I didn’t see it coming.
I didn’t know I needed it.
But when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.
I met Rosie Ward over a decade before when I was early in my career and intentionally seeking out people who were saying something different than everyone else.
I was drawn to her honesty and authenticity, her willingness to ask challenging questions, and to speak truth into the hard spots. It would be nearly eight years before we’d meet in person after exchanging emails and phone calls, but what really shifted our relationship was an invitation she gave me in the spring of 2017.
Rosie reached out to me because she was getting trained in something called “immunity to change”. Here’s the premise behind it: just like we have a physical immune system that activates to protect us when it is threatened, we also have a psychological immune system that jumps in to protect us when we feel psychologically threatened. We’re often unaware of this mechanism, but it holds us back and prevents us from moving forward in our lives, in our work, and in relationships.
She asked if I wanted to be one of her guinea pigs and enter into a yearlong coaching relationship with her to work through my own immunity to change. That time of my life was one of particular heaviness and sickness, as I had just been diagnosed with an acute form of mono called Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV). I was more open than ever because I felt like I had completely bottomed out and had nowhere to go but up.
I was ready for change.
As Rosie and I began working together, we identified an improvement goal or commitment that was meaningful to me at that time:
To trust in myself and confidently and intentionally put myself out there to share my message with the world.
I realized that, although I had much to say and felt compelled to share all that I had experienced, I was holding myself back. I wasn’t showing up fully, even though I was telling other people to do that. Trusting myself is and always has been hard because I’m so prone to being externally defined, allowing others’ judgments of me influence me more than what I think about myself. Though I often present myself as confident, I don’t always feel that way inside.
After identifying my goal of putting myself out there more, Rosie and I explored why it mattered to me. I have a strong desire to make a difference, to live a life that influences other people, and to invest myself in people and causes that will have a lasting impact. I’ve always felt that I’m meant to do something special with my life and know I’m meant to make more of an impact than I currently am. I’ve been given a message of hope and healing to share with people and know that my voice is a powerful force for good. I believe God has given me a unique set of gifts to transform others, and I don’t want to waste them.
We dug a bit deeper, and I had to get honest about what I was doing to move toward my goal or what I was not doing that was sabotaging my goal.
I wasn’t writing or blogging or speaking at conferences as much as I needed and wanted to; I wasn’t putting my message out there. When I did speak, I wasn’t charging what I was worth. I wasn’t seeking opportunities to connect with people who were doing things I wanted to do in order to build my relationships and exposure. I wasn’t seeking partnerships with those people because I feared they would steal my ideas and use them as their own or that they’d do what I wanted to do better than me.
I frequently discounted my value, what I was worth and should charge, and what I can contribute. I would think to myself:
“Who are YOU to speak or write about ‘x’? Others are already doing that. You’re being redundant. It’s already been said before in a similar way. You’re not unique enough.”
It made me uncomfortable to say all of those things aloud, to call out what I was doing to sabotage myself. But what came next was even more difficult, exposing, and vulnerable.
Rosie eased me into peeling back the next layer of the onion and explore the fears and worries I was wrestling with at the time.
What was I so afraid would happen if I stopped doing the things that were holding me back and started doing what I knew I needed to do? This is what I feared would happen if I trusted myself to confidently and intentionally put myself out there to share my message with the world:
- I will look selfish. (Enough “Me! Me! Me!”, Rachel.)
- I will be disloyal to my employer who’s been really good to me.
- I will be irrelevant; someone else will outshine me, and I will be yesterday’s news. What if someone else comes along and I become obsolete? Isn’t someone else already talking about this or writing about this in a way that is more interesting or better than me?
- I will fail. I will put myself out there, and no one will receive it or want what I create. No one will ask me to speak or read what I write.
- I will be taken advantage of by people. They will steal my ideas and use them as their own or try to pay me less than I’m worth.
- I will amount to nothing – I will BE nothing if I cannot create what I was called to create, write what I’m meant to write, say what I’m meant to say.
As difficult as it was to admit my fears, especially ones I deemed to be particularly ugly like the one about people “stealing” my ideas, I felt a sense of relief as I released some of their weight onto paper. It felt a bit less scary to know that I wasn’t alone in my fears but that Rosie was there to carry them with me.
Being honest about our deep fears and worries is an incredibly painful process, but it’s necessary if we want to grow and become more of who we are meant to be.
