Working on yourself, part 3: The Team

In my recent posts I introduced the concept of working on yourself in order to dissipate your fears and fulfill your talents, and I suggested that the attitude you bring to the task determines whether you’re in fact working on yourself or just floundering, skating, coasting, retreating, or otherwise going backward rather than forward.

What about building a team to help you? Most people have their own informal circle of friends, advisers, teachers, and partners, but it could be useful to bring a little discipline to the team.

A good “ear” is essential: someone who can listen to anything you want to say without judgment or censorship, perhaps even without actually giving advice. My friends Debby and Ed are very much like that. With them I can say any absurd thing about myself and about other people, reveal my foibles and weaknesses, and kvetch about petty concerns without their giving me a hard time about it. Debby and I usually start laughing within sixty seconds of any of our phone calls. Ed understands me so well I sometimes don’t have to say anything whatsoever. I think my thought, he thinks his absolute agreement, and we take another sip of coffee. If you don’t have one or two (or ten) friends like Debby and Ed, you might want to pay a professional to play the role of non-judgmental ear.

Your team might have a teacher or two. I had a singing teacher for 20 years from whom I took occasional but regular lessons in my trips to New York, until he passed away recently as a very youthful 97-year-old. Voice is identity: You are your voice, and to change your voice is to change yourself. Some of the sounds my teacher persuaded me to produce—enormous, vibrant, powerful—seemed to belong to someone very different from my everyday "me." My singing teacher pointed the way to a world of inner possibilities, and although he isn’t around any more I’m still learning his wonderful lessons.

Your team might have a non-doctor healer, someone with fine hands and the ability to speak to a non-verbal part of you—an osteopath, Alexander teacher, massage therapist, acupuncturist, you name it. Over the years I’ve had some memorable sessions with a cranio-sacral osteopath in Paris who wraps his soft hands around my skull and makes my brain and my mind go on a trip to the other side of the moon.

Your team might include someone who knows about symbols, numbers, dreams, words, metaphors, archetypes—in short, someone who helps you interpret the stories your unconscious tells yourself. My expert is a German-Swiss woman who’s a veritable encyclopedia of symbology. She’s a literal translator, preparing French versions of German texts about Carl Jung’s work, but she’s also a metaphorical translator. I dream in a convoluted language called Pedronics, she translates it into crystalline French, and I go home understanding myself rather more clearly.

A good team is dynamic: It changes with time. You might need a member of your team for years, another for months, yet another for a single encounter. You might learn a tremendous amount from someone in your team, and at some point you might need to stop seeing him or her: the task is done, or you’ve changed a lot and your team member hasn’t followed along… or you realize you’ve been mistaken about this person’s merits all along. You might need to fire team members, to replace a member who goes missing like my singing teacher, to open up the team or to streamline it.

I finish this post with a riddle that hints at the subject of my next one:

Who's the most important member of a one-man band?