I’ll be 48 next month, and I kind of like me. Well, most things about me, anyway. One of the things I like is my empathy and compassion for others, although it was a long road to arrive here. I cringe when I look back at my younger self — the naivety of a young woman trying to impress everyone. I was such a punk in my twenties, insisting on being the center of attention. So self-righteous in my thirties, one-upping people in conversation instead of letting a conversation be about only them. I was closed-minded and obnoxious in my thinking, such a brat. I excelled in most things in life: school, friends, love, jobs, travel. Life was easy, the world was MY oyster. Until it wasn’t.
I was knocked down!
We were married for 10 years before we became parents and I delivered our son when I was 37. However, we struggled for years to have a baby. When we finally had a baby and then wanted to add a sibling, we weren’t successful. Six complete cycles of IVF, five of which were back to back, hundreds of injections, two times hyper-stimulated, failed implantations and miscarriages knocked me off my self-made pedestal into a hole I hid from everyone. Our IVF journey did produce an amazing gift of a son (his name actually means “gift from God”), and I’ve never worked so hard or felt so grateful as I did the moment he was born.
I was slapped in the face!
Before trying to become pregnant, my sensitivity chip was tiny, possibly nonexistent. It developed and grew quickly during our pregnancy struggle. As I was undergoing fertility treatments, my emotional state was extremely fragile. I stopped sharing with anyone when we began new cycles of IVF because I was sick of answering all the questions and listening to unsolicited advice. No one truly knew my internal battle and I was exhausted from all the bravado. Then self-awareness raised her mighty hand and slapped me in the face! If I’m not sharing my own self-doubt, pity, loathing, and insecurities, are others hiding their internal struggles about their lives, too? They must be. Reflecting how I had asked the same intrusive questions to people over the years, assuming I was privileged enough to know the answer, I finally understood was offensive. I agonized while I contemplated my own behavior over my almost 40 years — who did I think I was? This was one of my life’s pivotal moments.
I wanted to be a better me.
As my sensitivity chip expanded and self-awareness heightened, so did my empathy. Other life experiences, like our son’s journey with ADHD, volunteering at his elementary school, being passed over for jobs, losing loved ones unexpectedly, acquiescing to life’s constant hurdles, diminished my self-absorption. I began looking beyond what people are presenting to the world, seeking a deeper understanding of what may be motivating certain behavior or a situation. I was a master at hiding pain, which meant others probably were, too. I also felt my compassion muscle expanding because I longed to offer help when I could and share common experiences, doing my best not to one-up. I wanted to minimize their feeling of isolation that can accompany life’s pitfalls because I had felt that loneliness, too. I would reach out privately, and I would always walk away gaining more from the interaction than what I gave. Epiphanies were in abundance when I didn’t try to make something about me and allowed myself to learn from others.
But I’m a hypocrite.
With my heart swelling and mind opening, another part of me was also unfolding: intolerance. I am now intolerant of others’ intolerance. Ironically, I am intolerant of people who are just like I used to be. Life is rarely black and white, and I now live largely in a lovely state of gray, which I equate to open-mindedness. I have few criteria for close relationships, no surprise, they are the same ones that woke me from my short-sighted perspectives: empathy, self-awareness (or striving for some) and compassion. But I realize the hypocrisy in my thinking. If it took me so long, over four decades, to evolve into this person, and only after life presented me with adversities allowing me to develop these traits, should I expect this outlook from everyone else? This still seems self-righteous, in a different way.
So, why am I such a hypocrite when someone else has such rigidness unwilling to consider an alternative? Or when they can’t see beyond their own self-interest or put themselves in someone else’s shoes? Not sure I can answer that. You’d think I, of all people, would be understanding and forgiving, since this used to be me. It could be I am embarrassed it took me so long to realize my shortcomings, of which I still have plenty. I’m still making frequent mistakes, but now trying to learn from them and ask forgiveness. Maybe it’s also because I expect more from myself now and wish I had that same benchmark expectation for myself, and others, back then. Maybe I haven’t forgiven myself for my early ignorance and entitlement.
All I can say is I’m an empathetic and compassionate person, but I didn’t used to be. I am also deeply flawed, hypocritical in my self-righteousness, but I still like me. I like that I’ve learned to look beyond myself and not just hear others, but listen to what they are saying. Stop listening to simply respond with an opinion and one-up remedy. Really listen to them. Validate them. Let them shine in their moment and lift them up so people can enjoy the light. The world isn’t just my oyster, it’s everyone’s oyster.