Waiting for the Storm to Pass

I had an uncomfortable learning experience this weekend, a reminder of some of the very principles I’ve shared here over and over and over again. If I believed in being tested, I’d say I was tested and that I failed for quite some time before I finally rejiggered and aimed for mastery instead of a good grade… Let me explain.

My son had a piano recital this weekend. Now, let me further explain that my son does not like to perform. He doesn’t like crowds. He doesn’t like being watched. He doesn’t like any of it. So why make him do it – you may be asking and it is a fair question.

His Dad and I rationally sorted out that these recitals, being held in our church where our son feels very comfortable, and being a not terribly big and very kind crowd, would be a good place to get over some of the performance anxiety, to stack up enough positive experiences that it might spread into other areas, make the whole idea less scary. I still think this is a reasonable idea in principle.

However, in practicing this idea a couple of days ago, it didn’t seem so great. My son was really agitated. I had to Mom/coach talk him through preparing for the event as he moved from joking around about how awful it would be to repeating that he didn’t want to go over and over again in a quiet voice in the back seat.

I stuck to my guns, and it wasn’t the first, nor will it be the last time I’ll regret that particular habit.

alone-boy-child-256658He did play in the recital. It was not his best performance. And then he sat and quietly wept for 30 minutes. He chose a seat at the end of our row and cried. I gave him a few minutes to himself and then moved to be next to him. I offered to go out in the hall with him to talk. He had no interest. I quietly assured him that his performance was good. He shook quietly. It then dawned on me that while I surely needed to revisit our approach to recitals, right now, in this moment, he didn’t need or want to be convinced of anything. He didn’t want to talk to me about how he felt. He didn’t want me to remove him from the room. He just wanted to feel how he felt and to have someone be kind about it.

adult-black-and-white-blur-735978I stopped talking. I stopped even trying to soothe him. I just wrapped my arms around him and held him while he weathered the internal storm, knowing full well that it was of his own making and that I had tools that could help him change the weather. He didn’t need that from me. He just needed compassion. He just needed safety. He just needed someone to be with him to make the feelings less scary for having a companion in them.

So I held him. And after a few minutes, he began to relax. He leaned into me. His breaths became deeper. The tears slowed. He stopped fighting with himself and with the words he knew I wanted to say and had said earlier. He just let himself feel the way he felt and I told him that was allowed.

We have reviewed our recital policy and are making changes based on the fact that we don’t care if he wants to perform or not; we want him to love to play the piano. That change was important. We needed to see what we were communicating to him and what we were expecting. But I personally needed to remember how good it feels to just let the feelings be, to be kind enough to sit with them rather than applying logic to them in an attempt to change them, to be patient enough to offer compassion and love even when we don’t understand those feelings and why they are happening.

I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to remember this important lesson with my son, and to have the time to offer that same lesson to myself in this season of mixed emotions, of loss amidst the joy. I can be patient enough with myself to continue to offer compassion even when it seems like it shouldn’t be necessary. I can sit with it, and wait for the storm to pass, rather than trying to change the weather.

Don’t Invite Chaos

We’ve been having some work done on the house. Nothing dramatic, just attending to some things that were on the scale from droopy to downright non-functional. In that process we got a new toilet and vanity for the bathroom on the first floor of our house. Really glamorous topic, right? Don’t worry, it’s not going to get any earthier than this.

bathroom-clean-faucet-145512The first floor bath is a half bath, and it is the one that gets the most use by guests. The toilet in it was there when we moved in and whoever chose it must have been short. I have nothing against short people, but there are toilet height realities at work here. As some of my extended family (nearly all of whom are tall) get older, my concern about the shorty toilet grew. Rather than install a bar for guests to haul themselves up with, we got a new toilet and dumped the vanity that was there for a nicer one. Now, I measured the vanity that was in there. I chose carefully from the incredibly ridiculous number of options, but I didn’t take the depth into account, so the switch, which was supposed to be seamless, invisible, easy peasy now created a mess by exposing part of the wall that was unpainted and damaged from the old vanity. My guy took care of the damage, but he is not a paint guy so lo and behold our easy peasy switch now has another element to it.

