If Birds Never Flew
I grew up believing it was my job to make everyone happy. Whatever the cost, I worked hard to cater to the emotional state of the people around me. I lived to please others; I lived to self-sacrifice. After all, this is what good people do, right?
How did I do with this calling? Truthfully some days, maybe even some months, I think I did a pretty good job. Yes, I was exhausted and burned out, but I worked for the reward of seeing others happy even if at the cost of my own joy. What about the months when I failed to measure up to these self-inflicted standards? Shame and guilt were close at my door reminding me of my every insufficiency. But when your job is to care for others, you just keep on keeping on. And while I was busy sacrificing myself for the sake of others, slowly on the inside, I was withering away.
In this system, the needs of others are always more important than your own. In some ways, this sounds like such a noble pursuit, doesn’t it? Sacrificing self for the sake of others? But was I really accomplishing what I hoped for? Was anyone really winning, or was this actually a very futile pursuit? Could it be that this belief system was filled with fatal flaws, rendering it an impossible feat?
I began to wonder, was it even possible to ensure someone’s state of happiness? Further, was it my job too? When in my life did I take on that control? Are people not entitled to choose for themselves how they will, or will not feel? And what about me? Even if I could control other people’s feelings, did the benefit of my pursuit outweigh the high costs of guilt and shame? For years I lived believing that there could be no greater cost than the feeling of letting someone down, but what if the greatest cost to me was less about what I was experiencing and more about what I wasn’t. What if the cost of loosing myself, was even greater than the cost of other peoples disappointment in me and thus living in guilt and shame?
I love observing baby birds as they begin to take their first attempts to fly. I’ve yet to see one figure out the whole flying thing right away, but eventually most birds learn and before long they are soaring high in the sky - free! I wonder what might happen though, if all the baby birdies were more concerned with the other birdies learning to fly rather than learning to fly themselves? Where would they all be? Likely, they would all be caged to their nest because none would actually take the plunge! What a tragedy this would be! How sad and ironic to see such little lives created to fly, jailed to their nests. All this because of a beautiful desire to care for others, but in reality this only hinders the very thing they were designed to do – fly!
Could this be me? Was I so worried about seeing other people thriving, that I wasn’t even aware of the reality that I was sitting in the nest not really living myself? What if I stepped out of the nest and let myself learn to fly? And what if by stepping out, others began to step out too?
Today I have a choice. I can choose to live striving to take care of all the birdies around me, in hopes of seeing them take off, meanwhile, remaining stuck in the nest myself and missing out on really living. Or, I can choose to fully embrace me and in doing so, learn to fly. Maybe in this choice, as I seek to own my wings, others might begin to embrace their wings too.
So what do I choose? Today, I choose to fly. I choose to paint and I choose to write. I choose to skip and I choose to laugh. I choose to run and I choose to sit. I choose to dare and I choose to risk. I choose to feel and I choose to grace. I choose to love my quirks and my imperfections. I choose to use my voice and to share my story. For me, flying is about learning to embrace me and in the process, become more fully me.
What will you choose? What could happen if you stretched your wings? What might change for you if you began to fly? Chances are, not everyone will respond to your flight the same. Some might be jealous or offended seeing you thrive, but others might be joyful or inspired by your flight. Either way, what if we gave others the freedom to decide for themselves how they will choose to respond rather than trying to make everyone around us happy? How beautiful a world would we live in if we stopped fearing what others might think if we flew, and if we stepped out of the nest and began to soar!
Breanna Giesbrecht, MAMFT, RCC