There's this great book called The Dark Side of the Light Chasers, by Debbie Ford. In it, she discusses, well, a great many things of immense value, in my humble opinion, not the least of which is the importance of owning yourself. All of yourself. Like, ALL of it. Not just the awesome shiny parts, but you know those dark bits you're not so fond of? Yeah, you gotta own that crap, too. "What you don't own, owns you." Whoa, right?
It's kind of funny to me, because as a coach, I see so many people who seem to have a pretty hard time owning their light parts, let alone the shadows. I know, because I'm one of them. My greatness is tough for me to be with. I have about a 30-second grace period, where I can own that I'm a gift, and then, boom, I'm off finding problems with me that I can fix (read: fixate upon with struggle and self hate). I guess that's what she means. That is the dark. But we polish a veneer over our dark sides, with the hopes that no one will see the things we really, really need to hide. That veneer is part of the dark, I think.
Recently, it's made me think about something I learned in eighth-grade science about the properties of heat and cold, light and dark. I think it applies here, too. Darkness and light are like heat and cold: Cold, like darkness, is not a thing unto itself. It cannot move. Only light and heat can transfer. It's either there, or it's not. Cold and dark are just the absence of warmth and light. They're what's left behind when heat and light have been removed. I cannot create cold or dark; I can only take away the warmth, douse the light. Like lighting a flame, or turning the switch, the only part I have power over is to create the light, to shine it on the dark places where there has previously been an absence. In that way, I can really own both the light and dark.
[Tweet "You cannot create darkness; you can only take away the light."]
So I'll start. I've been hiding stuff lately. And, by lately, I mean for roughly 33.8 years (my birthday's in August). And know what I've figured out? THIS CRAP I'M HIDING IS REALLY HEAVY. You can read into that however you like, but I mean it both figuratively and literally. It's weighing me down and consuming my thoughts approximately 102 percent of the time, which makes me feel self absorbed. Then I get to call myself selfish and hang out in the muck a bit longer, adding to the malaise by whacking myself with the new bat I've gotten my hands on (just like the seven dwarves' pick-axes have names, the bats I use to routinely beat myself up have monikers: Selfish, Lazy, Stupid, Failure, Not Good Enough, Unloveable, etc).
Here are some of the things I try to hide:
- fears, doubts and struggles with building my coaching practice ("Can I do this? Will clients hire me? Am I good enough?")
- not knowing the answers
- family stress and drama
- struggles with intimacy (Adam's shared about this, so really, it's kind of funny that I tried to hide it)
- dealing with and healing from childhood traumas I don't want to own at all
Hiding all this stuff takes a lot of energy. Hiding it requires that I carry it around. I focus on doing a ton of stuff, keeping super busy, too busy to deal with the stuff I'm hiding away, holding at bay (that saying serves a double purpose here). I get frustrated with myself and I take it out — all the fear, frustration, anger and sorrow — on myself.
I've felt like I can't express fears or doubts about my practice (not about my calling; I know I'm in the right vocation). When I have expressed any negative emotion, like fear or frustration, and a person says, "But you're a coach; shouldn't you be beyond that?" it knocks me a little, convincing me that I need to hide my fears and humanity.
I can't let people see me falter or fret. I can't own the fear, so it owns me. I worry that some people will be happy if I struggle or fail (and just for the record, even when I'm afraid, I know in my heart that I won't fail).
This is ridiculous: What kind of shitty people do I know that would be happy to see me fail? Why do I hang out with these people? (True story: I don't hang out with them, and yet, I still make up these stories.) I mean, really. Even if they do wish catastrophe upon me, what the hell do I care? It says nothing about me and everything about them. Besides, while I worry about what they might think or possibly say (remember; they haven't said it, at least not to me), I fill the space with my own judgments. I'm ashamed to say it, but to be honest, there's nothing that anyone could say to me that I haven't already said to myself. More likely, their judgments or comments couldn't even hold a candle next to the vitriol I can spew at myself.
The best part is when I (try, at least, to) hide this all, covering up the bruises on my spirit. Like a battered woman wearing a long-sleeved shirt, or makeup to hide the marks, I smile, I laugh and I make others do the same, so no one knows I'm suffering inside. And so I suffer more, because no one can see the pain I'm covering up. No one can support me, because there's no space for it, no visible scars, superficially. Deep down, though, I have it that I have to make up for a litany of sins, most of which are just related to my being, well, me.
Today, I saw the photo above, part of an effective photo campaign raising awareness of the impacts of verbal abuse. The concept struck a chord with me, as have other similar campaigns, because I remember as a child, the sting of words on my heart, the imprint like a letterpress into my understanding of myself, from people who weren't able at the time to deal with their stuff in a better way. Kind of like what I'm doing now, I'm ashamed to say. Now I do it to myself. It's insidious and it's not okay.
And it hurts everyone, regardless of your age.
I've been hiding that I have fears about my coaching practice. No matter how many established, inspiring and successful professionals I speak to who empathize and relate their own memories of the fears and struggles of building a brand-new practice, I get afraid. When a person reaches out to me and then doesn't show up, I get disappointed. It makes me sad. I care. I want to help people who want to create a life they love. It hurts a little. When people avoid talking to me or responding to communications, or suddenly get too busy to schedule a lunch or coffee date, it's hard to not take it personally. I know it's not about me, but I'm human, too. So, of course I get disappointed. Sometimes, if I decide to make it about me and take it personally, I can feel pretty low about myself.
People get confronted by their fears all the time, just like I do. The closer they get to creating, speaking or — hell — even thinking about possibility, their survival mechanisms kick in and tell them to run away and hide. The greater the possibility, the louder the voices get. Our fears can sound very reasonable. As a coach, I'm the person inviting them to shine the light on their possibilities and dreams, which can uncover fears and kick up survival mechanisms.
I know this. As a coach, I see people confronted by their fears all the time. As a human, I get confronted by my own. I know that fear isn't the truth and I know that another person's fear is about them, not me. I pretend it doesn't bother me and I avoid dealing with it or getting supported. What happens though, is that other people's stuff can eventually find the chinks in my armour.
While I'm busy pretending that nothing hurts me, the pressure can mount. When just one more person expresses judgment or doubt about my career, for example, the comments join forces with the voices that whisper the sour nothings in my ear, in my heart. Someone else's confusion or doubt finds a happy home and welcome embrace in my own fears and I buckle under the pressure.
Being a coach doesn't mean I'm above being human. It doesn't mean I'm without fear, sorrow or any of the other less-popular emotions. I get to have them, too. That's how I can relate. My job isn't to not have them, but to own all of them and trust that all of it will come and go, the light and the dark, and that the presence or absence of the light parts of me is my choice.
This has been a long post. If you stuck it out, thank you. Writing this has helped me get out of my head and into my heart. I hope there are pieces to make you think.
Keep on shining the light. Don't forget to shine it in the dark places, too. It's the only way to keep the things that you won't own from owning you.
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