I’ve not really been happy with the color in that room for a while. I liked it when I chose it… It happens sometimes. So, as these little changes were taking place I thought “Maybe it’s time to just repaint the sucker.” When the damaged wall appeared I thought: “Guess I’ll be doing that sooner rather than later.” When we had a break in the installation process because we were waiting on backsplash parts I thought: “I should probably do that before he comes back to finish the job.”

I mentioned this to my husband. “You’re probably right. We should do that before he comes back.” I started thinking about paint color (something we literally NEVER agree on by the way).

And then I said: “He’s coming back in four days.” Scot mumbled and then said: “Well, let’s do it this weekend.”

I pointed out that this weekend does not exist. Saturday is the date of darling daughter’s end of term violin recital. It is also the rescheduled date of darling son’s season ending soccer tournament, which may NOT end in time for all of us to make the recital. The next day features church (did I mention he’s a seminarian?), a meeting in the afternoon and plans to hear a civil rights speaker that evening. Apparently painting on the weekend meant at night or something. No thanks. That left two work days, one of which featured him being gone and the other of which featured a VERY long list of things I needed to do for my practice.

So I’m doing all of this logistical math. I can see the writing on the wall, but still there’s a part of me trying to figure out how to make it work. Maybe if I skipped that, but then I’d have to call so and so and I haven’t even chosen a color yet. I could probably go after dinner tonight and get paint. Then I could start first thing in the morning while I drink my coffee…. Seriously?

I had pretty much lost the thread. I had decided this needed to be done. I had a vague dissatisfaction with the color – not hate mind you, just vague dissatisfaction. That escalated to needing to fix it and then to needing to address it pretty much immediately by multi-tasking, maybe also talking on the phone and recording a guided meditation. Sounds perfect, right?

And all of this urgency was just because if I painted it before he came back, the finish along the edge of the backsplash would look nicer. Yep, that’s it. That’s all. A line of paint that will likely be water spattered and camouflaged by the weird crap my kids leave in there most days anyway.

I was going to intentionally make things more difficult, jam pack my schedule, reorganize my priorities, give up rest and family time for that? What happens then? Do I win some kind of award? Does my house get featured in a magazine? Can I post a picture on Facebook and have everyone ooh and ah?

I saw it all happening, all of these semi-conscious decisions to escalate, to make it better, more, now, and it wasn’t until I was very nearly about to pick up my keys to go to the hardware store at a stupid time of day to get paint (with some internal grumbling and resentment by the way) that I realized that I was inviting chaos into my life by even considering this project. I was making things more difficult for myself for a reason that I’m still not clear on. I stopped. I took a deep breath.

I went back into the bathroom and took another look. Not perfect, but better. A little work to do for sure. Five minutes later I got an e-mail from my guy letting me know my parts were in and he would be here in the morning to install them. Time was officially up.

And so his part of this project is now complete. Our part remains and as I was in there today, I took a look around. Maybe that color is okay after all. Maybe a touch up on the repaired part would be enough.

blonde-hair-brick-wall-close-up-975668I can’t say I’ll never invite chaos in again. That would be a big promise for me. But what I do want to do is to get better at seeing it, seeing the moment happen before I get too deep in, before I’ve bought the materials for that super-easy DIY or craft project so that I can just see them out of the corner of my eye as I do all of the other things I actually want to do more, before I say yes to something I don’t really want to do that will exhaust me. I want to notice the role I play in my chaos, in my scurrying, and in my own resentment making. I want to see all of these things because I HAVE learned that seeing things changes them and a little internal renovation is always a good thing.

Saved from Perfection

adult-annoyed-blur-133021I’ve been beating up on myself pretty hard lately. Judging my business efforts, judging my personal efforts, judging my parenting efforts – it’s been pretty all-encompassing – which is usually a pretty good signal that it’s not really about any of that.

I have been measuring myself anywhere that I can and bemoaning, scolding, raging at the disparities between what I think SHOULD (oh, that word) be happening and what IS happening. I didn’t even really realize I was doing it. A few coach friends and my seminarian tried to tip me off, and I kind of got part of it – the ease up on yourself part, but I missed the point. This is the way that it works sometimes. Sometimes we need to hear a message many, many times before it really gets all of the way in. Those of us who are layered up (oh yes, like an onion) can take even more time.

