I like to get tattoos when a new chapter in life is starting. I didn’t mean for it to be that way but if I look at all the small-ish tattoos I have on my body, they all happened when my life was taking a new turn. It’s kind of like I say, “Okay, I’m finally ready to move on, and so just to make sure I really do it (move on), I’m going to permanently change my body.” I don’t know if this is the healthiest way of making a commitment, but it sure can be motivating.
I had this beautiful cardinal feather inked over an old tattoo that at one time meant something great but eventually brought me sadness and disappointment. A couple of friends and I got little matching tattoos at a music festival (I mean, who doesn’t do that) and at the time, the little symbol basically meant, “most of who I am is pretty badass, but there are a few little quirks that, well, aren’t all that great.” Sort of an admission of imperfection. Which of course is good, but over time, as the symbol itself became a standard for others in my workplace, it ended up having quite a disastrous result. It wasn’t about imperfection, it was about judgment. And as humans tend to do, the focus became on what was wrong and different and bad and not good enough based on certain perceptions of a few, not on what was working and wonderful for the whole. And as a leader, my flaws were also then under major scrutiny, especially as the voice and role model for everyone else. I had many flaws. I was failing in some big ways in my life, and I knew it. I couldn’t reconcile them at all, it felt like I was being chased and the gap was getting smaller every day. I was also generally miserable, lonely and afraid, and so my energy to keep running was thinning. All in all, it was a total failure, this way of evaluating people, and it had very final and scarring results. It was meant to be good and simple, a plus for good, a minus for needs work. But, it failed. And it opened up a massive can of worms for everyone. Who knew a few little lines of ink could be so powerful.
In the end though, it taught me a major lesson about truth and perception and how we all evaluate and judge others. On the surface, we like to think of ourselves as accepting and inclusive. But what we do and especially much of what we say, has a veil in front of it, distorting realities. With a lot of work on self, we can get better at pulling those veils down in search of truth and benevolence. But most of the time, without even thinking, we judge others, personally, in the workplace, online, even with strangers, with the veils we have built or learned. What we may see to be laziness in another may actually be mental fatigue from a demanding home life. What we may see to be lack of passion in another may actually be contentment with the present. What we may see as “wrong” may actually be, for another, …love. Whatever it is with others, we can never really know because we are not in their shoes, so to speak. How could we know? We can’t, so we judge. Judgment, in many ways, is a coping mechanism when our values or our needs/wants/opinions don’t line up with another’s. Environments can add to the layers of veils, morphing and distorting perceptions of people into things they are not. Work environments are particularly good at this, with their “cultures” and rules that we all have followed to keep the job, be successful, gain more, achieve more and have more, sometimes – oftentimes – at the loss of true self. I was there. I was so, so there. But, today I am not. I hated every moment of the unraveling, the shedding, the sloughing, the relinquishing of this old way of being, the old life. I felt like I had been scraped along an oyster bed and spent two years pulling shells and shards out of my skin.
But I am so thankful now. Because now I am free as a bird. My feathers cover my scars. They can stretch out or stay tucked in or be used as quills to write and ink my words, to record the journey, to remember and reflect. Putting a fresh a symbol of my freedom over a symbol that ended up feeling like a brand feels appropriate. Now the old energy is gone and I am better for it. Plus I just love feathers. 🪶