Embracing Your Flip Side: an experiment in authenticity

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Here’s a little experiment for you. Try to answer these questions with the first thoughts that come into your mind. Don’t over thinking it! Ready? Ok go.

What are your best qualities?

What do you want others to see in you?

If you had a close friend describe you, what do you hope they would say?

Are your wheels turning yet? Good. Now write down five words that represent the very best aspects of your being. I know, I know. It’s hard to narrow it down because you are so fabulous….but you can redo your list once you have the hang of it. This is just a starting place.

Ok, got your list? Now simply look at it. How’s it feel to see yourself on paper? Is this really you?Perhaps you feel a boost of energy to see all those bright and shiny words… and yet, is there also a place inside you that feels a touch of fraudulence?

We all have the experience of wanting to put our best foot forward. Show our good side to the camera. To look fabulous on paper. But it’s not the whole story. And I’m here to remind you that it’s these less-glamorous aspects of our being that have a lot to teach us about living authentically.

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So here’s the next step in our little experiment. Take your list and write down five more words that are the opposite of the words you have previously chosen. And because most words have multiple meanings, you can use a thesaurus to help you fine tune your understanding and find words that feel right.  And by feel right, I mean feel icky. If the word isn’t uncomfortable, it’s not a match.

For example, here’s my list of positive qualities (in no particular order) and their icky opposites.

  1. Caring –Careless
  2. Hardworking – Lazy
  3. Fun – Boring
  4. Creative – Uninspired
  5. Knowledgeable – Ignorant

Voila! Here we see the flip side! These are the qualities we have within us that are considered less desirable, to say the least. And most of us spend a considerable amount of energy avoiding these aspects of our being. We hide them. We stuff them behind the scenes where no one is looking….and even then, we still beat ourselves up over them. We wear the mask of our sunny side and deny this part of who we are, and yet there is so much wisdom lurking in these shadows!

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So what can we gain when we embrace the flip side?

Let’s use my list as an example. When I am careless, I don’t expend so much energy on other people or projects. I save some energy for myself. There is an inherent freedom in not caring! When I don’t care, I’m able to detach, and sometimes this is a very helpful skill to embrace.

Same thing when I am lazy: I’m able to put gas back in my tank. I can give myself permission to just chill out, slow down, and restore. Furthermore, when I don’t have to be fun all the time, I feel more content with my day to day life. I don’t feel like I have to entertain myself or others. I can relax into the beautiful nuances of the mundane. The gift of being ordinary begins to emerge.

Getting the idea?

Continuing down my list, when I’m uninspired it feels sooooo uncomfortable! I love feeling the surge of energy that comes from creating. However, when I embrace the times in my life when I’m uninspired, it takes the pressure off. I am able to focus my attention on other things, which usually end up being practical nuts and bolts stuff that are super important…but can get overlooked when I’m constantly trying to squeeze every last drop of creative juice out a moment.

Being ignorant is another uncomfortable place for me. It feels very vulnerable to not know the answer, especially when I’m teaching or helping to educate a client. But, the truth is I don’t have all the answers and I never will. I’m constantly learning; a lifelong student. When I embrace my own ignorance, it transforms into an opportunity to open up to my beginner’s mind. And in the words of the wise Zen master Shunryn Suzuki:

“If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything, it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few. ” 

When I look at it this way, being knowledgeable seems less of a pro and more of a limitation! And herein lies the balance of living authentically.  Where do we box ourselves into a narrow definition, and how can we choose to open up our perspective?

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What can we learn from our flip side? How is our flip side calling us into a fuller way of showing up in the world? And how can we reframe these icky opposites so we see them as strengths in disguise?

I invite you to explore what happens when you embrace your flip side! Allow all sides of your being to be appreciated and respected for what they have to teach you (and others). And notice how the people around you respond as you begin to integrate your flip side. Do they support you as you become more authentic? Are you able to feel more real with them? Or do they perpetuate a limited vision of you and resist your flip side? If so, just remember we are all mirrors for each other and perhaps they are resisting their own flip side and it’s not about you.

Either way, your challenge remains the same: how can you honor all parts of your being, from the bright peaks to the dark corners, and how can you soften the edges in between?

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So there you have it! I hope you’ve enjoyed this little experiment. It’s a simple exercise in self awareness to help you shift your perspective. I encourage you to play with your list.  Stay curious to the words you choose.  And remember, in the end you are so much more complex and intricately woven on the inside, no list will ever come close to representing the whole of you.

See ya on the flip side!

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“Enlightenment is not imagining figures of light but making the darkness conscious.”
~Jung

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