Swans Like Jelly
Have you read the story of the ugly duckling? If you haven’t, or you don’t remember, here’s the synopsis: all of a mother duck’s eggs hatch except one that is much larger than the others. Another duck tells her it’s a goose egg and to leave it alone because, as you know, you can’t get geese to go in the water. As we know, geese love water. The mother duck thinks perhaps the large egg just needs a bit more time, and sure enough it soon begins to crack and out comes…the ugliest gangliest duckling she’s ever seen. Being a good duck mother she thinks that with time and love the odd duck will grow up to be like the others.
However, the other ducks and farm animals torment the little duckling so much that it flees the farm in search of peace. It nearly freezes to death over that long winter, as it roams from village to village and lake to lake, trying to find a place where it belongs. One cold day two beautiful birds soar overhead, the most majestic graceful birds he’s ever seen with their white wings outstretched. Their cry makes the ugly duckling’s heart swell and his spirit soars as he contemplates the magnificent creatures he’s just seen.
Finally, the following spring the lakes begin to thaw and two of those same majestic birds fly down and land in the lake he is swimming in. After so much pain and rejection he’s afraid to approach the beautiful birds, but then thinks to himself that he has nothing to lose. Swimming over to the beautiful birds they begin to praise him. Confused, he looks in the water and sees his reflection: he’s one of them. He’s not a duckling after all. He’s a beautiful swan.
I just finished reading Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ rendition of the Ugly Duckling as an archetype of some women’s experience in her book Women Who Run with the Wolves and I now have a name for what many of my clients are experiencing when we first begin working together.
The Ugly Duckling Syndrome
During our consultation or sometimes in the discovery session they share that deep down they have always felt like a misfit, like they don’t belong, like they’re a fraud and someone is going to find out they’re not really very smart or talented. Or, they feel lost, like they can’t find their “people” or their “tribe,” and they struggle with “Why am I here?” and “What am I supposed to do with my life?” Most often, they have cushy professional jobs with a nice income, but they feel out of alignment with their job (it doesn’t fit their most authentic self). They feel like they can’t really be themselves, and if they do they’re afraid of rejection, shame, humiliation, or being cast out.
As a child I, too, felt like a misfit. I am deeply connected to spirit. My family is very conservative, grounded and practical, with no room for the mystical or mysterious. I loved daydreaming. I was told to stop daydreaming, come back to earth and do something useful. I grew up feeling like a lotus-petaled peg trying to squeeze my too-large-spirit into a teeny tiny round hole.
I loved the story of the ugly duckling because it gave me hope for myself all the other kids (and adults) who felt like misfits. And it’s no wonder that I’m drawn to working with women who feel like misfits. I’ve walked in their shoes. I know what it’s like. And, I know that when you’re a swan raised by ducks there are very specific solutions to help you:
a. remember your swan-ness
b. reclaim your power from those who insist on mistreating you because you’re different
c. rediscover the beautiful gifts you’re here to contribute (let’s call this your purpose)
One thing I know for certain. If you have been feeling different all your life and beating yourself up about it, it’s high time you stop that nonsense and start treating yourself like the amazing beautiful graceful courageous woman that you are.
Begin by taking inventory of all the things you love but don’t allow yourself to do because of other people’s disapproval (early childhood up til now). When I was a child I loved to dance, sing, draw, paint, write and tell stories, and I loved my grandmother’s homemade jelly. Apple butter. Choke cherry. Raspberry. Chokecherry-raspberry (together). Apricot. Plum. They were all delicious. And when I ate them I felt incredibly happy and loved.
As I grew older and extreme self-consciousness about not fitting in began to take over, one my one I stopped drawing, painting, writing, story-telling, singing. I even stopped eating jelly. It was my way of putting a cork on the things I loved as a way of protecting them from being taken away by anyone else.
As an adult, it’s taken me many years to allow myself to uncork those simple pleasures. One by one, I have surrendered to my soul’s siren song, calling me to write, to draw, to sing, to tell stories, to paint, to dance…
Recently, a friend came to my house and cooked breakfast for me while I was recovering from surgery. She brought a jar of homemade apricot jelly. It was absolutely delicious! And, it brought back all those childhood memories of things loved and left behind.
Do you know what I discovered? Swans like jelly!
If you secretly feel like you’re not good enough, not as smart as everyone else, like you’re a fraud, or that you’re different from everyone else let me assuage your fears and tell you that you’re probably a swan and you just don’t know it, or you forgot. Your challenge this week is to dig up your childhood memories of things loved and left behind, and then let yourself do one or two (or several) of them with zero guilt.
If it’s drawing your inner child doesn’t need the best pencils and sketching paper. She’ll do just fine with a piece of copy paper or a sketch pad and a good old #2. If it’s painting, you don’t need to invest hundreds in paper, brushes and paint. Get thee to Hobby Lobby or Michael’s and let your inner child buy an inexpensive watercolor set, a few brushes and a watercolor pad. If it’s singing, open your mouth and let sounds come out that make your heart fill with joy and tears fill your ears as they run down from your eyes in rivers of passion finally released from long years in prison. It doesn’t matter if you’re on pitch or if you know the words. Sing whatever wants to come pouring out. Your houseplants will cheer you on. If it’s writing, buy a spiral notebook and put pencil to paper. It’s OK, you can let yourself get out of bed 15 minutes earlier every morning without grumbling. Doing so will allow all manner of joy to spring forth, and by day two or three you’ll be racing to get out of bed to write, and perhaps for 30 minutes instead of 15. And if it’s dancing, well….get off the couch and shake that thang. Enroll in a Nia class, a Salsa class, Flamenco or Waltz. Let your hips sway while you iron or cook dinner. Jig in the car on the way to work while listening to the radio. It’s OK, the seat won’t mind a bit of rump jumping.
Your art is your life. To stifle it is to stifle your creative self, your soul. It is to put a chokehold on your life force until there is nothing left but blank soulless eyes and a heart aching to let your soul off its leash to play, create, dance, write, sing. To allow yourself to play and do art is the quickest way to let the swan come to life, for it is in the process of doing something she loves where she’s really in her element. When she’s engaged in her passion she can spread her wings and feel expansive and free. She is able to own her gifts as something magnificent, instead of hiding. Do the things you once loved and left behind. I promise it will begin to thaw the ice around your heart and soul, and in no time at all the swan will stand dripping at your doorstep ready to fully awaken.
If you’ve been thinking this whole time that you were a duck, but you have a gnawing feeling that perhaps you’re really a swan my Swan Coaching & Healing Program can help you discover who you really are (your purpose), align yourself with your most authentic life that is congruent with your heart and soul, and contribute your beautiful gifts in the world. Along the way you’ll also discover inner reserves of joy, courage, resources, resilience, tenacity, power, brilliance, strength, and intuition that perhaps you’ve never given yourself credit for, which will transform the way you perceive yourself, and ultimately how the world perceives you!
You are not here struggle and try to fit into a life that is too small for your magnificent soul. You are here to thrive, and your soul is ready to shine brilliantly in the world. It’s time to stop hiding your light, and start acting like the magnificent woman you are. You’re here to contribute something unique and amazing! You’re different for a reason, so let’s find out what that reason is.
To your freedom,
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.” – Albert Einstein