I’ve been thinking a lot about college today. It’s weird how that happens, isn’t it? Something sets off a memory and then all kinds of memories come back to your mind. I can still sing the Alma Mater and can still hear the bagpipes playing “Scotland the Brave.” Oh Pennsylvania, so far from Scotland, but you wouldn’t know it in snowy Edinboro.
There was so much good about my time in college, and I was flooded with gratitude as faces and memories passed through my mind. I was thankful for the friendships that I made that I still have today, of the work we accomplished together, of the ways we helped each other grow as we tried to figure out life. But as I let myself sit in some of those memories today, I noticed another thought rising to the surface: “I wish I would have known then what I know now.”
If I had known then what I know now, I would have allowed more space for questions and uncertainty. I would have said “yes” more often. I would have been more patient. I would have loved people better.
There is no way we can expect our 20-year-old selves to know what our 40-year-old selves know. There is no book, no program, no podcast that can give us the knowledge that 20 years of lived experience can teach us.
Have you ever been there? Have you ever felt like the regret of your past choices has begun to cripple you? Or worse, have you let the lies of shame choke out the life of your now?
Sometimes we need a wake up call to understand that our hidden, unconscious motivations aren’t healthy for us, or that they aren’t getting us where we want or need to be. But noticing is not shame. Shame tells you that because of the mistakes you’ve made, you’re bad, worthless, broken.
Recognizing our stuck patterns and internal motivations can actually be a gift, when we can look at them with kindness toward ourselves or in a safe place with safe people that offer the kindness that we can’t. Our internal motivations often work like the internal operating system on my smart phone. You don’t notice it until it crashes or you get annoying reminders that it needs to be updated.
There are multiple times in my life that my true internal operating system has come to the place where it’s needed to be updated. And at best, I’ve gotten annoying reminders from others or from life that it’s time to update it. At worst, it’s taken a crisis moment for me to realize that the ways I’ve been functioning aren’t the best for me.
Just because we can’t know then what we don’t know now doesn’t mean that we don’t have to apologize. Sometimes repairs need to happen if others have been hurt. But once we recognize and notice that our stuckness just keeps us getting more stuck, it’s an invitation to move forward in a different way.
How does each Enneagram type get stuck? It may look something like this:
The Reformer: If I am moral, responsible and never make a mistake, then I am okay.
The Helper: If I am loving and thoughtful toward others, and not selfish, then I am okay.
The Achiever: If I am effective, competent, professional and am never idle or inadequate, then I am okay.
The Individualist: If I am original, creative and authentic, never ordinary or boring, then I am okay.
The Investigative Observer: If I am knowledgeable, autonomous, not driven by emotions or found without wisdom, then I am okay.
The Loyal Guardian: If I am loyal, reliable and consistent, not untrustworthy or difficult, then I am okay.
The Enthusiastic Optimist: If I am optimistic and joyful, not trapped and optimistic, then I am okay.
The Protective Challenger: If I have power, am in control, not weak, then I am okay.
The Peacemaker: If I am peaceful and accepting, never pushy or ambitious, then I am okay.
Learning about my Enneagram type helped me step back and see how my patterns have functioned when I was both healthy and unhealthy. It helped give language and shape to the internal motivations that I had recognized but hadn’t named. And once I was able to name them, I was able to sort out what I wanted to hold onto and what I could let go.
And isn’t that the point? Letting go of shame, not letting regret hold us back. What can we do now with what we know now as we move forward? Write down some of the stuck areas that you notice, or patterns that you’d like to let go of. Be kind to yourself as you explore some of these motivations. The truth is, they kept you safe and they’ve brought you this far, they’re just not the whole story.