Many years ago in my psychology training I had the idea that as the years went by I would get better at what I did and it would all feel more polished, more perfect, more decisive. I had a picture of me finishing my training all bright and shiny. But what happened was that instead of bright and shiny I became more and more like sea glass.
Sea glass is beautiful. Everyone loves sea glass, and everyone wants to find sea glass, but no one wants to become sea glass. It is worn and shaped by the forces around it. It is beautiful because of what it has endured. The original colors change, but become something even more beautiful. But sea glass is never bright and shiny. It is not perfect glass. In fact, it is broken glass—the furthest thing from perfect.
In my training I had my rough edges worn away from the hours and people and experience. And mostly my mistakes. Hundreds and hundreds of mistakes. Things I should have said and things I shouldn’t have said. Thousands of hours of good intentions and hundreds and hundreds of misses and repairs. Years of training had my heart become softer and my thinking less definitive. It was nothing I could have imagined when I began, and yet as I headed out into my career I was grateful.
Sea glass isn’t like regular glass. It is sturdy. It no longer breaks easily. The only way to become sea glass is to put yourself out into the surf and let yourself get hit by wave after wave. Through all seasons and all storms. You need to get buried by the beach pebbles and rolled around in the stones. You need to get pounded by the surf, and hit by the wind, and scorched by the sun.
I have been thinking about sea glass as I head into my goals for 2016 and with all the discussions of change this past week. So much of what can get accomplished in terms of change or healing or growth is our willingness to put ourselves out into the surf and let the waves crash over us. Healing requires this courage—to keep putting yourself in the space of healing, keep risking the conversation, keep tolerating the emotions, keep learning new behaviors.
And all growth means letting yourself make mistakes. Hundreds and hundreds of them. Letting yourself roll around and crash on the stones. Letting your courage help you wear those rough edges off, help you reveal your deep colors, help you become sturdy.
Beach glass takes time. On the beach in Maine in the summer, when you find a piece of glass that is still shiny, you throw it back in. You give it more time. And thinking about this reminds me that maybe the goals that I have been struggling with are just pieces of glass that need more time. I need to throw those goals back in this year. Let the surf hit them again. Let myself struggle and make mistakes and run up against hard edges—and let those mistakes and hard edges soften me, and help me bring out my beauty. I encourage you to do the same.
© Gretchen L. Schmelzer, PhD 2014