How to handle personal flaws

Do you ever wonder, like I do, about your flaws and how they affect your life?  It’s not the easiest thing to think about, is it?

Oh, we look in the mirror and pick apart our appearance.  Maybe we even go so far as to think that if we weren’t fat/skinny/beautiful/ugly/tall/short/etc., that life would be better—we’d have more money, better relationships, more success, hotter sex, be able to make a difference in the world, get taken seriously, be appreciated more, and feel better about ourselves.

Or maybe we think that if we weren’t so busy/tired/sick/over-worked/etc., that it would be easier to make the kind of changes we know we should make but never quite get around to doing.

But have you ever noticed that some of the things you dislike about yourself are present in other people, and those flaws don’t seem to hold them back in the same way?  And sometimes people even more busy/tired/sick/over-worked/etc. than we are still manage to do some of those things we think we can’t.  (Yes it’s motivating, but sometimes it also kind of sucks to have your reasons exposed as nothing more than excuses.)

What makes the difference then?

A good friend and I were discussing flaws recently.  We asked each other to name one.  I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t the answer I received.  I’ll even admit to feeling a little disappointed when I read it.  I figured there was some deep dirt that I just hadn’t seen because, well, it was my dirt.

When I read his words, I thought,   “What!?  How can that be a personal flaw?  And really, what kind of impact could that have on my life?” 

But a good friend who took a couple days to consider an answer shouldn’t be dismissed easily, so I thought about what he said…really imagined it in vivid detail.

You might be thinking, “What is it?  What’s your flaw?  Tell us!”

Quoted from my friend, “It feels like you’re avoiding your true subject. …  I get a strong feeling that you’ve got a powerful memoir in you, the sorta thing that will knock someone for a loop like a first round Mike Tyson … But that you’re scared of it.”  (The “…” is missing text that is irrelevant to this article or private.)

Yep.  That’s the major flaw a close friend saw in me.  I told you it felt anti-climactic.  If you’re like me, you’re probably wondering how in the world avoiding writing a memoir could possibly be a flaw.  (And there are a few people who just panicked that I might actually write about their role in my life…lol)

It’s not the lack of writing that is really the flaw; it’s the fear of what would happen if I turn my experiences loose in the world.  I have stories within me that are capable of positively changing other peoples’ lives.  They’re powerful experiences filled with self-discovery, kindness, and personal growth along with the heartache and pain that spurred some of the growth.  But regardless of how I tell my stories, someone is going to question them and me—more specifically, they will judge me.

What will people think if they find out that I didn’t understand my father until he was dying?  Would it help someone else to hear about my experience?  Who will it anger because they only saw my father’s public side?

How about if people knew I was once friends with a boy who was later called a monster for the heinous crimes he committed after he and his family moved?  Would seeing the boy through my eyes impact their view of the man?   Would it change how they see themselves?

Talking about the heart and soul of some of my patients would probably go over pretty well, but there would be some nut out there who would want to challenge how much strength and courage fighting your way back from major illness really takes.

Yeah, I think my friend got it right.  How much is fear of what others think of me affecting my life and stopping me from telling my story both literally and figuratively?  The answer is: way too much.  That is, indeed, a flaw.  (So is the reason the fear is there in the first place – but that’s another story.)

My mom always asked me what our neighbor, Hulda, would think if she were to walk up to the door and see me licking cookie dough off the beaters.  My answer then and now is that Hulda would probably think that it must be good cookie dough.

I am certain of how I feel about cookie dough.  The rest of my life is a bit more complex.  I don’t believe that there is one right way to live except that at some point, if we truly want to get anywhere close to achieving the potential that lies within us, we must turn and face our fears.  Perhaps even accept that for some questions and situations there are no easy answers, or maybe just no answers.

Sometimes, in fact, every possible choice hurts and feels wrong even if one of them is the best answer for the situation.  Other times, the challenged fear will disappear like a puff of candle smoke on the wind.  But until you find the courage to look fear in its hidden face, call its bluff, and rip loose its disguise, you’re giving something else power over your life.

That seems tragic.

So I think that the answer to my earlier question (about the difference between those with flaws who seem to do well anyway and those who don’t) has to do with knowing yourself well enough to be willing to risk facing fear and then taking action.  Easy to say; hard to do.

I’ll close with the following dialogue from a TV show:

My Tragic Flaw, by Ephram Brown

(From the television series Everwood)

The more things change, the more they stay the same. I’m not sure who the first person was who said that. Probably Shakespeare. Or maybe Sting. But at the moment, it’s the sentence that best explains my tragic flaw: my inability to change.

I don’t think I’m alone in this. The more I get to know other people, the more I realize it’s kind of everyone’s flaw. Staying exactly the same for as long as possible, standing perfectly still… it feels safer somehow. And if you are suffering, at least the pain is familiar. Because if you took that leap of faith, went outside the box, did something unexpected…who knows what other pain might be out there, waiting for you. Chances are it could be even worse.

So you maintain the status quo. Choose the road already traveled and it doesn’t seem that bad. Not as far as flaws go. You’re not a drug addict. You’re not killing anyone… except maybe yourself a little.

When we finally do change, I don’t think it happens like an earthquake or an explosion, where all of a sudden we’re like this different person. I think it’s smaller than that. The kind of thing most people wouldn’t even notice unless they looked at us really close. Which, thank God, they never do.

But you notice it. Inside you that change feels like a world of difference. And you hope this is it. This is the person you get to be forever… that you’ll never have to change again.

***

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