Unless you have been living under a rock, you are familiar with (and probably cannot help but be captivated by) Don Draper, the rough tough cream puff protagonist of AMC’s Mad Men. Season 7, part 1, Don has definitely evolved.. We have sat and watched him suffer, being plagued by the painful memories of his past and his unsuccessful and unsatisfying attempts to escape this pain through countless drinks and women. This year, however, although he is still experiencing a great deal of internal conflict, he seems to be moving toward true growth. He wants to be different….. more real. “The past is not the future” could be the mantra of this new Don. Unfortunately, not everyone in his life sees or appreciates the beauty of this. The character arc of Don Draper is worthy of discussion– particularly because it so brilliantly demonstrates how challenging the change process can be— one fraught with obstacles and certainly not without consequence. As Don works toward becoming more honest and in some ways more vulnerable, attempting to loosen the grip the past holds over him, we can really see that the path to becoming true to oneself can not only be incredibly painful and lonely but also, at times, unacceptable to those who think they know you or only want to know you in a certain way. Case in point: Don reveals his painful past publicly during an advertising pitch for Hershey’s chocolates. He is temporarily suspended (read punished) for this act of honesty and self-expression. He fails to tell Megan, his wife, that he has lost his job, as he feels a sense of shame and humiliation for screwing things up. He doesn’t want her to see him in a different light— he is so accustomed to being strong,powerful, successful. But as this season comes to a close, he finds the strength to cope with this sense of shame and finally tells Megan the truth about losing his job. She is angry and hurt about his lies and seems to have lost faith in him. The good news is — Don is confronting his demons head on for the first time ever. He seems to care less about his image , about what people think about him…… Is he coming to terms with what is really important in life?— living truly, authentically, without a sense of shame for who he is or where he came from…. Perhaps, Don is willing to look at the past, reveal some of it and also move forward so that it doesn’t continue to carry so much power over his life.
I believe each of us can (and often need to ) look at our past, get some clarity, learn from it, and, hey, even talk about it some; but then, hopefully, we can also keep it where it belongs and chose to be different in the present.
The change process is difficult. Working consciously on accepting oneself and becoming more real— more of who one truly is — is never an easy task. The real challenge, or perhaps the most complex, signficant challenge as we manuever through life, attempting to establish meaningful relationships , is the issue of how, or even whether, this attempt at change is seen, recognized, accepted, and, in some way, accommodated by the important people in our lives. Is he or she too hurt and angry to allow this change in the other? Or, is there a larger issue at play here; that is, is it just too difficult to allow the person you are with to become different? If, in coupledom, one does allow for change in one’s partner, then mustn’t there be a need for change in the relationship, and in one’s self, and in the roles one assumes and plays? A willingness to examine oneself and open up to the possibility of something different, something more is crucial.
So, whether it is partners in our jobs or in our lives, if these relationships cannot accept the change we struggle to incorporate into our lives, how can these relationships survive? Or more importantly, how can a relationship grow and be healthy, if it isn’t equipped to allow a shift to occur— that is, to trust and accept that there are times when we must let go of one role, one identity in order to embrace a new one. So, for the (relation) ship not to sink, , both people need to be willing to change , to move, to be willing to challenge their sets of beliefs about the world and about the other. I am not sure how this will all play out for Don Draper….
but for the rest of us, I know it takes courage to be one’s self and to perhaps let go of certain sets of beliefs or versions of identity that may be self-limiting……
A client of mine recently asked “do people really do this?’— she was referring to my suggestion and discussion of living an authentic life, where you get to be yourself, without all the veils and layers of self-protection and pretense. I responded with an enthusiastic “Yes” and followed with the following qualifier: “I do think people who are willing to investigate, and be present for, their lives, who are willing to engage in self-exploration, whether through their yoga practice, therapy. a spiritual path, or possibly all or any combination of, are doing exactly that…. It is an ongoing process– sometimes, bumpy, murky, and even lonely…..” She then mentioned her concern about losing friends who weren’t willing to accept her in this new light….. she had been through a lot lately and wasn’t very interested in experiencing any more loss. I reminded her that she had her self to gain and what could be more valuable than that? ……
In the end, I prefer to believe, if we are true to ourselves, that will translate to our relationships— eventually surrounding ourselves with people who can see and appreciate who we really are– not just who they want or need us to be.