I attended a writer’s weekend in LA several years ago, and for the first time, I read aloud a small portion of the book I was writing. To say I was nervous reading my writing would be an understatement. I trembled in fear. I had given speeches and talks on my story several times, and I was very comfortable in that medium, but at that moment, reading my innermost thoughts out loud intimidated me.
As I stood at the front of the room and read a few paragraphs aloud, I opened myself up to vulnerability. I described my darkest moments of being curled up in a ball in the foetal position suffering from overwhelming panic attacks, and how I thought I was well and truly losing my mind. As I read my paragraphs out loud, my mind raced with thoughts of Oh my God, you are putting yourself out there. You are going to be judged. People are going to think you are weak. And at the same time that these thoughts raced through my mind, I marvelled at the fact that I could read whole paragraphs while not focusing on anything that I was saying. It was quite a remarkable feeling. Somehow, I was able to get through my reading, and as I sat down, I felt a wave of relief that it was over.
Fast forward to a couple of hours later whereby a few of the attendees asked me if I wanted to join them for lunch, to which I agreed. As I sat in the sunshine speaking with my fellow writers, several of them asked me to elaborate on my panic attacks, my recovery, and what had caused them. I opened up completely about my history. It was a pretty raw, authentic conversation, and on hearing my tale, a few of my luncheon companions shared with me their own gritty, emotional stories. My companions mentioned that my narrative was inspirational and relatable and that sharing my story gave them the courage to tell their own story. Their words truly made my heart sing – for that was the purpose of sharing my story - to inspire individuals who are suffering. To give them comfort in knowing that they are not alone.
I was marvelling in the warmth of knowing I was doing the right thing by sharing my story when I was crudely smacked back down to earth.
“Well, I don’t think the corporate world is evil. I have nothing but good experiences with working at XYZ company” …. “I don’t see what your big deal is” cut the words of a woman sitting across from me.
I was stunned stupid.
I had no words.
I had just described to the group how the panic attacks had scared me to such a degree that I developed a fear of fear itself, so much so that I became a social recluse for fear of a panic attack occurring in public, in front of people. And all that this lady got from the description of my anxiety and depression was the need to tell me that she did not think the corporate world was evil and that she did not know what the big deal was. I had not mentioned the word evil, nor disparaged any corporations or leaders, and so I was doubly confused about where her judgement had come from.
My luncheon acquaintances immediately jumped to my defence, saying encouraging words of support, but I remained silent. My mind whirled the rest of the afternoon and during the following days as I struggled to grasp her judgment. I began worrying that I was making a mistake sharing my story and doubts began circling my mind telling me that it wasn’t such a good idea to be so forthcoming about my innermost fears and flaws.
As luck would have it, there was a blessing in disguise that mandated that I snap out of my self-doubt. I was booked to give a speech to several hundred women on my story two weeks after my encounter with the lady that had tried to invalidate me. And, because I had to focus and prepare my speech, I was ultimately able to find my voice again and remember why I tell my story.
This experience helped me to recognise that my story is not going to appeal to everyone, and that’s okay. Second of all, the encounter forced me to look inward to sanity check if I had ever invalidated someone’s story either consciously or unconsciously. In all likelihood, I probably have, and for that, I am sincerely regretful.
Key questions to ask yourself:
For me, it was the belief that I was not deserving of success.
But it took me a while to figure out that this is what was actually holding me back.
Close to thirteen years ago, I was in Italy on a business trip with one of my former corporate clients with whom I had a great relationship. We got along exceptionally well not only on a professional basis but also on a personal level, and I recall that one evening as we were driving from the office in Belluno to Venice for the following days meeting, we began discussing life in general.
As we opened up about our various experiences in life, I remember saying to her that I felt that something bad was going to happen to me. She asked me what I was talking about, and I responded that I was due to get married to my long term boyfriend, we were buying a beautiful apartment in West London and that we had just gotten two kittens, and that although I should feel happy, I felt worried. I felt that after years of paying off student loans and climbing the corporate ladder that life was finally coming together, and now that it was coming together the rug would be pulled out from under me and I would lose it all.
