Last year, I was introduced to a concept that I've continued to grapple with from time to time. The picture below is taken from page 61 of Dr. Maria Nemeth's book "The Energy of Money". It's an illustration that one of her teachers once shared with her:
When my coach first introduced it to me, it made perfect sense. I spent little time trying to understand it, and a TON of time trying to figure out where I was on that path.
I recognized I spent a lot of time pretending, a little time being afraid, and almost NO time embracing who I really am.
Sadly, my own experience as a coach tells me I'm not the only person living this way.
There's an internal fight for survival that undermines our confidence in truest self
These three identities: The Pretender, The Coward, and True Self show up at various moments in our lives. Those who are most fully self-expressed (like that 80-something curmudgeon you know that ALWAYS tells you what's on her mind), live more of their time as True Self than the rest of us, but don't be fooled, we all wear these masks from time to time:
The Pretender protects you from the world...
According to Nemeth, "Our 'pretend' selves are crafted from what we think is expected of us and how we perceive the norms in our culture."
The "logic" says that if you pretend to be the person everyone expect/wants you to be, then you'll have a "safe, secure" spot in the community. Someone will save you a seat with the cool kids - or at least you won't get thrown out of the tribe into utter darkness.
So you pretend to be more (or less) successful than you really are so that you can stay "safe" - whatever that looks like for you. You pretend to be something you aren't so that people you admire or trust will accept or welcome you as one of their own.
You pretend to be happy or content with something that drives you nuts so that you can avoid dealing with the real problems in your relationships.
You pretend to put on a friendly face when your world is collapsing around your ears, because if people knew the truth, you're just convinced they'd abandon you, call you names, tell you "I told you so" (AGAIN!), tell you to suck it up, or something else that's completely unhelpful... and you just don't have en energy to deal with MORE unhelpful right now.
But if you're not being true to yourself, who are you being? Who are those people really falling in love with? Do you see how this begins a love-hate relationship with yourself that becomes difficult to end? They want you to be more of this phony facade, which makes you resentful that you can't be more like yourself, but you just "know" that if you're more like yourself, then they won't like you.
Oy. Are you dizzy yet? Wait until you meet...
The Coward protects the world from you
Our fear of who we are keeps us from shining our brightest light. Why? Because we've screwed up in our past. Sometimes it was too messy for us to clean up - or we weren't in a position to deal with the fall-out. Or we were downright irresponsible, and no matter what we want to do to fix the situation, it's not fixable now. And we're afraid it's always going to be that way, so why bother?
Cerebrally, we know we're imperfect, but we also remember that antiperspirant commercial that said "never let them see you sweat", so we stop short of our brilliance more times than we care to admit.
Because, you know, if we were lucky enough to actually be successful and have the world watching us, then the "real" truth would come out... about that one day in jr. high... or that incident at the post office... or the day you (gasp!) spanked your kid in public. Someone must have videoed that on their phone, right?
So all that work building a Noble Empire would be shot down faster than you can say "Lance Armstrong."
According to Nemeth, this examination of our failings and shortcomings "brings up a lot of pain. Yet it is even more painful, on a subtle level, to live with the energy that is blocked and bound up in the fear."
You're afraid you really are incompetent at business.
You're afraid that one mistake in high school means you really are a social misfit.
You're afraid that bouncing checks means you'll never be successful.
You're afraid that because you rejected an opportunity once, that you'll never get another chance.
You're afraid that your past determines your future... and since it wasn't a pretty past, you just "know" that your future isn't bright either.
You're afraid that because you made a bad decision to partner with someone once (or twelve times), that you'll always make bad choices like that.
But like the stock market, past performance does not guarantee future results. And if ever there was anything worth investing in, it's...
Your True Self welcomes all aspects of you without judgement
You are not perfect, yet you are perfectly human and perfectly divine. You have your flaws and yep, I can bet you've made a gajillion mistakes and screw ups in your life. Just like everyone else.
Here's a hammer. Build a bridge and get over it.
Because you are also brilliantly gifted, and the world needs you and your gifts in a bad way.
Take a lesson from Christopher Plummer
It took Christopher Plummer most of his acting career to win an Oscar. Does that mean all the work he did before "Beginners" was meaningless? Fans of The Sound of Music, Up, Barrymore, or The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo would give you a resounding "HELL NO!"
Does that mean that every acting move he makes from here on out will be fantastic? Doubtful.
But Christopher Plummer just keeps on being Christopher Plummer.
Oscar? He don't need no stinkin' Oscar!
And neither do you.
But you do need to decide.
Which "You" are you going to be?
Are you willing to step up and own your past (warts and all)? Are you willing to embrace the possibilities of your future? Or are you going to keep hiding yourself from us?
Now, this isn't a "once and done' kind of decision. You make it in every moment of your life. It takes confidence to be that crotchety 80-something year old who always speaks her mind... and well, there are times when that's just not appropriate. And you'll have to ask yourself, "what's more important in this moment? Being appropriate or saying what I feel in my usual blunt style?"
Sometimes, as we all do, you'll choose to be "appropriate". Hopefully, as time goes on, however, you'll more often choose to embrace your True Self.
In Spotlight Sessions we explore these aspects more deeply. You're building confidence, so that you can take ownership of your True Self more regularly. And when you are able to express yourself more fully, it's easier to connect with your perfect-fit clients, and build a profitable, sustainable business that you love. It also means life gets easier to live.
Think about it... if you don't have to waste a ton of energy being The Pretender or The Coward, you can invest your precious energy into being your True Self - which is always less stressful than being someone you're not.
Time, energy, attention and money are precious resources that can never be recovered once spent. If you're going to invest them anyway, why not invest them in who you really are?
The world is waiting...