Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been talking about ways we “divide our own houses” and get into conflict with our own forward progress. First, I unpacked the interestingly fraught relationship between hope and doubt, next it was about stopping and going, and now it’s about, as cheesy as it might sound, being true to ourselves, how and why we undercut our truth at times, and what we can do about it.
Being true to ourselves. Such an overused cliche. Yet, nothing seems more vital to a life well-lived. Imagine the opposite. You have fame and fortune, even, but you’re understudying for someone else’s life, doing something you’re not interested in or worse, that you dislike. Okay, the money goes a way toward assuaging your discontent, but how is it to wake up every morning disinterested or disengaged with what you are about to do today…and every day? The money had better be pretty damned good, I say.
It's Just Not Worth It. There are a variety of ways that people derail this self truth business. One way, and this has nothing to do with fakery, is when you decide not to go after what you really want because you don’t want to do the work, go back to school, start from the bottom and work your way up, or what have you. You may not end up being very happy in your life’s pursuits, but at least you know the why of it and are owning your choices. When you know this and know yourself, you can make other choices for happiness—in your avocations or your relationships, for example. I’m personally not a fan of selling out even part of my life like this, but also recognize that for some of us, financial, family, socio-economic, or health issues can limit our means and horizons through no fault of our own. You do you.
Afraid to Go For It. A second way this plays out is what Steven Pressman calls a “shadow existence” in his book, Turning Pro. That is, you are not afraid of work, just THE work you really want to do. This is the person who keeps going back to school because she’s afraid she doesn’t know enough to do a good job. This is often the life of those of us inflicted with “imposter syndrome.” That is, we never think we are good enough to be great at what we are or want to be doing, and rather than live with that angst day to day, it’s easier to do “something like” that thing we’d love to do. Rather than writing that novel, we work in a bookstore. At least we are around books and the people who love them. At its worst, Pressman asserts, are those who have well and truly fooled themselves into believing that their shadow career is where they were meant to end up all along.
I Am Not Worth It. A third way people side-step their truth is less about fear and more about self-judgement. When I speak of being true, it’s really about aligning with what’s deepest within us, but also valuing ourselves—as we are— enough to care to do this. If I don’t like myself the way I am, if I am withholding some measure of self-regard until such time that I’m that better version of myself, the idea of an actualised life can seem far-fetched, if not a bit ridiculous. Why bother?
This conditional self-regard tendency is rife in our world and a serious drain on our collective productivity and ambition. There remains a persistent belief, at least with the people I interact with in my work, that seeing ourselves as the recalcitrant mistake-maker, the lazy bum, the brainless fool, or the [fill in the blank with your favourite derogatory tag-line] who needs, at the very least, a stern talking to if not a swift kick in the ass, is necessary, even actually good for us. Yet, too often, this view of ourselves creates its own reality, that of a self that is not worth liking much, much less loving. Not only does this kind of talk hurt us, but it undermines our agency, hence the dip in productivity and progress.
What Can We Do? So if beating ourselves down is not the answer, what is? It is the radical notion that we can and should like ourselves for exactly who we are right now. This is one of the pillars underpinning Dr Kristin Neff’s work in the area of self-compassion. To this end, she asks us to ponder a series of questions:
1. What types of things do you typically judge and criticise yourself for?
2. What type of language do you use with yourself when you notice a flaw or mistake?
3. If you are self-critical, how does that make you feel?
4. What might be the consequences of being hard on yourself? Motivated? Discouraged?
5. How do you think you would feel if you could truly accept yourself exactly as you are? Does this possibility scare you, give you hope, or both?
This exercise can be sobering when we start to pay attention to just how poorly we see and treat ourselves. And more importantly, how doing so makes us feel--usually worse--and how it impacts our ability to get back into action. It is this state of mind, I am arguing, that keeps us, at times, from really going after what we want. It is this state of mind that allows us to settle, however unknowingly or unwillingly, into a shadow existence, and defer the Thing We Really Want until we are that better version of ourselves.
Newsflash: we can accept who we are now AND go for everything we want. Being imperfect, knowing it, and accepting that fact does not mean we can’t or won’t change. It does mean that we are more likely to engage in that change and learning with a lighter heart.
This is a call for consideration. And courage, make no mistake. And...for practice. Consider the possibility, if you are not already there, of accepting yourself exactly as you are. Warts, flaws, past history, love handles, bad hair, awkward social skills, quick temper, and all. Practice by thanking your body for it’s efforts. Practice by giving yourself credit for effort as well as the outcome. Practice talking to yourself, especially after mistakes, as you would your best friend. Practice forgiving yourself.
Go Do You. Please. And once you have habituated to the idea that you are okay as is, and that you have your own back, then go after what it is you want. Be real. Take the risk.
I’ve often trotted out this chestnut, but it’s worth repeating. Again. :). Action precedes clarity. If there’s something you have always wanted to do, stop reading about it or dancing around the edges of it, and start doing it. It is in the doing that shit gets real, learning happens, and clarity increases…not the other way around.
Steven Pressman calls this the process of moving from an amateur life to that of professional. Start turning pro, I say.
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. You're playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. —Marianne Williamson.
If you are stuck and need help turning pro, I can help.
Let me know what you think!
In case you missed my main message :), I believe that high performance shouldn't hurt people. I provide individual and group coaching on how to achieve the performance goals you want without hurting yourself or your people in the process. In ways that are healthier, happier, and more sustainable. If you want more information or have questions, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.