Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash
By Gail Barker, B.A., C.P.C.C.
Every year, a few months before my birthday approaches, I find myself standing in an introspective space. It’s a space where I contemplate who I’ve been, who I am and who I’m becoming. Moreover, I start to reflect on HOW I’ve been, HOW I am, and HOW I’m becoming.
There seems to have been a shift as I’ve grown. A change, if you will, both in who I am and how I am. I suppose this is inevitable. As we grow, we change; we evolve and we show up differently. Within that changed space, however—while there is much that is good and has been gained—there’s a loss that I feel, a yearning for something that used to be present.
Specifically, I am aware that I have lost my ability to be free. Free to say what I want without overthinking the impact. Free to move how I want without the fear of being laughed at (you know, like skipping through a parking lot or dancing in a shopping mall). Free to laugh when I want to laugh, cry when I want to cry, or yell when I want to yell. Free to agree or disagree with another without fearing that I will somehow lose a relationship.
In short, I seem to be losing my ability to live on the edge, on the wild side.
As I look around me and witness my friends, family members, and colleagues, I see that I am not alone in this experience. Even as I watch my children (who are now in their late teens—one almost in his twenties!) and their friends, I notice that this same shift has happened and continues to happen for them as well. The free-spirited children I once knew are slowly becoming more stoic. And here’s something noteworthy: the shift happens regardless of the type of environment they’ve grown up in. Whether they’ve come from a permissive household or a strict one, an encouraging family or a judgmental one, a large family with several siblings or even if they were an only child—slowly but surely, every person’s “wild child” gets abandoned at some point and is replaced by a much more sedate individual.
This “sedateness” is often characterized as maturity. That sounds good, but it’s not entirely accurate. Instead, such maturity seems to come with a corresponding loss of a joie de vivre. And I’m realizing that sort of trade-off doesn’t have to happen. In other words, maturity can encompass a wild abandon as well as stoicism—the two are not mutually exclusive, and when we act as though they are, we only live half-heartedly.
So what is it that leads to this denial of our wild side? What has us put that free-spirit aside in favor of a more stoic approach to life?
From what I can see, it’s always about fear. First, fear of judgment. Then, fear of not being accepted.
And finally, fear of abandonment, of isolation, of not belonging, of being left out. Somewhere along the line it has been noted that when we are not accepted for who we are or how we are, we get left behind. We get left out. We get shunted aside, and moreover, we are judged as “less than” or “not good enough” in the process. And who the heck wants to feel like that?
So, we start to hold back. We learn to temper our responses. We hide our particular idiosyncrasies (or what we perceive as idiosyncrasies) in favor of what we believe is more acceptable behavior. In short, we play small.
Playing small is a bit of a catch-phrase in the self-development world. It’s all about holding back. When you play small, you become a diminished version of yourself, muted, energetically pale. You’re just not as vibrant as you could be— and you sell yourself short. Moreover, the world doesn’t get the benefit of experiencing your full being.
Earlier I said that the shedding of our wild-side is often done in the name of maturity. True maturity, however, understands that there is value in bringing your whole self to the table. Your silly self. Your risk-taking self. Your loud self and your quiet self.
Can you leave behind or shed any aspects of yourself as you grow? Of course you can. Indeed, as you evolve and mature, you will naturally outgrow old belief systems just as you outgrow clothes. Certain relationships will fall away. And that’s okay. What’s not okay is when you leave vibrant parts of your personality behind, in the name of growing up. That’s not being mature; that’s selling out.
So, what have I learned about reclaiming my wild side?
- Living in a way that includes my wild side requires me to be conscious of where I’m holding back, what I’m longing for, and letting go of fear (letting go doesn’t mean the fear won’t exist; it just means that I will choose to honor my full expression in spite of the fear).
- Reclaiming my wild side is an act of self-acceptance. When I reclaim my wild side, I remind myself that who I am and expressing who I am is far more important than being accepted by anyone who wouldn’t accept all of me.
- When I walk on my wild side, when I give myself over to all that I’m feeling, I am actually better able to serve the world around me. My message is better received, and my actions better honored, when I bring all of me to the game.
- Being wild doesn’t always mean being loud or flamboyant; it simply means that I don’t hold myself back.
- Giving myself over to a sense of wild abandon allows me to feel a lightness in my being. The weight of preconceived notions and judgment is lifted and I can give full expression to whatever it is that I am feeling, needing to say, or being called to give to the world.
Bottom line: the act of maturing does not necessitate the abandonment of all that is wild within you. When you set down your wild side for more staid behavior, or what you believe to be socially acceptable, you deny yourself and the world around you the full experience of who you are. Don’t do that. Trust me when I say, the world needs you to show up in your full expression. When you can do that, that’s when you know you’ve arrived.
Gail Barker is a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach. She specializes in supporting leaders to lead powerfully and meaningfully. Here company, Stellar Coaching & Consulting was established in 2003, and through that platform, she has supported hundreds of leaders in elevating their leadership game. A few of the additional hats she wears professionally are author, speaker, and radio show host. Personally, she is deeply committed to her family, loves to read, and finds deep restoration when walking along the beach (even in the winter).
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