Why the Smell of a Hallway Taught Me Something Important About Myself

bunch of candies

Yesterday, I went to the Panoply offices to record an episode of the Happier podcast in the studio there.

As I walked down the hallway to the water fountain, I was suddenly struck by a “Proustian memory” — a flood of remembrance triggered by a smell or taste.

For some reason, this hallway smelled exactly like the hospital where I worked as a candy-striper in high school. I hadn’t thought of that experience in years, and suddenly it came flooding back to me. (Gosh, what a funny term, I realize, so 1950’s–I just looked up the definition, and a “candy-striper” is a teenage girl who does volunteer nursing in a hospital. Yep, that’s what I did.)

And the strongest aspect of this memory was a sense of tremendous discomfort and a longing for release. At the time, I wouldn’t have said that I intensely disliked being a candy-striper, but looking back, I understand that I did.

I was constantly worried that I’d make a dangerous mistake (I didn’t realize that they never asked me to do anything that actually mattered). I wasn’t interested in medicine. I didn’t learn anything.

That scent in the hallway brought back so many memories…the cafeteria where I ate my lunch, the look of the elevators, the noises of the machines, the feeling of dread, all of it.

And those memories made me think of the Four Tendencies — after all, everything reminds me of the Four Tendencies these days.

I’m an Upholder, and we Upholders find it pretty easy to get ourselves to do things, even things we don’t particularly want to do.

This is one of my favorite things about myself. It’s one of my greatest strengths.

And, I’ve learned, it’s also one of my greatest weaknesses.

Sometimes I’m too good at getting myself to do things that I don’t want to do.  Even though I don’t want to do them, I push myself, instead of thinking, “Hmmm, maybe this isn’t what I should be doing after all. Maybe I should do something else.”

That’s what I’ve seen, more and more clearly, with the Four Tendencies — and with all aspects of human nature. Our strengths are our weaknesses. Our gifts come with a shadow side. The more I can recognize that in myself, the better off I’ll be.

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