• Helen Dillon-Cottee

Stop being who you should be; start being who you are.

For 35 years, I lived my life being who I was supposed to be. Much of my ‘supposed to’s’ came from spending my formative years in the church, the rest came from what the world told me someone like me should be like.

By 35, I had been a wife for 12 years, a mother for eight, a Christian for decades, a leader for many of them. I gave myself to this life I had created, or maybe had been created for me, with gusto. But scratch the surface just an inch and all you would find was someone who felt like a constant failure: not enough, too much, missing the mark all the time. I was too big, too loud, not pretty enough or calm enough or successful enough. My parenting was not good enough, neither was my marriage or my body or my career. I tried and tried to be worthy enough to feel accepted and lovable, but there were just too many ‘shoulds’ that I couldn’t keep up. I tried, and in some areas of life, I succeeded more than others, but I was burnt out, exhausted and unhappy.

The short version of the next seven years was that I quit — the one thing I was taught I should never do. Ironically, quitting saved my life.

I quit trying to be who I was supposed to be and started to be who I actually am. I tore up the rule book I had been handed and found the freedom to be myself. And it really was the breath I needed for my soul. I allowed myself to shed layer after layer of ill-fitting identities, and underneath I started to find myself.

As I shed these ill-fitting garments I had called a life, others started to open up that they too felt that they were living by someone else’s rules. They too had been handed a life with a rule book on how to succeed. They too had both followed the rules and failed according to them. They too felt a disconnect. And so I started to notice — in my clients and friends and colleagues and family. I started to notice where there were similarities in our journeys; what helped and didn’t; what was needed at different points.

This process is not about surface change — it’s about unbecoming, in order for you to find who you really are. You do not need any more voices giving you any more ‘shoulds’, I’m here to tell you that you need less. Because underneath all the layers, ‘you’ are already there just waiting to come out and play. All it needs is for you to shed the shoulds, to change your life.

If this sounds familiar, you are likely someone who is in a period of transition, or on the edge of transition, knowing that something needs to change but you haven’t said ‘yes’ to it quite yet.

Maybe you are like I was. You’re doing everything you can to be who you should be, but it’s creating a life that isn’t yours, doesn’t fit you and brings you no joy. You feel like an imposter in your own life. You’ve been taught who you’re supposed to be in your identity, your work, your faith, your body, your relationships. You’ve followed the rule book and climbed the ladder, but at the top of the ladder where you thought you’d find happiness, you actually find a swirling emptiness. You’re tired of climbing. You’re tired of playing the wrong game by the wrong rules. But you’re not sure what to do about that — because you were taught that this is the right way, the only way, to live and love and think and believe.

You find yourself reaching a crossroads where you can either choose to carry on with this version of life — being who you were supposed to be, playing by the rules, quietly swallowing down the discontent; or you can take another path.

This other path will require you to face up to the person you are being and ask yourself the question — is this really who I am? Is this really the life I want, the type of relationships I choose, the identities I have, the things I am known for? This other path will lead you to a place of change, but before the change it will lead you to question everything, to let things go, to rethink all of it, before you come out the other side. It is not an easy path, but you probably already know that. It is, however, a beautiful, worthwhile, and necessary path.

People have been walking this path of intentional change since time began, but as the world hits the kind of tipping-point we find ourselves in, you seem to find more and more people choosing the second fork in the road. I’m not sure whether it’s cause or effect, or maybe both. Is it because more people are choosing this path that we hit the tipping point of an era? Or is it because we’re at the tipping point that more and more of us are taking this path? My sense is probably that both are true. What seems to matter more is whether you are someone who chooses this path, or someone who resists it.

You will likely already know people who have chosen to question the status quo, the ones who are known for initiating necessary change, who are refusing to play the old game, refusing to settle into old, old ways. And you will also likely know those who spend all their energy resisting the path of change, who stand against progression and development, who have taken on the mantle of keeping things as they have been come hell or high water.

We don’t have a choice as to whether this era shift that we are in will happen, we simply get to choose whether we will be part of the change or part of the resistance to the change. Will we help to bring in a new way or try to stop it?

Around the world there are normal people like you and I, choosing to be part of the change, lending their energies by leaning forwards not back, not quite knowing what’s on the other side, but ‘knowing’ that whatever it is, it will be good. They are doing this by challenging the old rules in their bodies and workplaces and churches and homes. They are refusing to continue to stay in marriages and institutions and conversations that require to be some other version of themselves in order to fit or belong. They are challenging and questioning the matrix we have all been living in that requires us to clamber and clamour for status at all costs, by playing by a certain set of rules. They are tearing up the rulebook and rewriting the rules.

This is what I call the ‘reform’ path — deconstructing all that we have been taught we should do, we must be, we have to believe, risking all that security that comes with playing by the rules in order to reconstruct a new way, a new world that is freer and kinder and more loving and equitable for all people.

You are not alone if you are leaving, or considering leaving, an old way. In this past decade, I have left church, a marriage, toxic friendships, negative beliefs about my body, my femininity, my kids… I have coached people who have left behind a whole raft of things they were supposed to stay in: jobs, beliefs about work and money, an ill-fitting sexuality or gender, relationships with siblings and partners and bosses and parents. They have reformed who they are and what they do and how they work and love and the God they believe in.

Not only have they left something, they have then gained something. Because further down this path of reform is the place of resurrection, where something that was buried pushes up from the ground in a new form but that is designed for a new world. First the birth, then the death, then the resurrection. This has been the way of ancient wisdom, of the divine, of the world around us — and it is the way of each us as well, if we let it.

The world is changing. A new era is coming. It will affect each of us. We have a choice: to ignore it, to resist it or to be-friend it. If you are ready to join with it, to lean forwards and not backwards, you will also be saying ‘yes’ to the reforms that are asking to happen in your life; this is the journey we are about to begin.

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