I had a conversation with a friend recently about someone she knew in high school. After describing him and how he’d taken on a “too big for his britches” attitude, she said, “I’m really proud to say that I’m the same person I was in high school.” Although I understood the heart of her message, I clung momentarily to the initial shock of the statement. She looked at me for affirmation, but I was frozen. My mind flipped through an imaginary list of all of the ways I was drastically different than the person I was in high school. My head spun as I counted all of the lessons I’d learned - typically through necessary struggle - since I was in my late teens and early twenties. Heck, even since I turned 30. I came back to the room, barely able to find my words. I wanted to say, “I couldn’t be more of a different person than I was in high school.” It was true. But, through some great blessing, I found something more appropriate for the moment.
Yes, I’m still the extroverted introvert who loves to write, read, and think big thoughts (I’m just A LOT less afraid to do so). I still go out of my way to make others laugh or feel appreciated. At my core, of course, I’m still the same person; I’ve not forgotten where I came from. I don’t discount any path I traveled on that got me to where I am today. They’re all very important parts of my story and are what give me the moral authority and desire to help others grow. However, I’ve also worked hard to identify the wounds, insecurities, judgments, and character flaws which would have me react to situations in ways that are not the best representation of myself.
I hosted a group of women for a discussion recently. One of them asked how I approached situations where it was clear that other people weren’t on the same path as me or didn’t think quite the same - specifically in friendships and romantic relationships. That was a tough question. One I’d struggled with internally recently as I’d started to become more and more hyper-aware of my own growth. I’d found frequently that my contemporaries and romantic interests didn’t always have the same appreciation for radical learning and growth. And that’s not only okay, it’s also completely understandable. I took a deep breath and articulated (as best I could) how I try not to make my own growth a reason to judge. To be perfectly honest, sometimes it’s been really hard.
It’s SO easy to compare our own path and practice to that of others or judge them for not being on the same path (really, this can apply to many areas of life; not just personal growth). In those moments, I strive to remember that everyone is on a spiritual journey; most people just don’t know it yet.
It’s important to let those around you be who they are and honor their path. Accept them, and let them move at their own pace. You will not do them any service by judging or trying to “help” accelerate someone else along their path. As students, we are also exemplars. Our job is to show, not to tell.
We have each chosen our own way for our own reasons. My personal perspective is this: As long as we are not on fundamentally different or opposing paths, I’m willing to be present as friends and romantic partners find their own way. I’m willing to support, share experiences, and cheer. I am willing to hold space for others who are learning; to practice patience, empathy, and humility. I honor those who have done the same for me.