun pasticcio, meaning a pâté or pie-filling mixed from diverse ingredients. I love this image of the celebratory pate; after all, parties with a mélange of food and drink are meant to be fun. But, for purposes of this post, what makes the concept of pastiche so great is that we’re adopting some element of another’s life that we admire and then making it our own.


Think about someone you admire. What is it, exactly, that this person does so well? Why do you appreciate this? Is this something you wish you could do more of, yourself? How might you start?


The last question is harder than it sounds. Adopting new behaviors or attitudes is tricky business, especially when you consider that bringing something new into our lives usually requires we surrender something else. For instance, we all know that in order to move a new bed into our bedroom, we must get rid of the old. Sayonara lumpy mattress! There ain’t enough space for two–you can’t sleep on both. Now, apply this analogy to your own anger, feelings of victimhood, or desire to achieve X. If you admire someone for being cheerful and wistfully observe that their life is sunnier than yours, one of the critical first steps you’ll need is to give up your resentment or the negativity you’ve clung to all these years. Set that burden down! But, what if your old, grumpy self provides a measure of safety (which is why you developed it in the first place, fyi) and to shed that cover means you’ll feel vulnerable? What then??? Here’s another: if you want to lose weight, you’ve got to cut out the calories. (Alas, I’m well acquainted with the challenges of this particular equation!) When we’re preoccupied with lugging around our disappointment or emergency candy bars, we’re not free to cultivate a more positive, slimmer self. If change is the goal, there are safeguards we must forgo—and this always leaves us feeling exposed. But, how much worse can that be compared to the discomfort you’re feeling now, with your tiresome bad habits?


A few days ago, upon returning from her college reunion, a high school chum wrote to me. She reported that she didn’t have a great time mixing with her former classmates. “I realized long ago that my mingling skills are exceptionally poor. Perhaps I could become your mentee. Or perhaps I’ll just accept that I am what I am.…” This is not the first time my friend has regretfully made such observations about herself. She often bemoans her socializing skills while approving of mine. It’s true, I know how to mingle; I come from a long, notorious line of Master Minglers. While I’d be delighted to give her some tips were she to ask, I suspect she feels more secure lingering on the social sidelines, embracing her status quo. Her choice. Because we are so different, the way she socializes would always differ from my approach, but she could form a pastiche of my dexterities with her personal party élan. Sounds like a pretty good combo-pack to me.


It’s no surprise we admire fine qualities of those around us–their sparkle or mischievous wit, their steady calm and sense of purpose, their fantastic mastery of word games. Over the course of my life, I have shamelessly aped the talents of others in order to maximize my chances of an improved outcome. But to do so, I had to consciously set aside those old, maladaptive behaviors which kept me stuck in a place I didn’t want to be. Being able and willing to adopt the better behaviors of others has allowed me to continually revise and improve who I am as I march forward. Constant retooling is as much of the re-booting process as appreciating who we were before and how far we’ve come…


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