Often on the pages of my blog, I refer to various books. And this time is no exception, especially since we are in the midst of summer vacation.
Among the books that have come into my hands recently, there are two written by women, and they seem to be more eagerly read by women than men. The first of them is “Nie ma żadnego jutra – jak rak żołądka uratował mi życie” (There Is No Tomorrow – How Stomach Cancer Saved My Life) by Anita Wojtaś-Jakubowska. The second one is “Być tak naprawdę. Od grzecznej dziewczynki do wolnej kobiety, która idzie, gdzie chce” (To Be Truly Yourself: From a Good Girl to a Free Woman Who Goes Where She Wants) by Marianna Gierszewska. I have the privilege of knowing Anita personally; we had the opportunity to meet as part of the Leadership Psychology Academy. I also had the pleasure of attending an amazing author’s evening with Anita, full of wise and important messages. I purchased the second book inspired by one of the author’s podcasts.
There are at least several common elements that connect both stories found in these books. The most significant one for me, however, is the theme of the transformative role of illness, particularly the moment when it seems that one is facing the loss of life, but in reality, it turns out that standing on the edge of death, one can… reclaim life.
Why is it that what we usually take for life is not truly life, and it’s only radical situations that can make us aware of it? Because we are subject to the process of “programming,” shaping within us – through experiences, upbringing, and education – our individual and social identity. It consists of the ingrained vision of the “right body,” “right behaviors,” “right thoughts,” “right emotions,” and so on. Although we strongly identify and identify ourselves with this identity – I also call it the ego or “false self” – we are not that.
We also strongly identify ourselves with the roles assigned to us by this identity (child, partner, parent, employee, director, CEO, activist, etc.), and with the successes these roles create in our lives (titles, awards, increasing salaries, etc.), as well as with failures. However, while we are eager to share our successes – for example, on social media – we usually prefer to remain silent about failures. After all, according to commonly accepted social norms, only success matters (of course, defined in a specific way). Unless we can demonstrate that we were able to turn failure into (socially understood) success, then we become worthy of respect, perhaps even some special recognition.
The stories of the authors demonstrate the shallowness of functioning based on the false self, based on “roles.” It’s not that being a parent, a business owner, a CEO, a teacher, etc., is bad or unimportant. The point is that we often concentrate on them so much that we don’t have time to discover what it truly means to be ourselves in all of this. The authors had the privilege – which is not common – of being able to perceive the essence of being in a critical situations. They understood that today we live in a world where we think we are fulfilling ourselves, but in reality, we are not pursuing our own missions and goals (I wrote about my experiences related to this in “Correct Your Course“). We live in a world that constantly makes us chase something, run away from something, and sometimes both at the same time. A world in which, instead of being the king or queen of our own lives, most of us are mere pawns sent on errands.
Is it necessary to reach the physical brink of death to embrace the truth presented by the authors as our own? In my opinion, no. Another way to achieve this is by connecting with the internal discomfort that exists within us. Although we focus on painting pictures of our “beautiful lives” on a daily basis, in reality, each of us (or at least the vast majority) often experiences strong internal pain. And it’s not even about physical pain – although internal pain can also manifest in that way – but more about a constant psychological discomfort, anxiety, and unease. We don’t really know where it comes from within us. Over time, we accept that “it just has to be that way,” that it is an inseparable element of life.
Meanwhile, that inner voice is something that wants to save us! It reaches out to us to help us. It constantly tries to break through the noise of various “numbing agents” that we habitually dose ourselves with, whether in the form of daily doses of alcoholic beverages, binge-watching TV series, hours spent on the Internet, compulsive snacking, and so on. This inner voice wants to urge us to return to those key moments of “programming,” which are often strong emotional states from the past, usually associated with some negatively evaluated experience. Sometimes it’s something very serious (like sexual abuse trauma), but in many cases – from an adult perspective – it’s relatively trivial (like being ridiculed by peers).
Each of us carries within ourselves our own records, such as “you’re not good at anything,” “you’re not good enough,” “you’re stupid,” “you’ll never succeed,” and so on. These inner voices constantly compel us to set and pursue new goals (to prove, against the “curse,” that we are indeed worthy and capable of achieving), or on the contrary, they urge us to escape from life’s opportunities, resigned to a judgment once passed by someone important to us.
It’s incredible how much discomfort we are willing to endure while living out someone else’s mission and someone else’s goals, and at the same time, how fervently we avoid the discomfort that could restore our own lives. And to make it even more ironic, we consider ourselves “experts on living a good life.” This is most evident when we “program” our own children because, after all, we adults hold the patent on “how to live well.” Not that we ourselves experience this good life very often – truly happy people are rare to come by – but mainly because we, adults, possess the “wisdom of life.”
Both books are about authenticity, embracing truth, integrity, and self-discovery. They are all about what I believe is the key to “Restore the Future!” We need more books like these, more personalities like theirs, and more imitators who follow in their footsteps.