Not long after that, I came home from another business trip and asked my then-boyfriend, and now husband Ben, if he had ever felt like something bad was going to happen to him. He looked at me confused and replied no and asked me to elaborate. I told him that life felt like it was going too well, and I couldn’t enjoy feeling content because I felt like “external factors” would come into play and take it all away from me. He looked at me incredulously and responded that neither of us were born with a silver spoon in our mouths, we had worked hard and therefore we deserved everything that we had worked for.
DESERVED being the operative word.
I realised that up until that point, I did not think that I deserved success. All the while that I was struggling to pay off student loans and save up money for the deposit on our apartment, I felt normal and okay - because I associated the feeling of struggle with being normal. Being successful was a new feeling for me, and so I struggled to believe that I deserved success. Hence my fear that I was going to lose it all.
Recognising that I am worthy and deserving of success was a significant barrier for me to overcome. Primarily because I used to compare and contrast society problems to my own life and as a result I would feel guilty for my own success. Guilt from my Catholic school days circulated continuously in my mind… there are starving children in Africa… there are homeless people…there are so many disadvantaged people.How come I get to be so lucky?
Ultimately after a great deal of work on myself, I came to realise that I was not enlightening myself or anyone else by feeling guilty and refusing to enjoy my successes. In fact, if anything, I could use my experience and success to help others.
I am telling you this story because the deep unconscious beliefs which we have about ourselves and our self-worth are the missing pieces that hold us back from pursuing our dreams. We need to take the time to understand what these unconscious beliefs are so that we can create a path forward.
So, I return to my original question, what is the most significant barrier that stops you from pursuing your dreams?
I have given many keynote speeches over the years, and invariably one of the most common questions I have been asked afterwards is:
What would you tell your younger self?
This is such a great question and given the forum that I am usually in, I typically don’t have time to provide a comprehensive answer. My usual response is “Don’t worry so much”.
If I had time to address the question further, I would respond with the following:
The grades you get in school do not determine your worth. Do not place your worth on a grading system that compares your intelligence against someone else’s. Everyone learns in different ways, and that is okay. (Ironically I was a D student in Mathematics throughout elementary and high school, yet I spent much of my previous career working with numbers and Profit & Loss analysis – turns out I wasn’t bad at mathematics after all).
Don’t spend your time worrying about things and ‘predicting’ future problems. I used to be a professional worrier and was very good at forecasting future issues – the vast majority of which never occurred.
“I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened. Worrying is like paying a debt you don’t owe. I have spent most of my life worrying about things that have never happened. Drag your thoughts away from your troubles... by the ears, by the heels, or any other way you can manage it
Don’t judge and formulate fixed opinions. Be open to other viewpoints. You don’t have to be right. As is typical with the young, I tended to read and become passionate about various causes and world events and held firm on the need to be right. I’ve since learned none of this matters. At the end of the day, everyone wants to be loved, valued, validated and respected. And giving love, value, validation and respect is far more important than being ‘right’.
All the challenges and problems you face will help you to grow and become a stronger and better person. You won’t believe it at the time, but in hindsight, you will realise that these experiences were for your evolution and growth.
Love your body!! I just came across a photo of myself on the beach in a bikini taken roughly 20 years ago. Why was I so worried about my body back then? Gravity was kind back then – everything was where it was supposed to be!
Enjoy your natural hair colour – you are going to spend a small fortune in the future, getting it back to what it used to look like and covering the grey.
Take good care of your health and wellbeing — practice daily self-care. You cannot serve from an empty cup – if you don’t love yourself and take care of yourself, you cannot love and take care of others.
Do not equate your net worth with your self-worth. The amount of money you make does not determine how worthy you are. Society teaches that the more money you make, the ‘better’ and more ‘powerful’ you are. This is nonsense. No amount of money takes away the low lying feeling of doing something you do not want to do. Regardless of how much money you make, if you are not happy, it is not worth it. Money does not validate your worth.