What followed was one of the most eye-opening aspects of the process. I had to take my fears and turn them into “competing commitments”. In other words, I had to identify what I was committing to doing to avoid experiencing those fears. I turned each fear into a commitment statement:
- I am committed to never appearing selfish or egotistical.
- I am committed to never appearing disloyal.
- I am committed to never being seen as incompetent.
- I am committed to never letting someone else shine.
- I am committed to always being the best.
- I am committed to never risking being rejected or failing.
- I am committed to never having others be the “go-to” person, to never being irrelevant.
As I said each one aloud, I was embarrassed by the ridiculousness of those statements and said to Rosie: “I don’t want to commit to those things! That’s not who I want to be. That’s not what I want to be true of my life.”
I had kept those thoughts and fears and judgments spinning around in my head for years but hadn’t ever thought of them in quite that way before. The new perspective began to unlock something in me. I started to realize that how I was showing up wasn’t aligned with who I saw myself to be inside and who I knew I was meant to become.
I wanted to change, but I had a bit more work to do first.
What came next completely undid me and forced me to face a painful belief I had unconsciously carried with me since childhood. We dug deeper to get to the core of why I was holding myself back.
We identified my Big Assumption.
This was the hardest part of the process, to uncover the “big assumption” beneath my fears and behaviors. It took months to come to a conclusion that made my eyes well up with tears, my face burn red, and my lip quiver. It was painful to call out the internalized truths that were at the heart of my competing commitments:
“If I trust in myself and put myself out there, then people won’t accept me, I won’t be ‘enough’ by just being me, and I won’t be good enough to be loved.”
And there it was, staring me back in the face, beckoning me to acknowledge its presence.
I won’t be good enough to be loved.
Who I am is not enough.
For my whole life, I had unconsciously believed that my value and whether I’m worthy of being loved comes from what I do and accomplish, not from who I am. I didn’t believe that who I am was enough or that who I am was what people valued most about me.
My grabbiness and possessiveness came from the assumption that there was only room for one successful person who does what I do and that I have to be “the one” or I won’t have value. I had internalized the belief that, if I’m not the expert or the go-to person, then I’m nothing, no one.
And who would love a nobody?
I was overcome with sadness, as I sat with those thoughts and reflected on what those assumptions meant.
No wonder I had always made it such a priority to be a straight-A student, to win awards and ribbons and trophies, to be impressive.
No wonder I had driven myself to exhaustion and had completely burned out.
I believed that love was on the other side of achievement.
What a shallow and fleeting kind of “love” that is, yet it’s what fueled me.
Admiration and popularity are not the same as love. They’re cheap substitutes for the real thing, stand-ins that will give us temporary satisfaction but always leave us thirsting for more.
We must be more than what we do because if we stop doing, then who the heck are we?
Since then, I’ve been on a reflective journey to get to the truth of who I am regardless of what I do. I still struggle with many of the same fears, but I have moved closer to my goal.
Over the past year, in particular, I have put myself and my message out there on this blog, on LinkedIn, on podcasts, and across the country as I’ve been speaking at conferences reaching thousands of people.
I’m taking on a national role as Director of Wellbeing with our parent company in 2019.
I’ve invested in training to hone the craft of professional speaking.
I’ve befriended other people doing similar work as me, and we are now doing some events together, as collaborators, not competitors.
I’ve been putting myself and my message out there.
I’ve also invested in my relationships and spent more time with people who love me for who I am, not for what I do. I’ve put more time and energy into relationships because I’ve come to realize that they are even more important than anything I achieve.
We must be willing to acknowledge the false beliefs we’ve internalized as truth and how they are sabotaging our growth and forward motion. It is a messy, uncomfortable, vulnerable, and ugly process, but it is also incredibly freeing, transformational and healing.
We won’t arrive at a point in time in which we have no fears or worries (I certainly haven’t), but we can begin to be honest with ourselves about what drives us and what underlies why we do what we do.
We have to be aware of what we are doing to get in our own way before we can change it.
We must be willing to let go of what we think is true of ourselves in order to embrace what is actually true and step into the fullness of who we are called to be.
As you begin a new year, I invite you to experience this process yourself instead of making the traditional New Year’s Resolutions:
- Identify an improvement goal that is important to you.
- Dig deeper: How are you getting in your own way? What fears and worries are holding you back from reaching that goal?
- What lies have you internalized that are underlying your stuckness?
This work isn’t easy, but the growth and transformation you can experience make it worthwhile. Believe that change is possible.