This Sunday my minister preached on the promises and perils of utopianism. And while he was discussing perfection as a goal for society, he quoted another minister and the message got through. He quoted Elizabeth Nguyen who works for the Unitarian Universalist Association who said: “We are already saved from perfection.”

Now Ms. Nguyen was talking about our society, our culture, our country, our world and the point is that perfection is really probably not possible, because humans. Being who I am, I heard it on the personal level as well.

YOU, you are already saved from perfection…

Especially if what we’re talking about is a perfection that cries out for good behavior, excellent manners, well-dressed children and a spotless home; a thriving business and an engaged community presence; a committed adult relationship that is always supportive, nurturing, and fulfilling.

You are saved from perfection because humans.

Humans are messy.

Humans are complicated.

And so often, humans are scared.

Scared about what will happen when the jig is up and our imperfection is made plain,

Scared about what will happen when we don’t achieve the things we are striving for,

Scared that we will be left lonely and heartbroken when people see what’s inside.

But friend, you are already saved from perfection.

See, I know that you aren’t perfect like that. And really, if you think about it, you know I know it. We ALL know it. There are no secrets about any of us being “perfect” like that. We’re all onto all of it. And that endless effort to get closer to that kind of perfect, sometimes shoots us straight past the realization that we are already good, great even, that the “imperfect” way that we do things brings gifts that are unimaginable in a spotless house with clean children and an overflowing work schedule. When we keep aiming for that magazine perfect, we fail to see all of the ways we are already doing good, being blessed, having opportunities all around us.

How do we get there? How do we get to see all of that goodness? We have to stop being blinded by the perfect. How do we do that? We become, as Christina Pratt calls it, unseduceable. We become so grounded in our own values, our own sense of what is important, and so clear about who we actually are that we cannot be taken in by the glowing perfectionism that gets sprayed at us everywhere we look.

Sounds pretty good, right? How might you do that?

The first step is almost always the same. The first step is breathing. Breathing in and out slowly and letting the stress of chasing the perfect flow out of your mind and out of your body, releasing it. This is a really great step and can make everything a lot better, so it is quite tempting to stay there, especially because the next step is not quite so comfortable.

adult-close-up-eye-946727.jpgThe next step is to see what IS, to see ourselves, to know ourselves – to see who we actually are, which is glorious and perfect INCLUDING all of the flaws, idiosyncrasies, and individual quirks and tics; because of and including the “mistakes” of the past, our bad decisions, the things we’d love to go back and do differently; even with our scars and sore hearts and insecurities. We have to be willing to see all of that and stay with it long enough that we move from discomfort to acceptance, from self-loathing and self-criticism to self-love (or at least self-like).

And I say this is a step as though you do one thing and then you do the next and then you will be done with that, but those of us who’ve been active participants in this particular game know that cultivating self-acceptance and self-love is not a one-time deal, not a one stop shop. It is a practice, a devotion, a way of being in the world that becomes easier with time, but may never become completely reflexive.

back-view-backlit-city-847483But doing that, becoming more accepting of who you are will allow you to see what is important to YOU, what you actually believe in, what you want from this life, and how you want to be in the world. When you can accept yourself and figure out what you really want, the magazine version just really doesn’t matter anymore, at least not very often.

You are saved from being perfect, or at least you can be, if you choose it.

 

Behind the Self-Sabotage Curtain

I have a photoshoot scheduled for later today.

It has been many, many years since I had a photoshoot.

bass-guitar-blur-close-up-167483The last one was during the tail end of my professional musician era and included lots of guitars, sunglasses, and highlighted hair. I knew exactly who to be for that one. And no, this isn’t me, but my seminarian is looking for the shots from that day for our collective amusement.

The photoshoot prior to that was my wedding day: June 5, 1999. That photoshoot featured unseasonably warm temperatures (I think it was about 150 F) and humidity that would have made Louisianians (it’s correct, I looked it up) uncomfortable.

