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  • Jason McCarty

Coloring Outside the Lines

“Hey, you! Yea, you! Why you trying to be so perfect? Who do you think you are anyway? Do you really think you are going to work so hard that you never let yourself or anyone else down? Do you really think anyone cares if you make a mistake? Do you really think anyone is going to notice that hair on your head is not where you wanted it this morning? Do you really think anyone thinks about you? They’re worried about themselves! All that work, thinking, worrying, ruminating, persevering – it doesn’t do anything at all. It would be no different than sitting in the middle of the highway, drinking coffee all day long. I’ll tell you what, if you can give me one day where you just live, I will give you exactly what you want.”

Several weeks ago I was with someone who was fed up with trying so hard – trying so hard to change, to not have the problem they have, to not screw up. They were getting angry with themselves and it was good. They were getting angry with their own self-pity and negative self-judgment. They were tired of it. There was a shedding of expectations happening right before me that was infectious. I thought to myself, “This is awesome, I love getting to this place!” I was rooting this person on in their process of self-acceptance and disgust at how they so quickly beat themselves up.

Most of us spend hours criticizing ourselves, holding ourselves to unrealistic standards, and expecting perfection. Everyone else has it all together and floats around on a spiritual cloud of ultimate acceptance right? I mean, within this mindset every one else is living life with ease but us. Isn’t that right? We live so much in our heads that we can’t see that most people are in the same boat.

Like the person I was with several weeks ago, sometimes it feels really good to get angry at this way of being. Now this is an anger that protects us from this very negative and judgmental part of ourselves. This is not an anger that only further beats us up. We sometimes have to get to this place where we just don’t care anymore. We just don’t care how well we do, we just don’t care what others think, we just don’t care how we look – we live life with a term my father used to use, “reckless abandon.” I have grown to love this term and have been thinking about it more recently. It means freedom to me. When we are uptight and trying to live lives that are so “perfect” our attempts are only futile and we become imprisoned. This should bring humor and a little edge of shaking our heads at such attempts. Sometimes people have a hard time seeing they are trying to be perfect because their focus is so much on just not making a mistake that they can’t see it’s all the same. But it is – all the same. It is not accepting ourselves at every moment, no matter our foibles, our problems, our issues, and our futile attempts to live this life like we “should.” If we were perfect, then we’d never have to worry about making a mistake now would we?

My last article was about the balance between acceptance and change and this article’s focus is on the radical acceptance of who we are. There is no problem with wanting to be better people, to strive for excellence at work and at home, to want to change behaviors, patterns, or ways of interacting, but it is when we judge ourselves harshly for falling short, making mistakes, relapsing, or going in circles that just doesn’t help. We need a little of it to help keep us motivated. We need a little anxiety to push us through life as human beings, but when it gets carried away is when we put ourselves on trial for being worthy or not, good enough or not, strong enough or not.

Another way of putting this is to say we all need to take ourselves a little less seriously. We need to let go more often. What we really need sometimes is to color outside the lines. Yes, there are some people who are always coloring outside the lines and this article isn’t for them. This article is for those of us too worried that a little bit of our Crayon went outside the line and now we are useless. It is like the game is over when this happens – there is some sort of freezing that takes place. But if you watch a child who is not worried about this yet, you will see they keep on going, they keep on creating, they keep on living and breathing and enjoying the moment to color freely as themselves, not as a I-Could-Have-Done-Better Self.

I encourage you to color outside the lines this month. Not just today or this week but the whole month. Let go a little. Laugh more. Stop trying so freaking hard. Enjoy the process, enjoy your life, enjoy your family, enjoy nature or the weather. Get an edge, get angry if you never get angry. Sometimes this is needed to balance us out. This will help you to become more grounded when you return to your own personal and spiritual growth. Embrace who you are and tell everyone else to go …….. Ah, doesn’t that feel better? Now you have something to give others in your life: YOU.

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