When I was in middle school I proudly wore my “attitude” shirts expressing my individuality and independence. I recall one t-shirt particularly clear, “If you don’t like what you see, then don’t look!” I loved wearing those shirts. I felt a bit rebellious wearing them. Perhaps there was some burgeoning teenage angst, but I think the reason I loved wearing my “attitude” shirts was mostly the feeling that was invoked when I wore them – individual freedom.
It was not just any individual freedom, it was MY individual freedom. I was breaking out of my shell from being a child to experimenting with my independence as a teenager asking myself the fundamental identity questions all teenagers start asking themselves at some point “Who Am I Anyway?” And, of course, my choice in “attitude” shirts was partly a fad.
Teens and tweens go through a developmental identity crisis. They start pulling away from a more ego-centered sense of self to a more ethno-centered sense of self. Teens start to think beyond themselves in relation to the environment surrounding them and reflect for the first time in their lives about who they are as a people and who they want to be as people. In this developmental stage, there are a lot of faces teens/tweens try on to find out the answer to the burning question – Who Am I Really? This is what I call the Fundamental Question.
Some teens/tweens try on faces with various groups of friends. Others try faces with different interests, so the interest may determine the kind of face to try on and vise verse. Still others experiment with faces beyond their comfort zone and their parents’ comfort zone, which might inspire some words beyond what can legitimately go on an “attitude” shirt! After putting on multiple faces in trying to answer the fundamental question, tweens/teens start peeling the layers. They figure out which faces work and which faces do not.
Up to this point in a child’s life, a parent’s main role other than providing for the health, safety, and well-being of his child, is to guide his child to build a solid character, a sold sense of self. So, as the child becomes a tween/teen, the child can navigate the fundamental question with greater success.
With a strong character, a tween/teen can experiment with multiple faces and determine what parts of her character and what faces integrated together will bring her success. This is where character and personality integrate, or in more spiritual terms this is where our ego self integrates with our spiritual Self (or highest self). This integration process is a long road to travel. It is pretty messy.
Though as messy as it can be, the process of peeling the layers is just as beautiful, because when we integrate character and personality we are the best version of who we are meant to be in this amazing world. And, no matter which faces a strong character may put on, the strong character will be able to peel the layers back and know who he really is and love that person unconditionally. That is the foundation for success in all things we do.
A tween/teen with a poor or undifferentiated sense of self or a weak character will not be able to distinguish the faces from the character. They can get lost in the faces, not knowing which ones to peel away or even how to peel the layers. In a sense, they are lost in chaos and become chaos.
Peeling back the layers, however, does not stop with the tween/teen years. You might already be thinking I am not really sure who I am as an adult and may feel like you have been peeling layers for years! Or, maybe you have never even given thought to the fundamental question and you are wondering if you really should after all these years.
If your dreams, your most desired goals in life, are not coming true, your deepest desires remain thoughts floating like clouds in your head, then perhaps we should be asking the fundamental question. Or perhaps you are one of those who wear an “attitude” shirt as an adult that says declaratively, “This is who I am, if you don’t like it, get out of my life!” If you are not that person, maybe you know someone in your life like that. My guess is that this type of person is difficult to work with, to be around, and to talk to an any constructive way.
We have the ability to be whoever we decide to be – it is a conscious choice. We have evolved in such a way that we have the power to be whoever we want to be, it is a gift. Those of us already with a strong sense of self or character are in a great starting position to make our dreams, our goals, and our vision become reality. Those of us that struggle with a poor differentiated sense of self and who lack a strong character may not be close to the starting line, but with some work, the starting line can be right around the corner, on the horizon.
We develop our character in response to our environment. This sense of self (either strong or poor differentiated sense of self) is the lens in which we view the world. If we want to peel back the layers that are in the way of us materializing our dreams, goals, and desires, then we must learn how to utilize our strong character or start building a strong sense of character now.
If we already have a strong sense of character, we may still have quite a few layers to peel back. How do we know if we have a strong sense if character? Go back in your memory bank of your life and think back to what your parents guided you to be in terms of character and from that point forward, evaluate your successes, shortcomings, and failures in that regard. This is very important to understand. We cannot move forward without evaluating this information.
Perhaps you met many successes in life until you established yourself in a different environment, relationship, job, or some kind of loss. There might be a defining moment or a few of them that added layers onto your strong character. Study that defining moment of transition. That moment holds the key to open the door to peeling the layers back and materializing your dreams and goals.
Peeling the layers back to connect to our best or highest sense of self is like peeling the layers of an onion, think layer by think layer. Each action we take and sometimes it takes multiple actions over the years of being and doing peels another layer to get us that much closer to connecting to our highest sense of self. When we put ourselves by conscious choice in environments that invoke our best sense of self, we accelerate the peeling of layers. Remember, we develop in response to our environment, but environment is not the complete determinant for who we will be or become.
We have the power of our minds with the tool of conscious visualization to manifest our goals and dreams. Perhaps you have never given serious thought to your goals and desires, but as you start peeling the layers away, your highest sense of self has a longing to connect your creative power via your goals and dreams.
When we start on the path of being invoked from our strong sense of character and doing things in line with our value traits, the voice of our highest sense of self gets pretty loud to remind us, to pull us, to motivate us to stay on the path of peeling the layers and find the answer to the fundamental question – Who Am I Really?
For those with a weak sense of character, perhaps you have to go back further in your life and maybe even dig a little deeper into your childhood to investigate where and when your weak sense of character developed. It is an arduous process sometimes, but do it. It is the best gift we can give ourselves to do this work.
The attitude shirts are out of style and they do not go very well with adult faces. We are past the tween/teen developmental stage of experimenting with the fundamental question. As adults, we must take responsibility for who we are and who we will become. Why? If we are not manifesting our dreams and goals, then we are wasting precious creative opportunities to experience life at its grandest and fullest. Experiencing joy is wonderful, it is intoxicating, it is the elixir of life.
Who does not want to experience joy? If we want joy, continuous authentic joy, we must peel the layers back and get in touch with our highest sense self, our strongest sense of character, and who we are at our core. Just who is our highest sense of self? The one who loves self and others, practices loving kindness, seeks justice for all of humanity, contributes to his community, and practices gratitude and compassion. These traits are not regional, they are universal. You find them in cohesive religious organizations, successful businesses, communities, nations, and families. All cultures that practice these traits as part of the character of the culture evolve and build successful communities together.
There are two prime ingredients in peeling the layers – being and doing from our core character, one small step at a time. Be present and take mindful action using the traits noted above as fuel and nourishment to help guide you to peel the layers back. We eat everyday and in the same way we must feed our strong character by building from the bottom up every day.
We all have layers to peel away. In order to peel the layers, we need fuel, but not just any fuel, we need the right fuel. The fuel we need is generated from practicing the ethical traits noted above. Do and be a little something every day that connects you to the value traits. Layer by layer will be lifted, and in that process, we become more loving, compassionate, and trustworthy. Instead of working on it, we will become it. Then the answer to the fundamental question – Who Are You Really Anyway? – is the integration of the being and doing fueled by our ethical precepts that generate our strong character.
Then one day instead of practicing our ethical precepts everyday, we become our ethical precepts, we will have peeled back so many layers of weaker character, that we will think, say, and act from our strong sense of character in everything we do. It is in that that we manifest our dreams and goals. We utilize our creative power and experience everything life has to offer in its fullest. With committed practice of peeling the layers, we become love, growth, success, and joy. That’s a timeless style you can put on your shirt at any age and proudly wear.
Om Shanti Om ~ Athea