UNIVERSAL MAN – EP 20 – FEET OF CLAY
“Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in!”
Anthem – Leonard Cohen
What do we mean by ‘feet of clay’?
Leonard Cohen’s song says, “There is a crack in everything – that’s how the light gets in!” When we talk about ‘feet of clay’ we are saying that central to life is imperfection. No one and no thing is perfect and that is good.
One of the greatest challenges we face is an inner narrative that says “I must be perfect!”, “I cannot make a mistake’, ‘I cannot show weakness’. This is just crap. We all have brokenness, we all have faults, we all have weaknesses, we all have skeletons in the cupboard, we all have things we are ashamed of, and we are all vulnerable.
Our common imperfection is our starting point to growth. Feet of clay is linked to all our other themes. We don’t focus on nor allow ourselves to be trapped by our weaknesses and our brokenness. We accept that that is just part of being human and then we listen to them, learn from them and grow.
In psychology we often talk about our ‘shadow’ – everything has a flip or shadow side and this provides focus and fuel for our growth if we listen to it, become aware of it and plan our growth strategies from it.
Pricey was a teacher of young men for almost forty years. In all of that time he never worked with a young man who needed him to be perfect. In fact the perfect dad, the perfect coach or mentor is often a ‘bridge too far’ for the young person to emulate. The young man looks for and needs authenticity, honesty, integrity, fidelity and challenge; not perfection.
One danger of ‘the Universal Man’ is that we can hear well rounded as perfect. Sure we aim for excellence; that is good. But we set out on this journey of excellence knowing we walk with ‘feet of clay’ – we carry imperfection with us as possibly our strongest weapon. The Vitruvian man, the renaissance man of Leonardo de Vinci was not perfect but rather was striving for perfection. Framing our journey with our innate imperfection keeps us humble, keeps us open to learn, and keeps us from arrogance. The arrogance that says, “I am above you, I am perfect, I do not need anybody!” can only lead to pain. This person needs no wolf-pack. This person truly struggles within a team – who needs a team when you can do it all yourself? The Universal Man knows our shared humanity and brokenness and this gives a special quality to our brotherhood of one another.
All about the journey
We don’t want to be too cliché here but knowing we all begin from an imperfect place we can more authentically set out on our journeys to grow. In every aspect of our journey we walk towards growth. In one way the goal posts change constantly. When you are thirty and you think you have the perfect body and the perfect gym session you turn 31 and your body is constantly changing and its needs change – you set out again – in pursuit of the goal of being the best 31 year old you can be. Just as your ‘feet of clay’ will change as you journey the opportunities for growth from this space do too.
In relationships with your partner, children or members of your wolf-pack you will always meet blocks and struggles. Knowing you have feet of clay means that you have a learning space to engage in these struggles. The other senses this and does NOT read this as weakness but rather integrity and honesty. If you are in a relationship and you do not NEED the other the relationship is doomed to failure or unnecessary pain.
One of the clear signs that you are not at home with your feet of clay and growing with it is comparing yourself with others. If the ego is constantly whispering in your ear, “I wish I was him!”, “I wish I had his gifts!”, “He is perfect – he does not have the struggles I do!” then you are marching to someone else’s drum. You are avoiding your weakness and not seeing its hidden wisdom for your own growth. When you are focusing on the other believing that they have life perfect you are not conscious that they have built the integrity of their journey on THEIR own weaknesses and the learnings from them. Feet of clay means being ‘at home’ in your own skin – warts and all.
A cousin of comparison is the ‘I’m the only one’ inner tape. I’m the only one with a rebellious teenage child, the only one with a fragile marriage, the only one struggling with some form of addiction, the only one who is often at the wrong end of unjust decisions and politics!
‘I’m the only one’ leads to ‘poor me’ and poor me rarely is aware of their feet of clay and is rarely then in the space to grow from it. Poor me traps you in a cycle of excuses.
There is a danger that people will interpret ‘feet of clay’ as aiming for second best. Nothing could be further from the truth. As Universal Men we aim to seek excellence. Knowing and accepting that we are vulnerable and flawed means we set out on the journey towards this excellence from a place of authenticity.
Our Greatest Strength
Feet of clay is intimately linked to our shadow. When you grow in self-awareness and you can name your ‘blind-spots’ ‘weaknesses’ and more then you are in a great place to choose growth from. For example if I know that I take criticism personally – then I can prepare myself for a meeting or an encounter from a space of deeper awareness. I can equip myself with some ‘self-talk’ inner cues that modify and work with the shadow reactions that WILL come. So when you get criticism you immediately ‘reframe’ it, you immediately become aware of your own inner narrative and don’t allow the criticism to rob you of confidence. Rather you hold the criticism more lightly and reflectively and then grow from it!
In time – this weakness will grow to be your strength and inner friend. But fear not – your feet of clay will then, like a chameleon, show up in some other aspect of your life and you will celebrate that as you grow in self-awareness knowing that life has beautifully sent you another opportunity for deeper inner growth.
Our best inner growth will come from our feet of clay. There is not one person who listened to this podcast who does not have skeletons in the cupboard, something they are ashamed about, things about themselves they want to hide from the world. It is these very elements that, when reflected upon with honesty and integrity, will provide our deepest and most profound, life lasting growth.
Sure this space will scare you but didn’t all the challenges of life that you have grown in scared you?
Pema Chodron, a Buddhist monk wrote a book called, “The Places That Scare You!” What she’s talking about in the book is going to those parts deep within yourself that you just don’t want to look at, you don’t like, and you don’t love. Stare them in the face. Embrace them. Walk with them. Learn from them.
Five Second choices
In Universal Man we often speak about the five second choices to become our best self. Too many men will turn this ‘feet of clay’ topic into something too hard, something beyond them. Imagine this: You are hanging around with your mates and maybe having some real trouble at work or in a relationship. You don’t want to admit any form of weakness and your ego is whispering in your ear, “You are the only one with these problems!”, “If I say anything my mates will think less of me!”
What crap! So when we, from a space of integrity and humility say, “Lads, I need some advice with this thing at work …..” or if they are really close mates, “Fellas, I’m really struggling with a relationship at the moment!” our mates will respond, will admire us and that space will often open up and invite them to share their challenges as well.
The special thing about having feet of clay – and more importantly recognising it and integrating it into your outlook on life as a starting point for growth is that it liberates you internally. Within ourselves just knowing we don’t have to be perfect is liberating. Experiencing growth from fragility and vulnerability is liberating. Encountering your shared vulnerability with those close to you is liberating. Self-acceptance and celebrating who you are in your totality – is profoundly liberating! Yes, there is a crack in everything and, yes, that’s where the light gets in!