4 alternatives to the ideal self
Gen X is the generation that has the clearest idea of the ideal self. That is what the sociologists tell us.
I believe them. I have always had an image of the ideal me branded across the top middle part of my focus. Like a haunting dream, this ideal girl follows me everywhere. She is a size 10 with a magical laugh, she is carefree, creative, excellent at baking and she can handle her gin. Most of all she never forgets anything. Not birthdays, letters for teachers, sign-ups for brownie camp or the village committee minutes she promised to do. Of course, she is an impossible delusion. But I still seem to be oddly attached to her.
Having goals and aspirations for your character or personality is one thing. But having a haunting ideal self follow me around all day is tiring. And annoying. And it doesn’t help when scrolling through Instagram that I find everyone else’s ideal selves in their insta-filter glory.
So I’m breaking up with my ideal self. She is outta here! Here are 4 more amenable companions that I prefer to have around:
1. The student self:
Rob Bell (of the enlightening Robcast) encourages his listeners to write the word student on the back of their hand. That way if a difficult situation crops up they can remember they are learning and will get better. My student self is used to having a go. My student self expects to get crosses as well as ticks. My student self is happy that to see my performance increase as I learn. Humming Shakira's "try everything" is another reminder to lean into my student self.
2. The loved self:
it's funny that the way I see myself can be so different from the way others see me; especially my children. In their eyes, I am always beautiful. All my clothes are the best ones to have. All my jokes are funny and all my answers are right (they are still small). My breathing mantra is ‘I am loved’ on the in-breath and ‘just as I am’ on the out-breath. If it’s OK for my kids to love me just as I am then how about I love me like that. My loved self is really nice to have around.
For an amazing example of self-love watch this Ted talk by Caira Lee.
3. The achieving self:
I can always find an achievement to celebrate. Usually the tougher my day the more important the celebration becomes. On my worst 'frazzled mummy' days; the act of spooning Weetabix into somebody's mouth or taking a shower are Olympian sized achievements. In my life, the most important achievements are the most difficult to spot. Staying emotionally faithful to my husband. Forgiving a relative for misunderstanding me. Being patient with myself as I try and learn a new software programme. These are achievements only I can celebrate. So I'm going to make sure I do. One of my favourite ways to celebrate is to take time to go for a walk. There is a bridge I stand on and pause to reflect on how good life is. The other is a glass of something red at room temperature.
4. The courageous self:
Everyone’s favourite hero Brene Brown espouses the wisdom of having courage as a personal value. She says that her courageous self enables her to risk and fail. I have a framed picture with the word ‘brave’ given to me by a friend in my living room. When I look at it I remember that my brave alter ego is one I am trying to encourage to step forward more often. Far more significant than being ‘ideal’, courage can open up windows of possibility as I step out of my comfort zone and into my future life.
While running the risk of developing some sort of multiple personality problems, I am resigned to having alter egos. There are always more sides to all of us. The ideal self of my late teens and twenties is no longer an aspiration I want to indulge. Ideal is boring and conforming. But the loved self, the student self, the achieving self and the courageous self; they can come with me anywhere.