One of the things I often say about repatterning is that not all of us learned from harmful cues and environments in our childhoods, but all of us learned a set of patterns that is unique and specific to us. Even the person with the most idyllic upbringing still learns a default set of unconscious strategies for interacting with the world – they may be healthier strategies than those of a person who grows up with abuse, but they’re still an unconscious default.
In fact, in some ways, those of us who grow up with faulty programming actually have more occasion to rewire ourselves, because (if you’re anything like me anyway) we may not have been able to function properly under the programming we received. If we notice this and learn the basis of repatterning, then we can not only adjust the obvious malfunctions, but also notice and examine each pattern we’ve formed for ourselves as it comes up and make a conscious decision whether to keep it or change it.
And sometimes there are patterns that seem “good” on the surface, especially during childhood, but which hold us back in adulthood.
I grew up very privileged around my education. When I complained of being bored of my kindergarten class because I was already reading books while my classmates were still learning the alphabet, my parents placed me in an expensive private school where I immediately tested into the gifted kid program. It was a double-edged privilege, as my perceived intelligence was the result of my being an undiagnosed young girl with autism and ADHD, which meant that I also lacked about as much support in my weak areas – such as forming friendships and socializing – as I received for my strengths, but suffice it to say I definitely absorbed the belief that I was intelligent in my childhood, and I have not doubted it since.
This also meant that certain achievements came easily to me: good grades, academic awards, extracurriculars (especially in music, theater, and speech/debate), etc were all things I accomplished, and accomplished well, with little to no effort, because they came naturally to me.
This also meant that much of my sense of self-worth was delivered to me in quarterly report cards and yearly school plays, concerts, and talent shows.
It also meant that I formed a habit of looking upwards for my sense of direction – that is, looking to a teacher or authority to provide structure.
If you teach me a subject and test me on it, I will quite likely succeed brilliantly. If you post an audition notice for an upcoming theater production in my community, I will study the play and quite likely ace that audition. If you provide me an overall structure for success, such as a school, and provide clear rules for how to succeed within it, such as “get good grades” and “excel at several extracurriculars you enjoy,” I will quite likely do incredibly well for myself in such an environment.
The problem is that in the real world there is no higher authority continually judging, testing, and ranking our work in life. Even in a solid mentorship, which I believe I’m historically adept at given my ability to follow structured learning, a mentor can only assess you in the learning and application of the skill they’re passing on to you. There’s no 99th percentile to be ranked in in the game of life to assure you that you’re still doing well. And sometimes it’s honestly embarrassing how lost I can feel without these metrics, and how hopelessly I can keep searching for them in vain just to feel like I’m orienting myself in my reality in a way I can understand.
Amanda Palmer once penned the Dresden Dolls lyric, “I used to be the bright one, the perfect fit / Funny how you slip so far when teachers don’t keep track of it.”
In deciding to pursue a music career, for example, I noticed myself working tirelessly at my craft comparing myself to other musicians who have achieved a certain level of fame, but there’s no one secret formula to popularity or success the way that there are correct answers on a test. I could spend a whole lot of time trying to make a perfect album, and ten people could have ten entirely different opinions on it. I notice myself unconsciously putting imaginary record label executives or playlist curators into the hierarchical role that teachers and principals once played in my life, thinking that if I just “do well” in the ways I’m accustomed to, then everything should shake out as it usually does.
In the business world, it’s often the grifters and cons who do best in the short-term, raking in lots of money with unsustainable business models and practices that are by no means “correct” in their approach. Some folks might remember in 2019 I called out a business coach with an unsustainable model that was harming (and by harming I mean bankrupting) several of his clients while his revenue continued to climb skyward. I actually had a private conversation with him first before I named this publicly, and I offered to help him fix his business (for a fee that was less than his year-long mastermind). He refused, and then a year later he did some ayahuasca in Costa Rica and came back and announced that he’d realized his business model was unsustainable and that he was going to shut it down and pursue his real dream of becoming a dj.
And it’s times like these where I sometimes mentally go searching for the teacher on the playground, the person who is supposed to see to it that everything is fair and that we are all graded according to our merits – because that guy made (and blew) a whole bunch of money while he was at it, while I had paid him $1000 for the privilege of attending his weekend event and figuring out, from scratch, why his business was going off the rails in person while at the same time it appeared fiscally successful.
And obviously no one comes running to make this right because there is no one in charge here. It’s just us, a bunch of humans, some with more power and privilege than others, trying to muddle through.
Sri Krishna Murti writes, “That which a man considers his virtues arrests his development far more than that which he considers his faults.”
My belief in my intelligence has helped me accomplish a great deal in life, to attack my projects with fearless confidence in my abilities, and to take up space in any conversation I can get into. It’s also meant that I chronically frustrate myself innately looking to make sense out of systems where there is no sense-making, where merit is not awarded based on the quality or sincerity of accomplishment, where accolade, money, and attention follow senseless trends of virality and chance as much as they lift up skill.
I wonder also how many marriages have dissolved because a person from a warm and stable household grows up assuming their family will stay together as a default without putting in more concerted effort toward their partner. I wonder also how many people have wasted fortunes because they spent money the way they’d learned it, as though it was always going to be there. I wonder how often our “good” patterns actually create places of shadow where a surprise may knock us off guard when they don’t work the way we’ve learned that they should.
Being a good student is in some ways the opposite of being an artist or entrepreneur. Whereas as a student I was accustomed to responding to the demands and structures above me, as an artist and entrepreneur I am actually responsible for creating those structures, deciding where I want them to fit in on the overall map of reality, and then carving out that space myself and growing them from there. (Which is hard to do when you were supported in your ability to do schoolwork and not in your ability to socialize.) And letting the grifters, cons, and viral trends go on their merry way, since I wouldn’t want to be like them anyway.
I’m wrapping up this full-length album now (I’ve been saying that for over six months but it continues to be true!) and I notice there is still a part of me that wants to take it around to labels and go, “Look what I made, isn’t it perfect, isn’t it the perfect album, and doesn’t this mean I have done a great job and I absolutely merit your support in bringing my vision to life?”
And maybe I will, and maybe something great will come of it – but even in that case, I’d probably do better approaching it with the goal of finding and discerning the executive, partner, or investor that will be the best ally for my vision and inspiring them as an individual, not with the hope that my vision is likely to be mathematically and inarguably ranked in the 99th percentile of music and therefore will meet with everyone’s objective approval.
And I’ll probably do better in my life approaching it with the goal of building the relationships and systems and communities that best serve my work and make me happy, rather than with the goal of serving some invisible principal in the sky.