I participated in an end of year ritual, in which we were invited to contemplate certain sorrows and grievances with the world, and release what is not ours to carry, and invite in what belongs to us, and offer a prayer for the beautiful transformation of things for all. 10 times, maybe, over the course of the hour, we were invited to reflect – on the prevalence of predatory capitalism and how it creates a constant sense of stress and scarcity, or on health and ill-health and systems that don’t meet people in kindness, or on our losses of loved ones or loved places or lost innocence or lost opportunities… and breathe out what isn’t ours to carry and breathe in what belongs to us, and offer a prayer for the well-being of all.
And one thing, that occurred to me, that I’ve been working towards laying down and letting go this past year, is my work persona. The “brand”, I suppose, of Lisa Richardson, freelance writer, darling of Pemberton, community cheerleader. Which is not to say that I am no longer writing, nor committed to community. Writing is a way I express myself, a skill I have, a tool in my toolbox, a practice and a gift. Community is something I believe matters, deeply, and am willing to offer my energy to. But, it is to say that I stopped doing things simply because they fed that persona, because they would reinforce, to me and others, that I was in the business of writing, (and that I deserved any success I had because I was selfless about lifting other people up, too.) To reinforce the “proof” that I was this thing, had started to feel a bit like a balloon I’d sent up above my actual body and head, for others to notice, and that was always slow-leaking, the way balloons do, and so required constant blowing-up, constant top-ups of breath, of vital energy. Even if I wanted to be doing something else, like resting, or not having an opinion I could put into words, or being one voice among many, or just having a conversation instead of doing an interview… that balloon needed re-inflating, for fear that all the air would go out of it, and it would just become what it had always been, a thin wrinkly skin of a thing, powered only by my only vital energy, the force of me constantly breathing life into it.
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash
I share this because I think we all spend a lot of our vital energy breathing life into a persona or a brand or a kind of professional avatar of ourselves that might actually not really be serving who we are or what we’re meant to be doing – I mean, social media basically exists to perpetuate this, doesn’t it? I know colleagues whose Linked In posts or Facebook updates are so constantly self-promotional, in ways that don’t fully square with the messy realities of their lives, and I wonder how much it costs them to constantly be inflating that “better”, flawless, smooth-skinned, smart-talking version of themselves. I know how many times over the past few years I thought: I should start a newsletter, or write a blog post, or update my website, or post something on instagram, and couldn’t muster the energy to do any of those things, because I’d really run out of air.
It’s funny, because I worked really hard to build that persona, and I don’t think it’s fake, necessarily. I think it’s just that I’m not motivated anymore just to be known as a community writer. There are aspects of myself that were put on the back burner so I could invest all my energy in manifesting that dream. The athlete in me. The friend who calls people just for a chat. The yogi. The crafter who makes very mediocre objects and collages. The letter writer. The flaneuse. The person attending something and not planning to write about it. There’s a spaciousness in all of those other things, that requires some of the air and breath that was inflating the other thing. And I started to want the spaciousness, more than I cared to keep that balloon aloft. So I have said no thank you to various things, and watched the air leak out, and the persona deflate, and I don’t know if it’s even aloft anymore, and I don’t really mind.
Because I am still here.
And because, in the ritual, the teacher, Daniel Foor, said something to the effect of, are there ways in which you are making yourself busy or chasing things to such a degree that you are neglecting your soul’s purpose?
And I thought, oh, there’s a difference between feeding your soul’s purpose and feeding your persona. Sometimes, the very sneaky personas, will sidle right up next to your soul’s purpose and try and look and feel almost exactly like it. It’s like the weeds that grow in my garden right up beside the plants I actually planted, that look remarkably similar, pretty much until they’ve gone to seed, and then revealed themselves to be undercover agents and saboteurs!
And I thought, isn’t that a potent question to sit with… not, what is my brand, and what do I want to push out into the world, but what is my soul’s purpose and what small way can I honour that today?
Imagine if we could all see the faces behind the balloons we’re so busy keep inflated? I am opting for that spaciousness for myself, and I wish it for you too. May we all look in the mirror in the coming year and see a glimpse of our soul’s purpose smiling back.
2 thoughts on “Are you feeding your soul’s purpose, or a persona?”
Lisa Lisa Thank you so much fora thoughtful very personal revelation on your roles as âcommunity cheerleaderâ. It came on the day of the last day of Sheryl Makayâs North by NW on CBC. She also spoke of a âCommunityâ, in her case, of listeners. In both cases the personas reflect capacity for empathy and compassion sometimes garnished with humor that is a joy to indulge.
I frequently reflect on what I think are encounters with interesting people and events in my life, stories which require âpersonasâ of yours and Sherylâs to do justice to.
In answer to âpurpose or personaâ I say both.
Looking forward to more posts.
I didn’t realize Sheryl was retiring. What a wonderful warm voice she has. I’ll miss that. Thanks for this beautiful note, Hugh. I think you’re right – both for sure.