Self 22 August 2018
Before I left for a three-month stint on a BMW S1000RR, the fastest production bike on the planet, I defined myself by the words on my business card. My working life defined me. Completely. My whole identity—my purpose, my reason for being, my value to the world—was inextricably tied to my job.
On the inside, I felt like a fraud, but on the outside, my business card told a different story. My title was my validation. It opened doors, gave me credibility, enabled me to be measured and to be recognised. It told a powerful story of success and achievement—of who I desperately needed the world to see me as. I was my business card, and without it, I was nothing. It didn't take many days of being alone on the road for that identity to start unravelling.
By day four, I was heading home from an early morning run when I passed two RVs parked in a pullout, where their owners had enjoyed a spectacular view of the lake overnight. By the time I arrived, they were sitting peacefully in fold-out chairs, breathing in the view and the morning, their hands wrapped around huge steaming mugs of coffee. Sucker that I am for coffee first thing in the morning, I slowed down to a trot on the off chance they had a fresh pot brewing.
The plan worked. Within minutes, they'd pulled up a chair, and I was sitting—coffee in hand—sharing the world with three beautiful fellow gypsies.
For nearly two hours, we sat in the sun together—trading stories, trading lives, trading dreams. I was stunned by their openness and their willingness to let a complete stranger into their world. They didn't know anything about me. We didn't talk about my “history." I wasn't my achievements, I was just me—at that point in time, a wild, smelly Aussie out running on the banks of Kootenay Lake who happened to drop in for coffee and a chat. I didn't need to be anything or anyone else. Just me. And it was perfect.
Some Stories Are Harder to Let Go of Than Others
The beauty of being on a bike for hours is that it gives you time to reflect. To work things through. But when there's just you inside your helmet, it's easy to play the same tape over and over in your head—a conversation that you've had or you wished you'd had, a cutting remark that keeps biting you, a smack you wish you'd given. That thought or emotion keeps looping back again and again and again.
The trouble with looping is that it keeps pulling you backwards. On day twenty-five, that's where I was—continually kicking myself for dropping my emotional bundle so spectacularly the day before, when I had almost made the decision at Mt Baker to give up and go home.
My internal dialogue was relentless. The only thing that stopped it was taking a corner. Loop, loop, loop—oh, tight right-hander—loop, loop—hold on, sharp left. Man, how did you let yourself spiral so completely out of control? What the hell is wrong with you?
But it served no purpose.
I remembered an untested technique one of my teachers, Ross, had taught me to short-circuit looping: stop, disengage, remove the emotional commitment. Brilliant! I gave it a shot. Every time I found myself looping, I physically put my hand up to say “stop" (I had to be careful it wasn't in the middle of a corner at the time), and then I mentally saw myself pulling a plug out of the wall so that I was physically disengaging myself from the thought and emotion.
As I did so, I made a conscious decision to let go of the story. It took a while—OK, nearly three hours—but every time it resurfaced, I went back to stop, disengage, remove the emotional commitment. Slowly, slowly, I emerged out of the rabbit hole. And I remembered, in stopping the story, to be kind to myself. I'd gotten myself into a black place, and sure I was still a little battered and bruised, but continually beating myself up wasn't going to help.
So I chose to let it go. And somewhere between Snohomish and Skykomish (yep, they're real places!), I felt the weight of judgement fall off my shoulders and bounce onto the road behind me.
Letting Judgement Go
Naturally, I didn't completely learn to let go of judgement—of myself or others—in one day. On day forty-six, as I loaded my bike, Voodoo, a young guy in his late thirties packed his Harley beside us. Not your typical Harley rider for once—a cool, sharply dressed guy with a buzz cut and not an ounce of leather, tattoos, or bandannas in sight. It's funny (or it's sad) how we (OK, I) jump to make quick judgements. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him and instantly thought, “Yep, accountant pretending
to be a wild boy, riding his Harley to escape actuarial boredom."
When am I ever going to learn?