We (my female posse) spent time getting my hair and makeup just right and after about 15 minutes it really didn’t matter. The careful curls were gone. The skin was a little too shiny to be cute. There was dripping.

But none of that is the real reason that I’m approaching this photo shoot with some trepidation. The truth is that for many years I was THAT mom: the Mom who avoided being in the picture at all costs. My inner critic was so merciless that any picture of me was unacceptable.

And here I am thinking I’m on the “other side.” The inner critic has pretty much left the building, although she makes the occasional appearance.

And so in scheduling this photoshoot, I had hoped to be excited about it. I had hoped to really be looking forward to it. I had hoped to get a little giddy in preparation mode – really girl-ing out.

But I’m not.

I thought about buying new clothes for it… and waited… so didn’t.

amplifier-analogue-audio-306088I thought about making a hair appointment for it… and waited… so didn’t.

I thought about getting a mani/pedi (my guitar playing nails are long right now for some reason)… and waited… so didn’t.

So there’s something in there that’s making me screw this up.

There’s something in there that has gotten in the way of my making this as fun and special as I possibly could.

There’s something in there that has told me to tone it down.

And in toning it down, I have let the air out of the proverbial tires.

I have toned it down, and now it doesn’t seem like it will be much fun, or like such a great idea, and hey, it’s probably going to rain again anyway so maybe I should just cancel.

There’s a little cycle happening in there. And I didn’t see it until just now.

I felt it as I worried with my hair the last few days, in our endless rain with a chance of lightning and flooding weather. I felt a kind of inadequacy. “This is never going to work, so maybe I should just skip it. I will never be happy with these pics, so why go to so much trouble?” And so I didn’t go to any trouble. And now I’m stressed and grouchy and pretty sure that all of that is what’s going to be on my face. I’ve never been very good at making the face say something radically different than what’s going on inside.

I know what my friends would say. It would be something nice about me being gorgeous and it will be great. And that’s nice, but I’m not feeling it. I’m feeling like a frizzy headed poor planner who’s going to have to act like someone else to make a go of this thing.

AHA!!! I found it. Thank you for playing backboard.

I’m afraid I’m going to have to act like someone else to make a go of this thing, and I don’t want to do that anymore. I’ve done enough of that. I’ve done enough of that for a lifetime. It’s why it was okay to have a photoshoot in the armpit heat on my wedding day AND why I struggled to be in photos when my kids were young.

On my wedding day, there was no question of who I was going to be. I have always been myself with my husband, bless him. I wasn’t thrilled that I wouldn’t have a Pinterest perfect wedding picture, but I didn’t really care because I was there and I knew who I was and what I was doing.

When my twins were younger I was only one thing: really tired. And I didn’t want to be really tired Mom in the photos. I am in a few, and of those, I’d say 75% show really tired Mom. Like really tired Mom. I didn’t want more evidence of how I felt. I thought I’d have to be someone else to make a nice picture. I thought I’d have to act to have pictures that my inner critic could tolerate.

So there it is. Two pieces: my pictures have to be great (a thought) and I can’t be myself to get great pictures (also a thought). Well, no wonder I don’t want to do this.

What I am going to choose to believe is that I can be myself and be successful (including on my photoshoot).

What changes if I believe that? I relax (which means I’ll feel better and maybe smile without strain). I also remember that I hired a photographer to take a whole mess of pictures so we could be sure to get some shots that even I am happy with. As I believe I can be myself the worries of what to wear and exactly what to do about my hair diminish. Because no matter what I do on those fronts I will still be me, and I just need to remember that that’s okay, like really deeply, fundamentally perfect. Really.

What signals do you get when you’re engaged in a little self-sabotage? Do you procrastinate? Do you diminish yourself/your work/your talent/your beauty so that if the results aren’t what you want you won’t be disappointed? Do you tone it down and then find that you’ve let all of the air out of the tires?

