Friday, December 17, 2010

Destruction, Construction and Paula Cole.

For my birthday this year my mom took me to see Paula Cole. I saw the concert details in a flier sitting on their computer desk a month or so before the event and was immediately taken back to teenage days driving around top down in the purple Jeep I owned at the time (and miss dearly) singing my lungs out along to "This Fire". In the midst of my moment of nostalgia I mentioned that it would be a cool show to see and from there plans were made (it was my first time leaving the little one for over an hour).

The date came quickly and soon my mother and I were sitting side by side in a small intimate theater both in awe of the amazing talent and passion being displayed on the stage before us. As the concert went on and I sensed it was nearing it's end I remember thinking to myself "I won't be disappointed at all if she doesn't play "I Don't Want to Wait" or "Where Have All the Cowboy's Gone", she probably feels tied down by the obligation to sing the major hits. I'll be happy as long as she sings the song, the one that made it's home in my heart all of those years ago... Please, oh, please." And then as if she read my mind Paula began telling us that she had been informed on many occasions by therapists that this next song had helped a sizable number of their teenage patients. I knew then that a lifelong memory was about to be made... I felt the tears well up in my eyes before a single word left her lips. I grabbed my moms hand and we shared a knowing look as Paula filled the air with the words I had repeated to myself so many times "I am not the person who is singing, I am the silent one inside, I am not the one who laughs at people's jokes, I just pacify their egos".

I have been self-destructive for most of my life in one form or another, at times in more dangerous ways than others, and I hurt many people outside of myself in the process, especially during my teenage years. My mom took the brunt of the abuse during that time and I committed many acts that tore at the foundation of that relationship. I am happy to report that we now have a stronger relationship than ever before and we can both look back on those times with a healthy dose of humor and humility. I admit however that my guilt remains and has actually reached a new depth since becoming a mother myself, but she reminds me often that all is forgiven. I am not going to attempt to express my gratitude at this moment as it would require a novel.

I have explored many of the extremes of my personal self-destructive nature as well as many of the more seemingly insignificant behaviors. Despite the urgency and obvious danger of the actions and habits I engaged in on the more "extreme" end of the spectrum I have to say that in really studying human-nature, history and leadership it has been revealed to me that it's the seemingly insignificant daily thoughts and actions over time that tear ourselves down. It's similar to the train of thought that a drug overdose and a lifetime of smoking cigarettes are both forms of suicide (whether intentional or not), one simply takes a much longer time to accomplish the end result. 

Although I do not deny there being outside factors in everyone's lives (challenging or unfortunate circumstances and a slew of negative temptations on a constant basis) Paula's word's ring true:

"It's me who is my enemy
Me who beats me up
Me who makes the monsters
Me who strips my confidence"

There are many blogs, books and numerous other resources warning of the dangers that negative self talk has in our lives. It's no secret that we are privy to our own mistakes, imperfections and personal weaknesses unlike those of the people around us. It is all too easy to assume that because their faults aren't as glaringly obvious to us as our own, that they simply don't exist. We know everything we have ever done wrong and we punish ourselves by believing we don't deserve success. Yet another self-fulfilling prophecy.

I am in complete agreeance with the prevailing wisdom out there encouraging individuals to refrain from this negative self talk and suggesting they replace detrimental thought patterns with positive reaffirming mantras. I don't however think that it is safe to stop there. Based on my personal observations I don't feel that simply replacing adverse thoughts about ourselves with affirmative ones has the desired affect. More often than not if we succeed at that, all we have really succeeded in (if we don't add action to the mix) is implanting more firmly in our own minds the rather unpleasant entitlement mindset that has become somewhat of an epidemic in our modern society

Humans were not created to be idle, no amount of positive self talk will cure the inadequacies felt as a result of not chasing after our dreams and passions without the full breath of life. When we are not actively pursuing our purpose, having positive or negative self talk only determines whether we are insecure masochists or insecure entitlement theorists. It is an uphill battle. We are either spending our time actively becoming the person we want to be, a person we can be proud of and whom we believe deserves success, or we are falling backwards into self pity or bitterness, both of which over time will destroy our quality of life. I may be wrong, but I am of the opinion that we cannot simply avoid being destructive; the only way to not be destructive is to be constructive.

Paula may have simply written "Me" as an announcement of sorts, a discovery that one is only truly held back by themselves. I do not know the story behind her song but I know that for me it is a reminder to be constructive rather than destructive. I attempted to thank her for that in person after the show but stumbled over my words like a star-struck child. I did manage to get out "I was one of those teenagers that was helped by that song" ...very smooth-like. Her response said it all "I guess I was too". I can't speak for her, but that was all I needed to hear to know that she is a constructive being. 

There were many other enjoyable moments throughout that evening that I will remember for a long time to come, she did perform both of the aforementioned hits with the same level of passion as her newer creations, and did a cover of Jolene that blew the original out of the water... and who knew that Paula Cole could beat-box? Because I sure didn't! Definitely a pleasant surprise.  But most of all I will cherish the lesson learned, the journey that has sprung from that lesson, and the deepening of my relationship with one of my biggest heroes, my mom.


  1. This song speaks to me a lot too. I use music as a sort of therapy when I am going through tough times.

  2. Fantastic writing! You ought to send this one out to some magazines! As for heros, your mother and Paula Cole are on my list as well!

  3. Thanks! I just might do that!


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