‘Pardon, oh, pardon, that my soul should make
Of all the divineness which I know
For thine and thee, an image only so
Formed of sand, and fit to shift
XXXVII, Sonnets from the Portuguese
In the past, I had a curious and critical friend who asked me, in a not-so-gentle tone: “who are you, Amy Lynn?” Deep into a series of misunderstandings, she bristled and proceeded on a rant about how frustrated she was that she couldn’t figure me out. “Nobody knows who you really are,” she hissed.
Deflated, I didn’t know how to respond at the time. The water sloshed inside of me and spilled out the edges. I blurted out a defensive string of all the things I was — moral fortifications of my character. I’m sure I even cast a few stones back her direction as if to say, “How dare you.” The exchange passed, and bridges mended, but these unsettling and deeply human feelings about identity have persisted (sigh, being human). It wasn’t the first time I felt cacophony of voices all shouting that they were the real me, or the first time my mutable behavior landed me in hot water.
Fast forward years later, I was giving a tour of my home — my little urban oasis — to a curious new friend. Hovering over photographs on my fridge, she jumped in admiration, “Amy Lynn! How exciting — you’re a shape shifter!” I’m sorry, come again? My fridge boasted a smattering of candid pictures, and although the year it was snapped, my weight, clothes, and company might have changed, there was an unmistakable energy shift in the little dark-haired woman staring back at me from each shot. My friend was elated, like she had just discovered some a shiny little pebble in a pile of mud.
The metaphysical world considers shape shifters, or those who shift, as talented beings emboldened with the ability to mold and change depending on their environment. True Blood enthusiasts (head shaking), or anyone who has spent a considerable amount of time pawing through the stacks at Herbs & Arts on Colfax, will be hip to my lingo on some levels. Shifting allows a person to hide or spotlight particular features about themselves and the spaces surrounding them. Shifting in the light, allows a person to delicately relate to someone, and in return, a powerful opening arises for deep identification, inspiration, and activation of hidden qualities in each other. Approached negatively, a shifter can appear lost, unreliable, manipulative, or at it’s worst: fake and phony. I herald Audrey Hepburn’s role of Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany’s as the poster child of all things grand and terrible about shape shifters.
We all hold some ability to shift, and emerge from such activity feeling protected, understood, and rewarded. To avoid some common pitfalls, I offer a few tokens of wisdom to stow away for the journey, one shape shifter to another…
First, to avoid getting lost in the miriad of ways you might “show up,” build a tribe of positive truth speakers around you. I have a dear friend I met though work, and we’ve spent years together comparing and contrasting notes about being women in a mostly male-dominated space. We watch and admire each other as we shift to highlight professional aspects of who we are in boardrooms, and then quickly shed that skin, so we can laugh our asses off and run like children through the streets of some city we’re visiting. Despite and because of all the wardrobe changes, we celebrate each other and the dialectic tensions of existence. Most importantly, we are not afraid to identify moments where authenticity is at risk, or when one of us is drifting away from the light.
I feel the need to emphasize the word positive when building a tribe of truth-speakers around you. Negative people are magical buzz-kills, inspiring shame in others and robbing the world of transformation. Yes, I feel that strongly about this! Like many others, I spent years in a critical truth-speaking relationship, in which most elements of my stories were scrutinized, categorized, and compared to the last rendition as to ensure I was “authentically” representing myself and “reality.” We’d leave a dinner table and she’d be disgusted by the animated ways I’d tell a funny story or moment, often accusing me of lying because it changed with the context or audience. All of this criticism was woefully unnecessary. I was authentically representing reality, just highlighting a few particular aspects for the company around me. Which brings me to my next nugget…
You are a multi-faceted, self-contained gemstone, existing in an ever-changing world. Turning to catch different beams of light is part of your design, birthright, and hell… it’s sparkly and fun. In my professional client-facing role, I spend weeks of the year on the road, encountering all different kinds of people in a highly structured business setting. In sales, we delight in the moments we’re trusted in an informal audience with our clients, even if it’s still weighted with power dynamics and expectation. In the right setting, a beam of light might strike:
**A smartly dressed 50-something Chief Marketing Officer once softened, leaned toward me, and shared (as if she was reliving an affair) the moment she first found a Cantharellus californicus mushroom in the rolling hills of her home in Northern California. She was a mushroom enthusiast and foodie, and spent a good portion of her time outside of work roaming the countryside with other mycopiles in search of the next treasure. I genuinely hung on every word, inspired by her passion.
**Over a beer, after a particularly long/grueling day of meetings, a program manager stroked his long grey beard, clasped a frosty IPA, and squinted at me for a long period of time. Magically, he decided I was worthy of hearing about his long career are a classically trained violinist. He had performed in front of hundreds of musical enthusiasts in the most elegantly adorned halls. With excitement he now lives in relative obscurity, Software Project Manager by day, violinist to a band of rough mistfits at a local honkey tonk at night. Get it.
The beauty of a gemstone is that when the light is right, it majestically blurs into its surroundings. However, it’s still self-contained and each facet holds a unique contribution to the whole. Spinning wildly like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, I could spend the remainder of this essay diverging into an ode to the gemstone and all the properties that makes it the perfect physical representation of the shape shifter…but I’ll spare you the diatribe. Sufficed to say, it’s powerfully fitting.
Lastly, and most importantly, if you’re going to shift through life, empowered by your tribe of truth-speakers and shining different aspects brightly like a gem, don’t forget to spend time in reflection. Sit with your voice behind the voices, and decide where to spend your precious energy. Just because you can shift into something (attend that party, work that job, etc.), doesn’t mean you have to. A certain environment might not be rewarding, or in-line with values you hold true; Walk away from it.
If I could go back in time to that poignant question: “Who are you, Amy Lynn,” I would have responded, with confidence, “I am here.” In all the facets I display in this ever-changing world, it’s the only answer that matters.
Onward and Upward, strange one.