If that sounds like you, I want to ask, what are you thinking? Not like what are you thinking in Mom voice as rhetorical question, but what are you thinking as in what’s the thought that’s at the bottom of that mess? Is it a fear of success or failure? Is it some notion of not being good enough as you are? What if you’re more than that?

coat-dancing-face-794062What if you are more than that and you’ve never had the chance to see it because of all of that toning it down? What would happen if you went full-volume?

I’m going to go listen to some music and pick out some clothes, both at high volume.

XO,

j

Keeping the Door Open

I’ve been thinking a lot about creativity lately. I am both a life coach AND a musician. I have not always been a life coach, but I have always been a musician. In the past I saw the line between my work (my paying work, let’s be honest) and my music work as the line of creativity. In this part of my life I am artistic, creative; in this part I work. I kept it all separate and had a pretty shallow definition of creativity.

I didn’t see the class assignments and curriculum decisions I made as being creative. I didn’t see the writing I did as creative. I didn’t see the decisions I made to gut and renovate a home as creative. They were all just work (notice the “just” there, too). I didn’t really acknowledge my own creativity across the board and in retrospect I suspect that the sharp dividing line caused me to miss out on opportunities to be even more creative in those “work” situations.

A friend shared a quote from Martha Graham and it really helped me to acknowledge what has been a shift in my thinking, and gave me a push to really think about creative force and how I allow, dismiss, and use it in all of my life. Here it is:

There is a vitality, a life-force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time this expression is unique. and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it! It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.

You are miraculous.I want it on a poster. I want it stitched on a pillow (a big pillow). I want it in neon lights that only light up when I’m closing up like a sad, finished flower. I love this quote because it has it all in there: you are a unique expression of biological miracles and happenstance; only you can do what you do; comparison with others is a waste of time and should not be allowed; you have to allow inspiration for it to work. LOVE!

Here’s the thing, though, we see the word channel and people get a little iffy. What am I channeling? Where’s it coming from? Is this some sort of new age woo woo whackery? Yeah, I don’t know. You don’t have to believe that the channel is open to spirit, to ancient wisdom, or to universe juice to consider the idea that our being closed or open is what makes the primary difference in whether or not we try new stuff. What if the channel is just a gate to the part of you that is always experiencing, always feeling, always knowing, and always creating when you are busy working? What if it’s all in you and all you have to do is listen? There are a lot of things I don’t know, but I do know this: we are the gatekeepers of the flickers of brilliance that come to us – from wherever.

I also know, from my own experience, and from friends and clients alike, that we spend a whole lot of time and energy reinforcing that closed gate. Why do we do it? Why do we keep the guards at the gate, blocking out new ideas, new thoughts, creative approaches, solutions that aren’t fully formed yet but that are there – flashing at the corners of our attention?

I think we have sort of inflated expectations where creative inspiration is concerned. I think we’re expecting a burning bush, a whole novel, a complete song, a totally clear direction or plan. We think if it’s real inspiration, it ought to look biblical or at least vaguely miraculous. I guess that happens sometimes, but in my experience, mostly nope. Glimmer, work, fail, refine, crash, glimmer, refine…. Yay? That’s not exactly a burning bush but it IS something so long as we notice it.

I think the other big reason (and I think there are many little reasons) that we shut out our creative inspiration is fear. Plain and simple. It displays itself in different ways. It comes out as perfectionism. It comes out as “busy-ness”. It comes out as sheer rigidity and discomfort at changing plans and approaches. It comes out as our desire to fit in, meet social expectations, and not buck the system.

being more creativeWe shut it down. We close ourselves off. We dig into our tried and true routines. Our brains, which are really happy with us surviving and not taking risks, breathe a sigh of relief. But what if letting that inspiration in WASN’T risking everything? What if letting it in could make everything better, more interesting, more fun, and CERTAINLY more you? What if all you’re doing is closing yourself to yourself? Breaking yourself into little manageable pieces that don’t work together to really get fully engaged with anything? What would it feel like to open, just a little?

A year or two ago I was following a guided meditation series (Oprah and Deepak Chopra, they are periodically free and very useful) and the instruction was with each breath to open yourself just a little bit more. I had been working with a coach at the time and we had noticed that I tend to “armor up” at time, lots of good self-protection that was keeping me from being all the way “in” for anything. And so, as I meditated, I consciously pictured removing my armor, opening just a little more with each breath.

