2017: The year of embracing shadow and adjusting my life motto

First you gotta want it. Then you gotta pay the price.

I was reading the Seven Habits of Highly Successful Teenagers while a freshman at BYU. Well, I was a teenager, after all. I was 18 years old. It encourages individuals, and families, to decide on a personal motto. And that motto was the one that I decided on, somehow. I’ve repeated it over and over to myself since then. It gave me grit, determination, helped me achieve-or so I thought.

Some things-some circumstances, some events- over the past couple of years, though, have broken down this life philosophy for me. If you’ve ever rammed your head against a wall long enough, you’ll know what I mean. Sometimes wanting actually isn’t enough. Sometimes you can want-and pay the price requested-and then the waiting doesn’t mean receiving.


Then 2017 also brought me to stare down my half conscious/half unconscious belief in karma. I mean, I watched The Secret, and it made sense to me. What you believe manifests. But at the same time I didn’t spend that much time actually developing a philosophy about karma, so it was just this sort of assumption I had, on my part, I think. It’s not like I had it spelled out in my book of rules for life. It’s strange to think how much beliefs, recognized or not, can guide our lives more than logic or laws. Then when something rocks our world, beliefs have to be questioned, considered, weighed, recognized not as fact but as partial truth or even sometimes fiction.

I watched the death of a friend of mine who had full faith in the universe, who had nothing but loving and peaceful energy. She was pregnant and had waited for the baby for years. It rocked my world because I wanted to believe in a transactional universe, one in which good prospers. I suppose, in the language I was raised in, one in which righteousness…prevails?

And I was imagining myself to create some sort of a protective shield around myself by thinking only good thoughts…doing good things…never intentionally harming anyone….it goes back to that motto. My motto that said first you gotta want it.

I wanted human nature to be better. For humans to be good, pure, loving, and that if I were good, pure, and loving enough that I would get what I wanted out of life, so long as what I wanted was good-the ‘righteous desires of my heart.’

Wanting it doesn’t make it true. Refusing to see the bad in others doesn’t protect you from it. My friend’s boyfriend who caused the accident in somewhat suspicious circumstances seemed to use it as free press to get clicks on his YouTube channel, absolutely shamelessly. Light doesn’t always attract light, there is always a shadow. And closing your eyes to the shadow doesn’t make the shadow go away.


In a twist of irony, it’s in South Africa that I’ve stopped thinking so much in black and white when it comes to people. It’s ironic because it feels like everything is about black skin and white skin, here.

Cape Town is a gross dichotomy. How can it be the best place to live in the world-as many do experience it, not just us (Lee Abbamonte who has been to every country in the world calls it his favorite city)- when it shows humanity at its worst too?

Deep down I know the reason why, and I also know I’m partly to blame. The reason it’s so amazing, in part, is because it was built on the backs of others labor through the abuse of privilege and power and wealth. We can come here and live so well because wages are so much lower here…cost of living decreases. We can afford house cleaning, childcare, Ubers. Yes, we try to pay fair wages, tip, not haggle for something less than it’s worth, we contribute sales tax and jobs and so on and so on. But the truth of the matter is, 42% of South Africa’s wealth is contained in 1% of the population. And for every cheap piece of clothing I needlessly buy, every restaurant meal I lavishly enjoy, I’m looking out the window and seeing people wearing burlap and sleeping under zinc roofs. I’m seeing the extreme inequality result in serious crimes in an attempt to radically adjust the difference in lifestyles. One day, I buy myself that extra pair of shoes when I could have chosen to give that barefoot beggar a pair of shoes instead. On another day, I give money to the woman who says she’s escaped her boyfriend who gave her bruises and now she’s surviving on milk. I’m complicit and I’m contributing, both. I’m a shade of gray, too.

I used to love that Anne Frank quote, the one about how she still believed that people are really good at heart, despite everything.


But the cold hard truth that comes with that story and that quote is that Anne Frank never got to grow up.


People are good, some of the time, in some situations. And sometimes they’re bad, given the wrong time and place. South Africa, I’ve seen, has set up some conditions for the bad parts to flourish. Have I lost some faith in the innate goodness of people? Yes. Human nature is complex. And maybe the shadow side of human nature is important, maybe it’s not all bad, maybe it needs to be acknowledged to accept what it means to be fully human. In the fight of good against evil, ignorance won’t help good prevail. Turning the other cheek doesn’t mean blindness to reality. Trying to pretend I don’t have a shadow side may mean it can then be allowed to grow even darker without my knowledge or consent.

Yes, these are musings from a therapist-in-training—from someone who works with the people who get the short end of the stick—the physically, financially, emotionally, mentally vulnerable. You start to see a lot, and things that are shocking begin to feel commonplace. Yes, of course it’s happened-of course, music therapy and South Africa has changed my view of human nature.  I didn’t see it coming when I decided to pursue this program, but looking back, perhaps I should have.

First you gotta want it, and then you gotta pay the price, and then at some point, sometimes you gotta accept a rerouting, a new desire perhaps, or a new price.

Here’s to 2018! To those reading this, may all your wishes come true-and if they don’t, may all your truths become your wishes.

Kalli Hiller

Article by Kalli Hiller

Kalli Hiller is a voluntary vagabond who, with her husband Jacob, has traveled full time for the last eight years.

Kalli has written 372 awesome articles for us.

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