The Ugly Duckling

 by Analyn Revilla

I think a lot of stories reflect the subtext of the hero’s need to belong. It begins as a want for something outside of herself that she believes would make her be acceptable, loveable and eligible to belong to a group/family.  A simple idea of a shampoo commercial that depicts a pretty woman with gorgeous hair, and how suddenly this product makes her attractive to the world around her and now she belongs to the ideal of beautiful. 

I didn’t know until I read the analyses by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes of the fairytale “The Ugly Duckling” (written by Hans Christian Andersen) that this story holds deeply textured meanings in terms of Jungian psychoanalysis. The chapter “Finding One’s Pack:  Belonging as Blessing” in her book, “Women Who Run With the Wolves”, is devoted to describing the movement of characters through the different archetypes of:  the Innocent; the Orphan, the Martyr; the Wanderer, the Warrior and the Magician.  (She does not specifically use the terminology listed, but the concept is there.) 

 A common thread that runs through each stage of the journey as the Ugly Duckling shifts from one stage to the next stage is his desire to belong and his never-ending search for this sense of belonging (which is essentially home.)   Dr. Estes awakens the reader to the significance of the Ugly Duckling’s movement from the river’s nest to the marsh, the farm, and finally the lake.  In each locale he meets with groups with which he tries to fit in; or who tries to make him fit in; but inevitably he needs to continue his quest because the “shoes never quite fit in” for the hero.  This need to never give up is attributable to the call of the wild.

 “The duckling of the story is symbolic of the wild nature, which, when pressed into circumstances of little nurture, instinctively strives to continue no matter what.  The wild nature instinctively holds on and holds outs, sometimes with style, other times with little grace, but nevertheless.  And thank goodness for that.  For the wildish woman, duration is one of her greatest strengths.” – from “Women Who Run With the Wolves” by Clarissa Pinkola Estes

I work in a corporate environment where, as any large body of people, change is slow to happen; and communication, though stressed to be of high importance, can be challenging because of the large mix of individuals needing to work together for a common purpose.  One method of communication within our group are forms.  There are specific templates for something that needs to communicate something specific.

 There is a new form called “Project Commitment Form” that needs to be filled out and reviewed to get it to a stage of getting approval for funding of projects.  This form begins with a statement that defines the “Business Problem”.  When I met with the first reviewer, she started with “you did a marvelous job, but…”  Then she continued to say, “I’ve never had to fill out one of these forms, but…”  At the end of the meeting I absorbed the suggestions and incorporated most of the changes, but hung on, at least, to my version of the “Business Problem”.

After the meeting and sending out polite emails I went home, but something didn’t sit right in my belly.  What am I hanging on to that does not belong to me anymore I asked myself.  To say the mantra “Let it go” repeatedly was pointless unless I meant it.  At the end of the day, I said to myself, I’m just trying to conform, and get the job done with some personal integrity left.  That was the kicker for me – I was attached to the final result.  I now see that the document shows responsibility and accountability for approving a project for funding in a language and format that is understood from their perspective and not mine.  I’m writing for the audience and not me.  The sense of belonging is defined in terms of what they need, and not my own.

 I began to unwind the tight ball of confusion by reading “The Ugly Duckling”, and the wisdom unbound by Dr. Estes analyses brought the light to eyes.  I had been trying to “fit in” so hard at work to the best that I can; and even then there’s always room for improvement as is often conveyed through the annual performance review.  Isn’t there just a point in time, during your employment years with a company where you just fit in? or does the criteria change with each change of leadership, or change in what’s new and trendy for “process” and “methodology”, including (even) vocabulary?

 “The other important aspect of the story is that when an individual’s particular kind of soulfulness, which is both an instinctual and spiritual identity, is surrounded by psychic acknowledgment and acceptance, that person feel life and power as never before.  Ascertaining one’s own psychic family brings a person vitality and belongingness.”  –  from “Women Who Run With the Wolves” by Clarissa Pinkola Estes

 After reading her analysis of the fairytale using Jungian psychoanalysis I felt enlightened and this gave me so much joy.

 The next day I IM’ed a friend at work, “I’m so happy this morning I don’t know why.”  The response was, “Do you need a why?”

 I did know the source of the joyful feeling.  It was that I truly let go of the result, and it came about by my internal inquiry combined with a serendipitous opening to a page in the book about The Ugly Duckling.  (I found the book in a thrift store at Lake Elsinore during the weekend.  The previous owner had written the word “= Grace” after “Contacting the Power of the Wild Woman.”)

 Contacting The Power of the Wild Woman = Grace

I can define my belongingness in my own terms as acknowledging my boundaries.  There is a real and imaginary line between what I take home with me and what I leave at work.  The integrity asked of me and what I ask of myself has been fulfilled in that I created something that I share with a community; and it does not belong to me anymore.  At the end of the day I go home to my family, and when the family retires to bed, and turns out the light then the dog is sure to follow.  She imposes her weight against me like a falling sack of potatoes, telling me “I belong here with you.”  It is a wonder to behold the irony of the extraordinary in the most ordinary of our daily routine – to lie down and rest and accept one’s truth.

I can’t put it more eloquently than Estes:

“So that is the final work of the exile who finds her own:  to not only accepts one’s own individuality, one’s specific identity as a certain kind of person, but also to accept one’s beauty… the shape of one’s soul and the fact that living close to that wild creature transforms us and all that it touches.” – from “Women Who Run With the Wolves”.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.