And you know what? It felt great. There’s a whole lot to this life that you can miss out on if you won’t let it in. How’s your armor? Need a safe place to take it off? Wait, that sounds bad. Want someone to help you listen? I’d love to help.

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If You Can’t Do It Right…

Why bother?

Forget it.

Delay.

There’s no point.

It will be terrible.

Don’t do it at all.

Really?

Don’t do it at all?

I’ve seen this so many times – in myself, in clients, in former students…

what do you give up for perfection?I had a student many years ago in a World History class. We were studying Medieval Europe and I had asked them to draw a castle. The castle had to have a list of features labeled and explained, the point being to understand the true military function of castles and let go of romantic ideas of what castles were all about. I got a variety of products (as was always the case). The artistic students went to town. The less artistic students focused on the parts of the assignment that appealed to them (detailed descriptions, adding architectural features, 3 D effects). One of my students didn’t turn one in.

It wasn’t a huge surprise. He was not a stellar student. He frequently missed assignments and struggled on exams. I was working with him on these things, suspecting some reading issues. I was disappointed that he didn’t turn the assignment in because he’d been making progress. In my mind: “Here we go again.” I pulled him aside and asked what happened. He said he wasn’t done with it. I told him to bring it to me. He reached in his backpack, where he apparently was carrying it around all of the time. He had a piece of poster board carefully rolled and tucked into the corner. He pulled it out gingerly, careful not to catch the edges on anything.

He then unrolled the board, revealing that he had burned away the edges to make it look like parchment. And as he lay it down and carefully placed books on the edges to hold it flat, I was astonished. It was beautiful. The artwork was amazing – pen and ink and so detailed. The features were carefully rendered and labeled. I couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t turn it in, and then I noticed the size of the stones he was drawing. They were so small, a sort of pebble castle. And there was a big section that he hand’t completed. I can’t imagine how much time he had put into this piece of work. I wanted to frame it.

“Why didn’t you turn it in?” “I didn’t have time to finish it.”

“But Tommy, it’s amazing.” “But it isn’t finished, and it’s not all that good anyway.”

We went on to have a conversation about grades and how some grade is ALWAYS better than a zero, even if the grade reflects being turned in late. I told him I wanted to hang it up; he made clear that that was not an option he would be comfortable with.

It took everything I had in me to get that young man to let me grade his work. I don’t remember what he got, but I know it was WAY better than zero. I also know it was probably the only time he ever saw a teacher (besides an art teacher) be amazed with his work. It was probably one of the longer conversations he’d had with a teacher who wasn’t threatening to prevent him from playing football, his other great love. He talked me through the work he had done, so I got to see how much of the material he really was taking in at a deep level – and he got to demonstrate mastery. So much he and I both could have missed out on had I let him go through with his plan of simply bypassing the deadline. In his mind it was better to get the zero than to turn in something that was not perfect. It became clear to me how much strength he showed when turning in other assignments, especially given what I suspected about his reading ability. What a risk he took every time he gave me his work. He wasn’t playing to his strengths, though, and maybe that’s why he could tolerate the imperfection in those other assignments. And he knew he had to keep his C to play football.

These are the corners perfectionism puts us in. We don’t even try, or we try but give up before anyone can benefit from our efforts. We don’t invite people over because our house isn’t clean enough. We don’t host holidays because Pinterest pictures make us think we need homemade napkin rings (Homemade?! Napkin rings?!) We don’t take the solo because what if we mess it up. We don’t take the risks because we might not get it right.  We see every family gathering as a nightmare because of the amount of preparation we will do to get things just right. We believe that if we don’t do it perfectly, we might as well not do it at all.

And that right there? THAT is a thought. And it’s a b.s., life-stifling, procrastination producing,  gift-hiding, intimacy preventing, joy avoiding bummer of a thought.

Accepting what is good enoughWhat would you do if you didn’t have to do it perfectly? Who would you see more of? What would you be less nervous about? What risk would you allow? What could be good if you didn’t need it to be perfect?

