Integrity has become the cornerstone of my life over the last several years. And not in the moralistic sense of always doing the right thing, “even when no one is watching.” But in a deeper, more personal way: To always do as I say and say as I do. And what I really mean by that catchphrase is:
To be whom I am. At all times. To be true to myself. To proudly present myself—warts and all. To celebrate the imperfectly perfect person I am!
I used to confuse integrity. I thought I walked that path but in truth I was practicing external integrity instead of internal integrity. I believed that my primary purpose “of serving needs greater than my own,” translated to taking on whatever you held as your integrity; helping you fight for it, preserve it, advocate for it. I would don the appropriate mask for that particular occasion or interaction, performing the part I thought was expected of me. I thought I was acting in integrity by being whoever you needed me to be; that forsaking a part of my own identity was just part of the bargain, a necessary sacrifice of sorts.
I strived to be the best me in your eyes and the eyes of society. I imagined what a person of integrity looked and acted like and I played that role to a tee… the perfect wife, daughter, friend, employee. Thankfully, I have now come to learn that a person of integrity is being the best possible person I Am. As Is.
It wasn’t until I entered a 12 step program almost 5 years ago that I was able to take an honest look at myself. Part of re-learning integrity was learning to let go… of all the ways I thought I “should be” or “had to be” in order to be considered “good.” It wasn’t until I took all the pieces of me—each and every facet that created my beautifully flawed whole—that I integrated the all of me.
Reflecting on the word “integrity,” my mind quickly traveled down the word chain… from integrity to integral to integrated. My curiosity led me to the dictionary where I discovered the cohesive evolution of these descriptors:
Beginning with Integrity: the state of being whole and undivided. Leading to Integral: lacking nothing essential. And finally landing on Integrated: to blend into a functioning whole. Essentially, to become “completely, soundly and entirely united.” PS- Also see: “Honesty”
How fitting is that? Because I now know that to have integrity is to be honest with one’s self. That when I approach any situation with a clear picture of my abilities and truest self, I walk with integrity. I heed my intuition; I act as no one other than who I am.
For me, one of the biggest lessons in integrity I’ve learned is committing to only what I am capable of. So that I truly “do what I say and say what I do.” This can be a challenge with my physical limitations; because I need to recognize the all of me—from my strengths to my shortcomings. And have faith that the all of me is enough exactly as I am.
I cannot commit to everything I want to. But, when I am honest about what I can and cannot do, when I remove all masks and stand proudly naked for the world to see, I am respected. By others, but most importantly, by myself.
And when I remove the self-imposed obstacles of all the ways I used to think I should act in order to be perceived as one with perfect integrity, I am free to flow through life as an unimpeded river of grace. I feel the strength of my own center. And I live from that place: from my own truth.
Martin Lurther King Jr. said, “On some questions, cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it polite?’ And vanity comes along and asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’ But conscience asks the question, ‘Is it right?’”
My conscience is the seat of my integrity, the guardian to my inner voice, that when heeded never steers me wrong. But I used to confuse the question, “Is it right?” I would use this assessment as a moral scale, which in my mind said, “do you think what I am doing is right?”
But, I now know, after much shedding of external layers, that I know what is right. I know my own integrity. The key is pausing to listen, truly listen, to what my intuition is saying or asking. To not question it out of fear or judgment of myself. But to open myself wholly to the person I am.
In 12 step programs, there is a daily 10th step inventory where you ask yourself, “What action did I do today that I want to keep?” (IE: where did I walk with integrity). And, “Are there any actions from today that I would do differently in the future?” (IE: in what ways did I not act in my highest good). The beautiful thing about this process, is the more you do it, the more the list of “do-overs” becomes fewer and farther between. Because you learn what it is like to walk with integrity every day. And there is so much joy surrounding this feeling of being honest with yourself–with being 100% pure you– that you no longer want to be or act any other way.
Being honest with yourself is like finally freeing your soul from the caged expectations of self-imposed “I’m supposed to be’s.”
As Parker Palmer said…
“I now know myself to be a person of weakness and strength, liability and giftedness, darkness and light. I now know that to be whole means to reject none of it but to embrace all of it.”