My Jungian Shadow Self, the Remix

I was raised in the type of family where you did a number of things:

1. Got an education

2. Got some more education

3. Got a good job, then a better job, then an even better job, until you’d reached a ‘job pinnacle.’

4. Work until you retire. Then work some more. (Mom, Dad, I jest…But lets face it, its kinda true).

And, until about 6 months ago, I’d say I was solidly on this trajectory. I went to school. I went to more school. I got a series of progressively more challenging jobs. I bought a condo. I saw a long-term path laid out for me, one of my own design.

That is, until about 6 months ago, when my Jungian Shadow Self (should I give this self a name?!)  started screaming, loudly. “Sarah, what’s going on out there?!” “Sarah, get your ass out of the cube and into the world.” “Sarah, you KNOW you can’t live like this for 30 more years, however ‘good’ this place is.

And here is the truth – Oxfam wasn’t just good – it was amazing. I’ve never in my life encountered so many unbelievably competent, passionate, driven, and truly committed people in my life. Successes (which were rare and hard to come by) were rightfully celebrated, and the collective sense of pride and ownership was something I’ve yet to experience at any other organization. Failure was also collective — but took on a sort of comparative urgency — where each person looked at their role, and the organization shifted in order to right the wrongs, correct the weak spots, and move forward. That is a rare thing in many workplaces — but in a social justice organization, the true and honest ability to reflect, to look inward, and to come out better – that’s what makes you great, and to me, Oxfam will always be great.

But I digress. Despite this greatness, this sense of collective urgency and purpose – my Shadow Self raged inside, against all odds. Despite my great job, and my great organization, and my parents constant voices inside my head, I believe that Joseph Campbell said it right when he said “Follow your bliss.”

Now, I realize, “following one’s bliss” is certainly a privilege — surely, not everyone can just up and do so. And, I’ll hazard a guess that me bumming around for 8 months doesn’t exactly contribute to society, whether or not Campbell would think so — and might not make me better at contributing after the fact. Quite possibly, I’ll become addicted to this way of life and have a hard time finding my way out of it. Who knows.

All I do know, for sure, today — is that when your Shadow is screaming, and you are fighting against it because you are ‘supposed to…” Well…Maybe that simply isn’t sustainable either. JK Rowling, the author of Harry Potter, said it brilliantly when she talked about the inevitability of failure, but also the power of imagination, of faith in ourselves.

Maybe Jung (and Campbell and Rowling) are on to something -it takes listening to our guts, accepting our deepest fears, and letting go of some of the expectations we have for ourselves, in order to figure out who we really are.

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