Keeping a Promise
It’s impossible to ever actually get to speak to, or hold hands with, touch, change, fix, comfort or console our younger selves, but there’s something powerful in the act of attempting it. There’s a repairing when we try to go back and be compassionate. It’s healing to apply language to the younger self who didn’t have the language.
Many years ago, I met my younger self during a guided meditation. I was not a willing participant. It was too “touch-feely.” I would never be able to “still my mind.” However, since it was part of an all-day workshop I felt obligated to go along. It turned out to be a life-changing experience.
During the exercise we were guided into a meadow of tall grasses and there, without any specific prompting, I met my childhood self. She looked at me reproachfully. “You haven’t done what you said you would do,” she said.
She didn’t say what it was I had failed to do, and I do not remember having any explicit sense of it, only that as soon as she said it I knew I had not been true to myself. I was living the American dream – married, stay-at-home mom of two beautiful children, and a house in the suburbs. Only it wasn’t my dream. I promised her that things would change.
While the experience was most dramatic in its affect on my personal life, it also influenced my career. One of the most important things I learned as a college president, especially the second time around, was that not everything I believed in was worth fighting for. Sometimes someone else had a better idea. Sometimes the short-term dissension would have been detrimental to the long term change I was trying to achieve. But on matters of personal integrity there was no compromise. Being true to the values of honesty, service, and stewardship of the public trust was non-negotiable.
The politics of the presidency at times created pressure to abandon that principle. But I couldn’t disappoint my younger self again.