In her book, Letters to My Daughter, Maya Angelou suggests that many people who are thought of as ‘adults’ are really only grown up children. They get older, finish school, get married, buy houses and cars, have careers, have children. Eventually, they die. They ‘do’ adulthood — behaving as they think adults should behave. But they, themselves, are really only older children. They still look to others – some form of parent ‘authority’ – to protect them, care for them, make decisions, ‘kiss the boo-boo and make it all better’. Like children who have little power and control over their lives, these grown-up children continue to give up their personal author-ity to someone else: a surrogate parent. And so they defer to their teacher, boss, spouse, minister – anyone whom these adult children see as having the answers.
Angelou’s point has lurked at the edges of my conscious thought since I finished reading her book. And I’ve had the usual conversations with myself and others about it. At first, these were intellectual and analytical – very in my head and governed by rational thought. What did I think Angelou meant? What did I think of it? Did I agree or not?
And even while I engaged in this rational response, somewhere inside me at a deeper, more essential yet vital place this statement kept resonating. And as I began to pay attention to that, my gut response grew and vibrated to the point where I had to acknowledge how true her statement was for me – not as an academic exercise but as a body and spirit response.
I’m in my early 60’s as I write this. I’ve had a satisfying career, own my car and house, manage my finances. But until last June, I lived in ‘if only land’ and ‘it’s not fair land’ and ‘when is it my turn? land’. I’ve looked to outside people and forces to govern the choices I’ve made in my life. I’ve looked for someone else to approve of what I have done. I’ve wanted someone else to tell me I’m okay. I’ve needed to hear from someone else that they are proud of me, like me, believe I’m worthy. I’ve lived the story that I needed someone else to manage my life. I’ve lived the story that I was incapable of making my own decisions. I’ve been a grown-up child still looking to some form of parent to guide me and comfort me and validate me.
And as I write this, the words that I spoke out loud for the first time last June echo inside me. “I can’t do this anymore.” I cannot live my life to satisfy someone else. I’ve been stuck in a concrete bunker of my own making. But I’m tearing it down. And so, I now claim my personal choices without outside critiques or commentary or labels or expectations.
I have begun to live my life responsible to me. I have begun to explore what and who I am. I have stopped [at least most of the time] explaining myself and apologizing for the decisions I’ve made about what I choose to do. I’m exploring and experiencing my life from my insides.
That being stated, I am also aware that, as I’ve been changing, as I’ve been claiming my own author-ity, I’ve become a threat to those to whom I’ve deferred in the past. As I am not the person they have always known, as I have moved into my own power, others have tried to ‘put me back in my place’ – the place they are comfortable with. However, I am not responsible for what others think of my decisions. That’s not mine. The only thing that is mine is how I choose to respond. As long as I truly know that my response serves my truth first, then I will continue to be the author of my life. As I wrote to my sister and friend, I am no longer a mollusc. I have a spine!
We are all the product of a process imposed on us by parents, coaches, school and other such authoritative systems. We can understand it, come to terms with it, let it go, and grow into our true Selves. Or we can just grow old replicating what we’ve experienced and were told was true about us and about the world — we can continue to believe that the world is flat.
Consider that to’ author’ our own life is to write it and live it our own way. In so doing, we claim ‘author-ity’ over our life. If we understand how we have been shaped by forces over which we had no control, then we can understand that we can change the process. We can reclaim our author-ity over our lives.
I know that I will continue to take back my author-ity from others. I look forward to what my life is becoming now.