I recently read Dave Eggers' Heros of the Frontier and absolutely loved it. It is the story of Josie, a recently-divorced, single mother who embarks on an open-ended road trip with her two small children through Alaska. Aside from being incredibly well-written, and laugh-out-loud funny, what I appreciated most about this book was the full and unapologetic embrace of the protagonist’s shortcomings. Throughout the book Josie makes a series of questionable decisions, not the least of which is the choice to leave it all behind with two small children in an antiquated RV, the likes of which she had never driven. Along the way she leads her children on a treacherous hike through a heavy thunderstorm; goes on a drunken bike ride while leaving her kids to supervised by an older man she had just met; allows a clean-up crew of inmates into her trailer to assist with a flat tire; and breaks in to more than one home for shelter. Her judgment is more often than not cringe-worthy, and at the same time, incredibly endearing. It is clear that she is driven by a search for self and an unwavering love for her children. She seems to have developed the ego-strength to recognize the err of her ways without having to wear any associated shame.
If I had to identify a singular goal for therapy, it would be this: to develop the ego-strength necessary to unapologetically embrace a perfectly-imperfect, authentic self. So often clients struggle with shame, saying things like “I’m a screw up,” “They don’t like me,” “I did something wrong,” and “I’m not good enough.”
We are all plagued with feelings of inadequacy and it is easy to get caught up in insecurities about how we measure up. What I so appreciated about Eggers' book was that it welcomed these feelings, not with shame, but with acceptance and humanity. We all make questionable decisions. We all make choices we wish we could revisit. And, often we believe that everyone else is doing it all right. Eggers reminds us that we are all imperfect. The journey is not about getting it all right; it is about finding a way to unapologetically err, and to embrace the authentic, flawed and ever-evolving heros in all of us.