The Phoenix is a mythological creature often portrayed as a massive and glorious monster bird so big and powerful it could easily defeat Godzilla. There are variations of this myth, but typically the Phoenix will rise from the ashes of its predecessor who was consumed by fire. This myth does carry some potent symbolism applicable to our own lives. However, while this imagery offers great potential for an over the top special effects Hollywood blockbuster, the real benefit may be somewhat more subtle. As Americans we’ve grown accustomed to stories where the protagonist is beat down to rock bottom, then undergoes a miraculous transformation, and with superhuman abilities suddenly conquers all of their enemies and setbacks in a blaze of glory. Think of Popeye. Just as Brutus is about to send Popeye to his ultimate demise and escape with his heroine chic trophy girl, a can of spinach appears and the forces of evil are violently vanquished. Or when Rocky is thrashed to within an inch of his life, he suddenly finds the inner strength to dominate whomever had, up to that point, been beating the snot out of him.
I would like to offer something that is more practical to our own life journeys. First off, the concept of being perpetually reborn is invaluable. Culturally we’ve become so entrenched in a game of socio-political gotcha, that we’ve become afraid to admit any form of fault. I think it is good for the soul to occasionally admit that looking back 10 years I really have no idea who that guy was looking back at me in the mirror, and quite honestly I’m grateful that I feel like a completely different person now. If you want growth and change, you must always be willing to let go of who you are. Otherwise you are merely clinging to the status-quo.
Sometimes these changes can be brought about by conscious intention, but quite often they are mercilessly induced by outside circumstances. Which brings me to my second point; the slow rebirth. As I write this article I am a couple weeks away from the third anniversary of what can only be described as a total emotional breakdown. For a period of months leading up to this, I found I was developing tinnitus. I had a chronic ringing in my ears 24 hours a day which could only be drowned out by sitting next to a water fall, or turning up the car stereo. Then one afternoon, I curled up in a fetal position feeling that life had now become intolerable. Concepts like a quiet afternoon nap, or a peaceful row on a lake at dawn were actually terrifying. Not to mention the shear horror of having to climb into bed each night with nothing but the noise in my head and my own thoughts. It was quite literally driving me insane. At the time I viscerally understood what “one day at a time” literally meant. Thinking about tomorrow, next month, or five years down the road was just too overwhelming. The maddening effect seemed it would only intensify and I would have certainly killed myself by then.
There was no can of spinach. There was no “Yo Adrian!” in the audience to elicit a miraculous turn around. What did exist, was merely a day by day focus and an intention not to lose this battle. I started a daily routine including reading, journaling and online video. I immersed myself in anything that was uplifting and empowering. And slowly the Phoenix did start to rise. Not a bold and powerful creature flying up to the heavens, but at first it was more a limping penguin waddling around wearing a special needs helmet. It took over two years before I no longer felt “broken” by my condition. This was the most difficult time of my life by a factor of 10. Today I wear that survival as a badge of honor, and welcome the growth it created.
We want the miracle pill. We want to be fixed right now. We want whatever we wish were different to be gone, so we can get on with our lives. But I would encourage you to embrace a lifetime of constant rebirth. Do not seek to be “done” with growth. Embrace your imperfection and respectfully appreciate your challenges. Most of all, if you find yourself in a pile of ashes, just walk daily with patience and grace towards your own divine growth.
-Pete spent 20 years in corporate America with a great deal of experience in leadership and management. A fan of eastern philosophy he was able to imbue his leadership style with some of the more subtle elements of group dynamics and personal growth. Allowing people to express their authentic self in job scenarios rather than the typical western tendency to manufacture square pegs for square holes. Being part of the scouting and hiring process as well as witnessing numerous downsizing events and seeing the trauma arise as people look to re-establish their careers, it became apparent that the single most useful tool was to have a consistent and consolidated picture of oneself. This ability to confidently understand and present your true character strengths not only helps create success in the interview process but is also a huge benefit in many other areas of daily life.