One year, many years ago, I felt behind. And so, I printed a black and white picture of an “eye of the tiger” and pinned it where I could see it every day to remind me of my goal, which when I achieved it, would make me feel good. I worked, absorbed. I worked till I was done, not till I was tired. I’d look up sometimes and see the eye of the tiger. And I was so engrossed in the doing and the striving that I was too numb to recognize a personal priority when it came up, too numb to know that I wanted to be there, at the hospital. My heart was frozen and I couldn’t hear what it wanted to say.
That winter, I lost someone very close to me. The tears wouldn’t stop. The winter passed, spring came. I achieved my goal. But the heaviness in my heart told me that the cost had been too high. It began dawning on me that I wasn’t living in a way that was congruent to who I was, and more importantly, I wasn’t very sure about who I was. I promised to myself, that it wouldn’t be like this again. And yet, I found myself a few years later, feeling empty, looking for approval outside to make me happy.
Brene Brown talks about a moment in her research when she realized that she was living all wrong: she wasn’t living authentically, she wasn’t embracing her imperfections, she wasn’t living the way she found wholehearted people do. I’ve had the same Brene Brown epiphany.
What does it mean to live authentically? What is real happiness and faux happiness? What real success and faux success? Is success about “coming first,” in anything I’m part of, irrespective of whether I want to be part of that or not? Shouldn’t my definition be more choiceful? Do I even know what “the eye of the tiger” is for me? And is “the eye of the tiger” even really the right metaphor, given that it carries within it aggressiveness and ferocity, instead of love and compassion and growth?
Our insides are complex. They’re a mix of flowers and stars and shards of glass and knives that remain in us, long after they were stabbed. It’s hard sometimes to know who we are and to know what we want. It’s by chance that we learn about ourselves: by the Jason Mraz songs that we love; the William Wordsworth poetry that calls to us; our love of yellow sunflowers, the Merlot-Malbecs, woody-scented candles, snug blankets, and soft cover notebooks; for hugs and for being “along together”. And sometimes we learn more about ourselves by the tears we shed, the mistakes we make, our losses, our missed opportunities for being at the hospital the whole time, instead of a few days in between. To be in harmony with ourselves, we need to remember our true nature, the one that existed before we were told “who we needed to be.” We need to be willing to shed some of our titles and degrees and badges we’ve accumulated that serve as testament to our success and our worth.
I looked for some of these answers when I visited my sister in California. I looked for the answers inside as we did some art work together, talked about books, chatted over pumpkin spiced lattes, and explored bookshops.
I’d stumbled on Pinterest as a tool for exploring my many curiosities, and one day, as I lay on the black couch by the window, I came across a cool infographic that categorized each MBTI personality type as an animal. Personality theory can be complex and a little overwhelming, even for the aficionados, and heuristics are always helpful. As an INFJ, I was typed as a kangaroo. It was cute. I liked the thought, and then I forgot all about it.
As my sister and I continued our explorations into metaphysics and coloring mandalas and shopping for art supplies at Michael’s, I said on a whim: let’s go to the zoo.
I wanted to see giraffes, never having seen them before. And so we went, pretty much the only two adults in the zoo on a weekday, without any toddlers in tow. We looked at the giraffes, enamored. One came over close and looked me in the eye, her long beautiful eyelashes curled beautifully. Having contemplated each other peacefully for some time, the giraffe glided away like a beauty queen, and went to meditate in the trees. We walked, gazed at the flamingoes; posed with the beautiful peacocks that sauntered freely on the road, basking in the sun; looked at monkeys, chimpanzees, and something that looked like a rat-monkey. And then I saw them: the kangaroos.
A bunch of them huddled together nibbling food, peacefully. Gentle creatures, they didn’t make a sound. A few others explored the grassland enclosure, examining the little treasures they ran into, closely. None had a little one to carry around, so I couldn’t see them in their role of mom or dad. They seemed happy that day in the San Francisco zoo: peaceful, in the company of their friends and family; curious about the treasures of nature around them; co-existing peacefully when peacocks came in to visit; enjoying the food that was their spread that day; basking in the beautiful day that it was, a chill in the air, the sun out; and accepting of the human beings and human children who had come to visit them.
I stood there, gazing at them, living their life. I remember thinking as I watched them:
I am a kangaroo.
The world sometimes makes me want to forget that and be a tiger or a horse or a rhinoceros. But I’m none of that. I am a kangaroo.
Who are you?
Time for your own self-discovery experiment:
Here’s one of the places where you can take the MBTI test. Once you’ve taken it, here’s where you can see what the corresponding animal for your type. Full disclosure: some latest studies are questioning the reliability and the validity of MBTI as an instrument, but I’ve personally found it a very useful tool in self-discovery. The mapping of MBTI types to the corresponding animal is also subjective: for instance, when I was digging up the link to the animal categorization, I came across some with slightly different categorizations too – e.g., in another categorization, INFJ’s are pandas. Would love to hear whether you agree with your MBTI / animal assessment or not.
If you enjoyed reading this, I’d love you to join me on this road of discovering who we are and crafting a life that feels right.
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