A friend shared this quote from Alan Alda today: “You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.” Alda, most famous for his roles in Mash and The West Wing, is by all accounts a brilliant actor, having six Emmy‘s and a Golden Globe to his credit. Though I’m not an actor, I can imagine that this insight into knowing one’s self is key to digging deep within, to identify with and portray a character. You may be thinking, but what does he mean, and why should it matter if I’m not an actor? Here’s what I think it means: finding yourself, really getting to know yourself, not just the surface image you have created for others, is a scary process that has no map, because it is different for everyone.
What is the “city of your comfort”? I think it is how we’ve come to identify ourselves: teacher, preacher, mom, Democrat, Republican, vegetarian, quilter, trekkie…you get the idea. Finding a “city of my comfort” never seemed as easy for me as for most. I’ve always struggled to identify with particular groups. I have an acute memory from junior high, milling around the hallway before school one morning. As I moved from one cluster of friends to another, a girl in my class demanded, “Jenny Sherburne! Whose group are you IN, anyway?” Oh gosh, I thought? I have to choose? I DON’T KNOW WHERE I BELONG! Now, as I struggle to discover and break free of old ideas about who I am that no longer serve me, I realize that this confusion was a blessing in disguise. Maybe it’s made it easier for me as an adult to let go of labels and explore the “wilderness of my intuition”.
How to do this? Again, I believe it’s different for everyone, hence the word “intuition”. No one else can tell you – you have to follow your gut. If you shed all of the labels you’ve given yourself, (or worse, allowed others to give you), what is left? If you knew you were going to die soon, what would you want to do? What would you want people to say about you after you were gone? Morbid, I know, but the answers to these questions can be very revealing. Letting go of labels (limits) and living each day with purpose and meaning can free you to really get to know yourself. And, as Alan Alda wisely says, what you’ll discover will be wonderful.