I’ve been thinking about what I want to do with my life. Sounds grandiose but it’s not really. It’s more about how I want to play out my work life. The impact I want to have on people. Not a new path for my mind to take and one that has produced tremendous amounts of angst.
Make lists, pros and cons, mind map…yeah, done that. Different ways to search for the ideal solution. In the midst of the tornado swirl in my mind, a simple thought came to me the other day. As I wrestled to determine what I really feel, behind the scenes, I was wading past what I believed were other people’s expectations. Truths that weren’t mine, but that I’d made my own, or which I thought had to be my own.
As I thought more about it, I began to notice that there was another feeling coming up. It would flit in and out, not long enough to really grab hold of.
And it started to creep into other areas of my life. My voice, more specifically using my voice. Feeling I could speak my own thoughts, opinions, freely without retribution. That when I spoke, what I had to say would be respected, even if not agreed with. I realized that I sometimes refrain from using my voice when I believe it’s contrary to the opinion of those around me. I chose silence over my truth.
I had a chance to spend a long time meditating today, just letting thoughts float by. That’s when it hit me.
Underneath my career angst/ inability to chart a path forward and choosing silence about my true thoughts was shame. And here’s how I knew. It wasn’t so much that I was afraid of feeling guilty, of thinking that by saying or doing something I do the wrong thing. It’s that by what I did or said it would show I was a bad person. Not worthy, not enough, small.
And that’s not the truth.
Say, for example, I choose tomorrow to start a second phase in my work life. One where I coach full time and spend a great deal of time writing. Sounds glorious. However, I like my current role, and am quite connected to the people I work with. It’s a supporting environment where I have developed fulfilling relationships with the team. But if I chose to leave and recreate my work life, it would be just that. A decision. The work choices I may are not that black and white but whatever I do or don’t do, it’s a decision. And with a decision would come consequences. But the decision in and of itself doesn’t have the power to create shame.
I create shame, we create shame. Letting what I think other people believe about a decision, an opinion, a truth of mine hold me in a tight net of fear. Fear prompted by a desire to avoid shame. Brene Brown calls perfectionism a desire to avoid shame, blame or judgement. Fear of speaking or living your truth because of what others might think, of the judgement, the blame, the shame you might feel, it’s not healthy. It’s a form of perfectionism – not the good kind.
Thinking about the analysis paralysis some of us feel at times as a mechanism to avoid shame proved incredibly insightful for me. Fear of vulnerability? Maybe it’s avoidance of shame – that story in your head that you are a bad person. Indecision, not moving life forward? Same. I believe I’ve unconsciously held myself on a steady, safe path to avoid the potential shame I might feel if I lived authentically. If I’d made decisions that might take me on a path I wanted but then questioned my choice. Or a path that others might disapprove of. But if they did, or if my path wasn’t what I thought, so what? Honestly, so what?
That’s where grace comes in. Grace instead of shame. Authenticity and self-compassion.
I believe with all my heart that I am not the only one who experiences these feelings. The fear of feeling shame and the resulting reluctance to live an authentic life. What I know is that if we can get to the root and realize where the feelings come from, we can call them out, whether they are shame or something else. Lay them down and know that taking risks is brave. We can all use to be brave more often. That’s my truth – and I plan to speak and live it boldly.