We shared stories as we loaded, and within ten minutes, we'd stopped talking and had moved to hugging as he cried. Six months ago, his best friend had contracted cancer, and my new friend had nursed him until he'd died in his arms. Just a few weeks ago. He was out riding his Harley, trying to clear his head and to pull himself together.
I wept with him. There was nothing I could say or do to take the pain away. All I could do was hold space for him in his anguish. As if to reinforce the power of time on a bike to change our stories, a few days later I met Dennis—an older guy from the UK who'd shipped his bike out from England and had been riding for seven months. There I was, all smug from having ridden from British Columbia, while he'd ridden in from Alaska and had camped the whole way.
He had a courageous story. His only son had been killed in Afghanistan five years ago, and he was riding to reconcile with his loss. Despite this, Dennis radiated such excitement and exhilaration, continually looking for the next adventure in life. His bike was painted in camouflage and was completely covered with photos and small mementoes from his son's life. It was a celebration of the beautiful son he'd lost, and of life—a constant reminder that life was precious and he needed to live it.
Dennis was such a powerful example of consciously changing your story. I'm not sure how I could you ever turn the raw loss of a child into something positive and empowering. But Dennis did. After spending years in grief and in blackness, he'd decided to change his story into something meaningful and compelling.
You Are Not Your Story
Ultimately, the connections I made with people as I rode reminded me again and again that there was so much more to me than my professional identity. None of the people I'd met on the road had known my history. None of them were aware of what I'd achieved or accumulated. None of them cared about my business card, my title, my role.
On the road, that meant nothing. The only thing that mattered was who I was—right then and there, in that moment of time.
What mattered was how I engaged with the world—how I connected with these inspiring, captivating people. How I chose to show up. People who didn't know the warrior or the superhero in me liked me anyway. How's that for a surprise? They liked me for just being me. It was one of the most profound lessons I received from my epic journey on Voodoo; that I could be comfortable in my own skin, show up as I was, and still be appreciated for who I am..and that I am perfect—just as I am.
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Help! I'm Dating a Jerk!
Dear Armchair Psychologist,
I've been dating my boyfriend for a year. After spending some vacation time with him and realizing he is not treating me the way I like I'm wondering — what do I do? I need him to be kinder and softer to me but he says simply, "chivalry is not his thing." I believe when two people decide to be together they need to adjust to each other. I don't think or feel my boyfriend is adjusting to what's important to me. Should I try to explain to him what's important to me, accept him for what he is, or leave him as I'm just not happy and the little gestures are important to me?
- Loveless Woman
Dear Loveless Woman,I am saddened you aren't getting your needs met in your relationship. Intimacy and affection are important to sustain a healthy relationship. It's troubling that even though you have expressed your needs to your boyfriend that it's fallen on deaf ears. You need to explore, with a therapist, why you have sought out this type of relationship and why you have stayed in it, even when it's making you chronically unhappy? Your belief that couples should adjust to each other is correct to some degree. These things often include compromising and bending on things like who gets the bigger closet or where to go for dinner. However, it's a tall order to ask someone to change their personality and if your boyfriend is indeed a jerk, like you say, who refuses to acknowledge your love language or express kindness and softness, then maybe you should find a partner who will embrace you while being chivalrous.
- The Armchair Psychologist
Hi Armchair Psychologist,
Just wanted to let you know that your article was really offensive to read. Do you refer to women's genitals as: "gross," "ghasty," "smelly," or otherwise? Humans are not perfect, each of us is different and you should emphasize this. I hope that man finds a partner that will love and accept him rather than tearing him down. Which gender has a whole aisle devoted to their "special" hygiene needs? I can tell you it's not men.
Dear Male Reader,Thank you for your thoughtful feedback to my Armchair Psychologist column. My email response bounced so am writing you here. I am so sorry I offended you. It wasn't my intention. I actually meant to be sardonic and make the writer see how ridiculous she sounded for the harsh language she used to describe her date. I obviously failed at this sneer since you think I meant to be offensive. Many apologies. I'll do better. Have a wonderful day and keep writing us with your thoughts.
- Ubah, The Armchair Psychologist