In my experience, it’s never too late to change. Cliched as that may sound, the notion that a leopard can never change its spots feels like a life sentence to me. When I hear it from others, whether it’s in my capacity as a friend, relative or coach, I am triggered to defend and offer hope, a path to freedom from this narrow and self-defeating mindset and narrative.
What are my dark spots? What are yours? The spots on a leopard serve as camouflage. I have had the privilege of witnessing a leopard lounging in an acacia tree in the Okavango Delta. Six of us in the jeep couldn’t see him. Only our talented indigenous guide was able to point him out. His spots enabled him to blend in and become invisible. And they kept him safe.
There is an opportunity to learn from our spots. There is an opportunity if we choose to be courageous, to scrape off the spots and see what’s beneath. To actually remove the camouflage by honestly and fearlessly asking ourselves why we have it. We need to ask if it’s hiding a truth. Is it serving the people in our lives? If it’s contributing to our growth or keeping us small and safe? These are the scary questions to ask about: our dark spots.
I titled this blog “The Found Sixties” because it took me until my sixth decade to biopsy my dark spots and understand the pathology beneath. No one has to–or needs to–wait that long to examine their camouflage.
My dark spots, which can be called coping behaviours, character flaws or simply my “personality” governed much of how I showed up in my early career and relationships. I needed to be the centre of attention or disappear into a corner. There was no middle ground where I was comfortable just being one amongst many. I was a self-designated leader, fearless and aggressive. I exuded endless energy and unlimited confidence. I thought it served me well. I was materially rewarded for my achievements and prowess as I held the pedestal position. However, it came at a cost to my health and confounded those close to me. My spots camouflaged an emotional fragility that was debilitating at times. Everything in my world, all words from those around me, all my thoughts, were self-centred. Everything I didn’t like about the behaviour of others was being done “to me.” Even so, I didn’t use my voice to say what I felt, needed or wanted. The deep fear paralyzed my tongue. I’m not worthy of wanting. I’m getting what I deserve. I’m not the Queen of Sheba. (see blog post: The Queen of Sheba)
This internal narrative played over and over and over in my head. The more I paid attention to it, sought story lines and vignettes to enrich it, the more vibrant and permanent my leopard spots became. I was channelling all my energy into my camouflage.
What if I stopped worrying about protecting myself? What if I dropped the superwoman camouflage? What if I shifted my energy to tell a different story about me and my world? What if the internal narrative became my friend and voice of confidence, that I am worthy and “good enough” just as I am in this moment? Could it be that the deep and often unconscious fear that I am camouflaging is weaving tales that are not true? A popular acronym for FEAR = False Evidence Appearing Real. A commitment of courage and curiosity form the foundation for all leopards to “change their spots.” A shift to investing in positive energy, words and actions strips the camouflage.
At least, that has been my experience.