Maybe it’s just me, but it’s always nice to have a little more of the good.

All we need is a new thought. How about this one: I and the things I produce are good enough, and that’s pretty great.

xo,

j

The “If…. Then…” of Relating to Other Humans

“If I don’t take care of this…”

“If I don’t get it right…”

“If I decide to just be myself…”

“If I choose what I’d actually like to do…”

“If I say what I really think…”

“If I wear the clothes I want to wear…”

“If I hurt his feelings…”

“If I do anything less that A+ work…”

Then what?

What if they don't like meThen they will all find out who I really am? Then they will all find out I’m not perfect? Then they can choose not to like me anymore? Then they will know the thing I’ve always known, inside, that I’ll never fit in, I’ll never be good enough, that I’ll never be safe just being myself here. Then they will know and I will know that they will know and that will be so painful.

But my dear darling THIS is already so painful. I know because I was a master of the double life. I discovered early in my teenage years that my grades were the barometer that my parents used to discern whether or not I was “okay” in the world. If I kept my grades up, I could get away with a LOT. And the longer I kept my grades up and did all of the things that a high-achieving student would do, the more trust they gave. More weekends away, fewer questions about my destination and my company, more really bad explanations for things accepted without further question. I had parties (big parties). I smoked cigarettes in the car. I skipped classes. Even now I’m uncomfortable writing this because there are family members for whom some piece of that might be new information. I took full advantage of the freedom that was given to me.

And the whole time, and for many years after, I was stunned by the fact that nobody was calling me on it, that nobody was catching me, that nobody actually KNEW what was going on and tried to stop me. I had built a double life. I was really good at it. I tried to fool them, and it worked. So yay! Yeah, not so much.

Not so much because the whole time that I was enjoying my secret life, what I really wanted was for someone to know me. I felt so lonely (maybe just in a 17 year old girl way, but it seems deeper, even in retrospect). I so wanted to be all of the parts and have it be known, even if there were consequences. I so wanted to ditch the fear that if they found out they wouldn’t love me anymore. My double life made me complex and cool to my friends and still allowed me to win gold stars with my family. I got all of the “awards” I was looking for and it just didn’t matter.

It didn’t matter because what I was hung up on was how they felt about me. All of my secrecy and all of the entertainment I provided for my friends was to ensure that they all felt good about me. The entire “If… then…” world that I had built up failed to acknowledge the depth of feeling anyone had for me (like they actually love you kid, even if you screw up or aren’t cool). And to make matters worse, not one bit of all of that effort did anything about how I felt about myself.

imposter sydromeIt’s easy to see this in a teenage story, because we have myths about how insecurity is a natural part of being an adolescent, that somehow just dissipates as our bodies mature. But the truth is that for many of us this “if… then…” way of relating continues long after we reach the age of majority. We make so many decisions based on how other people will feel about us. We act in ways to shore up public opinion, as though we will appear on page 6 if we get it wrong. We fear that we will be fired if we make the smallest error at work. We’re sure that our upcoming presentation might be the breaking point when everyone will find out how unqualified we really are. We just know that if we relax and show our true selves that we won’t have any friends left. If… then…

I’ve been deconstructing some of my if then thinking over the last couple of years. And I want to tell you a few things about that:

  • I’ve never been fired, even when I make mistakes or tell the truth.
  • I still have friends, maybe even more friends, certainly deeper friendships.
  • I’m not so very tired after every social engagement. I’m still an introvert, but I’m not working so hard all of the time.
  • I feel free to try new things, risk things personally and professionally because I’m not so worried about what everybody else thinks.
  • Paying more attention to what I think of me has been the greatest gift I could possibly give myself.

Are you living a double-life? Maybe yours doesn’t have house parties and hidden cigarette butts – maybe yours looks more like putting things off until you’re sure you can get it perfect; maybe yours looks like constantly putting your own needs on the back-burner so you won’t seem selfish; maybe yours looks like waiting for the other shoe to drop at work, at home, with friends. Aren’t you tired of it all?

What would happen if you just decided to be a little more yourself? Dipped a toe into the water of telling the truth and doing what you want? Maybe it’s time to find out.