Do You Want To Feel Empowered? Stop Feeding Your Shadow Self

David Burn
3 min readMay 15, 2022

You don’t need to be a storyteller to tell yourself self-reinforcing stories about your past and present, your career, your friends, and your identity. It’s how we make sense of things. Yet, there’s a danger here. The danger is that we start to dwell inside these various fictions when what we need is the explosive truth of poetry.

Photo by Nadi Lindsay from Pexels

I recently read the book Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work by Steven Pressfield. It’s not a book of poetry but it is a short, powerful work. The author describes why we opt to live out shadow lives, instead of committing to living as our authentic selves.

Sometimes it’s easier to be a professional in a shadow career than it is to turn pro in our real calling.

Pressfield (who spent 27 years writing books before he sold The Legend of Bagger Vance) also writes about the pain that a person who clings to their shadow life endures on the path to discovering their true self.

Exile, failure, and banishment can be good things sometimes, because they force us to act from our own center and not from someone else’s.

His writing speaks to me. I feel that he’s describing my career in advertising. There was no gold watch at the end, just a string of regrets and various embarrassments that, for me, continue to overshadow memories of the many good things that happened. Because I have tended to see my ad career as a failure, I refused to quit. And that wasn’t smart.

Now that I have quit, I am working on letting go of my anger and regret and reframing the narrative around failure and my relationship to the idea, generally. When you embark on a new pursuit like this, it’s pretty incredible how new people and fresh ideas find you just when you need them most. For instance, I also recently discovered Parker J. Palmer and his Center for Courage & Renewal.

In the following video, this Berkeley-educated author of 10 books addresses “the divided life” or shadow life and how personal or professional failure often serves as the breaking point for people who go on to shed their protective layers and begin to move through the world as vulnerable and fearless people like a child (and an artist).

I remember one of the first and most important lessons that I picked up while working in the ad business. Develop a thick skin — without it, you’re dead meat. This remains good advice if your ultimate goal is to survive or thrive in the ad business.

If your goal is to evolve as a person and artist or writer, particularly thick skin can be a problem. Thick skin can deprive the artist or writer of the very things that drove her to create in the first place. A professional’s ‘skin’ can become so calloused and rough that the playful child inside the artist is lost to the world. And we all lose when that happens.

David Burn writes poems, stories, news, and opinion. He lives in the Lost Pines with his wife, Darby, and dog, Lucy Spotted Tongue. To subscribe to David’s monthly newsletter, please go here.