Who Are You... Becoming?
In NVC workshops, we often talk about the "story," which is a way of acknowledging that the process of putting together observations, feelings, needs, and values, and the framework of our core beliefs, forms an interpretation, or "story." This is an important distinction because someone else might put all of those elements together and come up with a very different interpretation or story. When we are able to create a bit of detachment in ourselves by noticing that each person may come up with a different story, one that feels completely real, we are able to validate another's reality and our own at the same time, even if those "realities" seem extremely different. By giving ourselves and others the space to experience their story as real, not right or wrong, even if different, we maintain the deep connection that is the foundation of non-violent communication.
We can also do this with ourselves. Sometimes NVC can be most effective when we learn how to connect with and communicate with all the different parts of our own selves. This has been very alive for me recently because I am in the process of sorting out some issues around identity and career. I find myself asking existential questions, like "Who am I?" When I ask myself that question, I mean to say, "How do others see me? How do I contribute in the world? What is my calling or vocation?" In our culture, our identity is often intimately tied up in the work we do. Since we generally spend about half our waking lives at work, this is understandable.
But just like anything else, it's a story... the story of "Who I am."
Who am I? Who are you?
Consider this question in light of non-violent communication, the way you take your observations of the things you do each day, your feelings, your needs, your values, and combine them all together to come up with the story of "Who I am." In fact, you probably do this unconsciously. I would guess that most of us do this unconsciously. But sometimes, when the way we live our lives feels out of alignment with our values and how we meet our needs, we may begin to notice ourselves getting triggered more easily, feeling melancholic or "testy." It can hint at some rumblings of tectonic plates shifting under the surface.
This has certainly been alive for me lately. As many of you who read this blog know, I left Denver 8 months ago to pursue a new career path in Los Angeles. Well, I had an interesting experience, but found the path I was considering (working in the entertainment industry) to be far more competitive than I expected. Having left everyone and everything I loved in order to pursue that path, and finding myself at the base of Mount Everest with a decades-long climb ahead of me, I decided that strategy wasn't going to be effective at meeting the needs I was hoping to meet, so I returned to Denver.
Now back in Denver, I am also back at Square One in my career. After graduating from the University of Denver in 1993, then continuing on for a master's degree, I found myself with a blessed and unexpected gift. I was pregnant, and as a single mom, I needed to think about supporting myself and my new baby. "Professional student" would no longer suffice. So I got a paralegal certificate and started working in law in 1997. Then in 2002, I decided to try self-employment, working in law on a temp basis to supplement my income.
Returning to Square One means returning to working in a law firm, but the reason I initially left law -- to fulfill my need for creativity in my work -- is still valid, so I am wondering "What now?"
This existential identity crisis has brought up lots of uncomfortable feelings. Having trained intensively in NVC for the past six years, this naturally led to lots of self-empathy and self-connection, which in turn led to questions like, "Who am I?"
I realized that what I needed was to create a new story about who I am. It doesn't necessarily come naturally. My neural networks want to return to what's comfortable, what's known, my comfort zone called "legal staff" or "law firm employee." Unfortunately that story feels very limiting because it's my past; it's my personal history. It isn't necessarily who I could become. To become a new person, I need a new story. But in order to believe that new story, I need some new observations to support it.
Because I enjoy teaching English and Creative Writing, I decided to meet my need for creative and meaningful work by applying for a master's of fine art at Western State Colorado University. Yet, it's not as easy as it sounds. A new observation doesn't automatically equate to a new story or new core beliefs. I still have fears that come up, wondering if I will be able to find satisfying employment after I complete the degree.
But of course, these fears then lead me back to self-empathy and self-connection, asking myself what needs are longing to be met. My initial guess would be needs for confidence, courage, and belief in myself. I have a story in my head about leaving a "sure thing" (working in law) for the unknown, and that feels scary, but I also know that if I sacrifice meeting needs for safety and security, other needs will be met in turn.
I know it will take time before my new story of "Who I am" feels natural. Until then, the only thing I can say for sure right now is: What a great adventure life is!