Friday, May 27, 2011

Knowing (and owning) your weakness makes you stronger

Today I was on a little after lunch ramble to enjoy the lovely autumn weather outside and to procure some postprandial caffeine and I ended up in the hospital, which got me thinking.
Don't panic.
Let me explain.
I actually work at a university which shares a campus with the hospital so there is nothing to panic about, my lunchtime walkabouts usually result in a trip to the hospital, or the nearby sushi train.
This particular hospital was the site for one of my university internships for my dietetics degree, and it played host to ten of the most challenging weeks of my life so far.
When I embarked on my studies in nutrition and dietetics I had my heart set on being a paediatric dietitian who specialised in oncology, my wishes were granted when I ended up interning in both the adult's and children's oncology wards. This was supposed to be my dream come true, I was supposed to find my niche there, my calling in life, my vocation.
I learned a lot while I was on this practicum, however I didn't find my niche, my calling or my vocation; instead I was confronted by a series of revelations about my own weaknesses and that is what I wanted to talk about in today's post.

Understand that I am not talking about vices (chocolate, cookbooks, shoes) or things that make you weak in the knees (yes, my West coast boy I am looking at you), I am talking about those parts of yourself that are fundamentally delicate; those parts of your soul, heart and mind that are like butterflies wings and can't quite take the strain that other parts can.

The lightbox of ten weeks in the hospital showed me that I didn't have the strength of soul, mind or heart to be a paediatric oncology dietitian, in fact I didn't really have it in me to work in a hospital at all. They exposed two major weaknesses that revealed to me that my dream would break me into pieces if I kept pursuing it.
Firstly, I cannot 'leave things behind at the office'. Everyone I interact with, each patient, each parent, each colleague becomes a part of me and I worry about them and wonder about their problems and hope for the best in their lives. Not an easy burden to shoulder when you are working in the children's cancer ward. My supervisor's advised me to just 'shut things out' and to 'not let it get to me', sorry, no can do.
Secondly, I am empathetic, not sympathetic. There is a difference; sympathy is being able to recognise and understand someone else's feelings whereas empathy is experiencing another's feelings vicariously. Pretty heavy stuff if you are an over-thinker like me.
Please, don't think that I am some overly emotional, uber sensitive person, I am just truly a 'people person' and I love to hear people's stories.
When I realised that my dream wasn't going to become a reality because I wasn't capable of carrying some of it's burdens I was lost. The tears I cried into my pillow every night after a day at the hospital weren't just for the stories I had heard that day, they were also for a vision of the future that would no longer eventuate.

Now a few years later, I look back with clearer vision and a more healed mind and I can see the lessons in my weaknesses, I have come to own those parts of me that are weak, and embrace them instead of thinking I can somehow 'fix' them. I have learned that the parts of me that are delicate are actually pieces of me that make me stronger in other places.
The weaknesses have always been there, they make up parts of who I am as a person and in someways help me to be a better person when I understand them, when I own them.
Because I cannot leave things behind at the office and let other people's lives put marks on my own I am exposed to so many different view points, lifestyles and choices, and I can understand so many different types of people, even if I don't necessarily agree with them.
Because I am empathetic I am able to get an inside view of people's lives and support them, or laugh with them, or cry with them when they need it.
These aren't bad personality traits to have, but they mean that there are some things that I need to be aware of; I need to be mindful of switching off after the day is done, I need to make sure I don't let other people's moods drag me down, and I need to make sure that I ask myself if I am making decisions based on how I truly feel.

Your weaknesses shouldn't limit you, they should not define you.
You are stronger in more ways than you are delicate and once you own the fragile pieces of yourself you are essentially sturdier, you can embrace who you are as a person as a whole, rather than just the pieces that fit perfectly.
Think of your soul as a tree. The weakest parts are your leaves, they might get torn off in a storm, eaten by birds or fall to the ground while the trunk and branches are made of much heartier stuff. However, those leaves provide the tree with nourishment and colour. It takes both the trunk and the leaves to make up the whole tree. Both strength and weakness to make up a whole soul.
So when you are confronted by an event in life that exposes a delicate part of your soul take note and instead of letting it limit you, define you, confine you; find the strength behind the weakness, accept them both and love the whole tree, rather than just the trunk.

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