Finally, in all those moments of self-doubt and worry – go inwards. Get quiet, meditate, tune out the noise, and the answers will come. Do not seek external validation and answers. The answers are not there. They are within.
These are a few things I would tell my younger self – how about you, what would you tell your younger self?
Share with me; I would love to know.
Okay, so it’s day 27 of my new year’s resolution to quit refined sugar, and I am jonesing for a chocolate chip cookie. Specifically, a chocolate chip cookie made with milk chocolate. I am feeling cranky and questioning why I should have to give up my favourite chocolate chip cookies. I mean I’ve gone this long; I deserve a cookie, right?
Despite the crankiness and desperation for a cookie, I know that I shouldn’t give up on my goal. I know that I am feeling cranky and faltering in my will to quit refined sugar because I am in the disarrayed middle of habit formation.
According to research at University College London, it takes the average person 66 days to form a habit (the popularly quoted ‘21 days’ to form a habit is a myth). That said, the length of time it takes to form a habit can vary depending on the person and their behaviours as well as circumstances.
During the first 22 days of habit formation, old patterns of the mind are broken down by overcoming old ways of thinking and being. This usually is when ‘Cognitive Distortions’ come up. Cognitive Distortions are ways our mind convinces us of something that isn’t true. For example:
During the 2nd 22 days is when we are no longer in our comfort zone. New habits are beginning to form, Cortisol, the stress hormone becomes elevated, and we feel like giving up. In dramatic terms, the old you must ‘die’ to become reborn.
During the 3rd 22 days is when the habit becomes an automated routine whereby willpower is no longer needed, and the habit becomes a lifestyle rather than a goal to be reached.
So, I am on day 27 and my mind wants to flip flop on my goal, yet my will is telling me to push through. Research suggests that missing a day during habit formation does not affect the habit formation process, however for me personally that is a slippery slope. If I give in to just one cookie on one day, then it won’t take long to let my goal of quitting refined sugar go down the pan.
Roll on May 6 when day 66 rolls around.
Coaching Pro Tip: If you have a goal that you wish to make a habit, then write out 1-66 on a calendar and tick off each day that you have achieved your goal. The visual guilt of putting an X in the box if you don’t pursue your goal on a particular day may help you to push forward during the confusing middle part of habit formation.
last week I taught a workshop on fostering emotional intelligence, focussing specifically on the importance of being aware of our emotions as well as allowing ourselves to express our feelings in a healthy manner. When it came to discussing how to express our emotions, the workshop attendees brought up many questions and concerns which include variations of the following:
How do you tell someone you aren’t happy that they keep cancelling plans with you?
How do you tell someone that you don’t like their behaviour towards you?
How do you tell someone you don’t like how they speak to you?
When I asked what was preventing individuals from speaking up and honouring their feelings, I received the all too common responses:
These responses are all too familiar because I have been there. I have been the people pleaser that avoids conflict. I have been the person that invalidates my own feelings in favour of the needs of others. And I can tell you; it is not healthy. It will lead to resentment, damaged relationships and sometimes burnout.
So, in answer to the above questions, this is what I suggested as responses:
Can you help me understand why you keep cancelling plans with me? Is there something going on in your personal life that I need to be mindful of?
I don’t appreciate you treating me this way. Can you share with me why you feel it is acceptable to do so?
I don’t appreciate how you are speaking to me. Please can I request that we have a kind, open, and constructive dialogue instead?
Responding in the above way does not ‘attack’ the other person, nor is it likely to induce an egoic, defensive response, but instead is a way of honouring and communicating your feelings and boundaries in a constructive manner that will be conducive to an open and honest conversation.
It is uncomfortable setting and communicating our boundaries, particularly if we are not used to doing so. However, it is imperative to do so if we want to build a fulfilling and happy life.
If we do not set boundaries or if we regularly breach them, we become a victim to other people and situations, and this can lead us to feel a lack of respect for ourselves. It can also make us feel as though our needs and desires are being invalidated.
By setting boundaries, realise that:
To take your power back, you need to define your boundaries by:
I hope this was helpful, as always, it you have any questions or need any help, please do not hesitate to contact me.