This essay has been a long time coming. It’s in my heart, it’s in my head. I’ve always loved lighthouses, and this concept has been a lighthouse for me as I navigate some major life transitions and try to find my true self. But for whatever reason, writing it down has never happened until now, until my friend, a lighthouse herself, insisted.
I nearly died inside, I did. I settled, I morphed. I did less than I knew I could do because I didn’t want to be a threat to another’s ego. I tried to live without attention or compassion. I dumbed myself down for another and let another’s idea of “normal” make me feel unworthy. I became someone I never was for everyone else in my life. I never cried because I knew somewhere deep inside that if I did, I’d never stop. Instead, I allowed myself to grow angry, bitter, resentful. I laughed, but only on the surface, not with the deep abundant joy that fills me now.
One day, during a conversation with a friend about being yourself, this visual description of what I was trying to communicate came to me. It isn’t a perfect metaphor, but it’s served me and many of my friends well since I came up with it and began sharing it.
Here’s the basic concept, the mantra my friends have heard me oft repeat: Be A Lighthouse. Don’t be Flashlight Girl.
Be a lighthouse.
A lighthouse stands strong on its rock, often near the shore, and knows its purpose is to guide ships around or into a harbor when it’s not always easy for a boat to find its way. A lighthouse has its own character, its own radius of coverage, its unique light and purpose.
The boats that need that harbor or need to find their way around an obstacle can count on the lighthouse to help them. It doesn’t take extra energy for the lighthouse to guide one or many boats. It remains the same, while the boats make the effort based on what they need.
I would like to imagine a lighthouse can be re-calibrated depending on the weather, or the time of day. Perhaps if they know a significant number of ships will be coming from a certain direction, a light can be shown more brightly there. I don’t know the truth of this, but it fits well with the way I use this concept.
Don’t be Flashlight Girl (or Boy).
Flashlight Girl may have the most powerful flashlight around, but she’s still left to run up and down the shoreline, pulling damaged or frightened boats in, as she can get their attention. Is she pulling in the right boats? Her light isn’t strong enough to provide a positive guide to help a boat determine. And a boat whose navigation isn’t good enough to know where to go, and finds it necessary to depend on Flashlight Girl for his way home, isn’t likely the kind of boat that’s going to have valuable cargo once docked.
As Flashlight Girl runs up and down the beach, she changes course, changes which direction her light is shining. Perhaps she tells herself she needs to be flexible, needs to make sure no one is left behind, no one crashes. She wants to insure she remains relevant and valuable, no matter what the cost to her. But in the end, she guides all the wrong ships into dry land. And eventually, filled with disappointment, she discovers she’s completely exhausted and her batteries have run out. She finds herself face down on the beach, broken hearted, with nothing to show for all her work but sand in her cracks.
Find Yourself. Be Yourself. Don’t Worry About the Ones Who Don’t Fit.
The point of the analogy of course, is to find yourself, and insist on being yourself. It’s not easy to begin with, but in the long run, it’s the only way to live.
Being A Lighthouse
A lighthouse person takes the time to get to know herself well. She studies herself. She changes what she wants to change, not because others demand it, but because it’s what she wants for her own life. She accepts herself and learns to love the lighthouse she is.
This is no small task, especially for someone who has long denied herself, trying to be someone utterly different than her own true nature.
A lighthouse is willing to shine her exact light as brightly as she can. She is a person who is willing to be true enough that the ships who are right can find her and decide for themselves if that lighthouse is a friend they should connect with or continue past. Is this a “harbor” that’s right for them?
A ship who knows not to approach isn’t something a lighthouse needs to worry about. The lighthouse is confident that the right boats will figure it out, and that there are plenty of boats that want her particular harbor.
It is quite true that often ships at sea are not aware of who they are. A ship can easily get itself into troubled waters if it’s not aware of its own needs and where it’s going. But although it may sound cold, the lighthouse isn’t responsible for changing who she is to fix that boat’s navigation problems. A lighthouse has a responsibility to be a lighthouse. The boat is responsible for righting its course and finding its way back out to sea.
Being A Flashlight
The flashlight girl is a person who never really knows who she is. Her light flickers all over the place and never settles on any one thing. As a result, the boats in her life are confused. Boats who don’t know who they are or what they need, boats that are in trouble, are drawn to Flashlight Girl. But only for a short time before Flashlight Girl and the boat become disappointed at the lie told from the start.
It takes energy to be either a Lighthouse or Flashlight Girl. But Flashlight Girl exhausts herself by modifying for circumstances and people around her, while a Lighthouse focuses on making sure who she is remains clear and visible.
What I Believe
Being a Lighthouse does not mean you must be outgoing, or loud, or bright. It does not mean you have to be an extrovert, or always “on”. It means you have to be yourself for the right ships to find you, no matter who that self is.
And standing on a rock doesn’t mean you never change your circumstances or refine your view of the world either. You must be willing to move and make changes if your heart tells you it’s time for a new rock or a different light.
As I said, the analogy isn’t perfect. But it’s been the perfect lighthouse for me.
I was lucky, I was. I was able to pull myself up off the beach and head for the rock where I thought I might belong. It took awhile to find it, and it’s been the most painful rocky journey of my life. But as I began to live my life as a lighthouse, I noticed I stopped worrying about the people who didn’t need and couldn’t understand who I was.
I still love to visit the beach, stretch my edges, see who’s there. But now I can enjoy it for its peace and beauty, for the experience of the gentle waves coming in, for the shells and the sand that refresh my spirit, instead of feeling the responsibility of saving misguided boats who tried to exhaust me bringing them in or drown me pulling back out to sea.
I realized my fears of ending up on a cold rock, lonely and alone, were unwarranted. As I became a lighthouse, as I became more at home with myself from my new vantage point, I noticed my harbor has been filling quite nicely with situations and people who are perfect for me, including the beautiful friend who encouraged me to write about being a lighthouse.
~ cj 2013.02.13
The lighthouse in this picture is in Norway. Here’s a link to more information about it: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kjeungskjær_Lighthouse