I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume you’ve had an experience like this: you’ve compared yourself to someone else – or to whole groups of people – and found yourself lacking. Your preferences, perspectives or passions didn’t remotely resemble theirs, and you concluded there must be something wrong with you. You may even have decided to make a concerted effort to ignore your own impulses and, instead, try to cultivate theirs.
And if you did, I’m guessing it didn’t work particularly well.
It didn’t work well for me when I kept trying to emulate the goals and behaviors of countless people in the corporate world. They seemed so focused, so together, so successful. They knew what they wanted and they went after it with time-tested strategies and strenuous commitment. They “made it happen” – transfers to jobs that were considered to be essential to their career development, appointments to high-visibility project teams, alignments with powerful mentors, promotions, bonuses and, yes, corner offices with windows and spectacular views.
Who wouldn’t want that? Who wouldn’t be willing to work hard to achieve and experience those things?
Hmmm…that would be me.
I can admit that now, freely and easily. Back then, though, I thought there was something wrong with me for not wanting to do the things everyone said had to be done in order to climb the ladder of success – and, as I got closer to the top of it, not even wanting what I was aiming for.
I thought I was lazy. I thought I wasn’t focused enough. I thought I was socially inept. I thought I was overly sensitive.
But I was really an introvert who wanted to write and teach, not a business woman who wanted to climb the corporate ladder as fast as she could go.
If only I had stumbled upon this quote from Albert Einstein a decade or two before I did:
Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.
In my case no one else was judging me, but I was judging myself. I judged myself as stupid for not being able to climb that tree. Yet what is often true about aspects of ourselves we view as deficient is that those perceived flaws are actually sparkling strengths – our very own genius.
Or perhaps even more essentially, our very own path. Our way of being in this world.
I’m not talking here only about recognizing your true career path. I’m talking about being willing to suspend judgment of what you think of as your personal deficiencies and then taking the bold step of challenging yourself to see them as facets of your unique brilliance.
Let me share with you the story of Heather, the name I’ve given to a composite of clients with whom I’ve worked over the years who were in similar situations and had similar inclinations about how to respond in those situations. They also had similar self-judgments.
Heather has a demanding job in a fast-paced work environment. One of her colleagues is relentlessly negative and critical of everyone and everything. She’s particularly incensed that her boss doesn’t seem to recognize her true talents. Being around this person, whom I’ll call Sheila, is exhausting. Heather knows she should say something to Sheila, but she hates confrontation and resorts to trying to avoid Sheila as much as possible.
But even on days when that appears to be “working” – meaning she has little or no interaction with Sheila – she’s still on edge, staying on the lookout for possible “Sheila incursions” and hoping she can come up with creative ways to avoid them. In our conversations she berates herself for being a wimp. She thinks she needs to stop avoiding Sheila and confront her – but of course that’s the last thing she actually wants to do.
I challenge Heather to see her avoidance of confrontation not as a flaw, but as a possible indicator of one of her strengths: she doesn’t want to create or escalate conflict. She wants to be a promoter of peace, not discord. As Heather lets that turned-around perspective sink in, she softens toward herself. She becomes willing to explore how she can call on her strength in this situation.
We talk about the distinction between confrontation and communication. Heather is actually a gifted communicator, particularly through her writing. So I ask her to write down what she would like to communicate to Sheila, and to keep tinkering with it until she can feel that the communication is honest, clear and respectful.
The more time she spends exploring what she wants to say and how she wants to say it, the more comfortable and confident she becomes. I encourage her to keep editing what she’s written to be as simple and direct as possible, so it doesn’t turn into an elaborate script. I encourage her to keep checking it against her intention to promote peace rather than discord.
The objective of this exercise isn’t to compose the specific words she will actually say to Sheila (although she may draw on those words), but to anchor within herself the essential elements of her message that align with who she really is.
When it feels complete, I ask her to turn it over to the Divine (or Source, God, the Universe – whatever her term is for a higher, loving intelligence). She asks to be shown the right time to say something to Sheila, and to be given the right words in that moment.
Fast-forward a week. Heather is in her office when Sheila barges in with an air of righteous indignation, plops down on the chair in front of Heather’s desk and proceeds to tell Heather about an assignment her boss just gave her that she thinks is an insult to her skill and experience.
Heather feels herself getting anxious and slowly takes a few deep breaths. Although her heart is still pounding, she says quietly to Sheila, “I know how it feels to think that somebody doesn’t understand my real talents. At some point I realized it was my job to understand and value them, and then find opportunities to use them – whether that’s here or somewhere else.”
Sheila immediately begins to argue with Heather about how her situation is different. Heather responds by saying firmly, “I really can’t help you with this, and I need to get back to work now.”
Sheila stands up, still with that air of righteous indignation, and walks out. As the days and weeks progress, she interrupts Heather less and less. And Heather stops worrying about her next interaction with Sheila, trusting that she can say what she needs to say in a peaceful way.
Heather was on her growth edge with Sheila. She didn’t need to force herself to become confrontational in the stereotypically aggressive way, but she did need to learn to speak her truth with honesty, clarity and peace. She saw that by suspending judgment of her avoidance of confrontation, she could recognize its inner treasure – her desire for peace – while growing to a new level of mature, effective communication.
Here’s another version of the Heather story. (And remember, these are based on the real experiences of real people.) In this one Heather judges herself for being too “woo-woo” for the corporate world. So once again I ask her to view her seeming flaw – her “woo-woo-ness” – as a facet of her unique brilliance.
It’s abundantly clear to me that what Heather calls being woo-woo is, in actuality, a beautifully refined and heart-centered level of spiritual consciousness within her. But she is still ambivalent about how that fits with her identity as a career woman, and so she diminishes it.
I ask how her insights into spiritual consciousness might help her with the Sheila situation. We talk about prayer. We talk about non-judgment. We talk about letting go. We talk about her belief that everyone – including Sheila – has a divinely wise and loving Self, even if they aren’t fully aware of it on a day-to-day basis.
As we talk Heather becomes clear that what she wants to do is, first, get quiet and deeply acknowledge her intention to be a promoter of peace. She will communicate lovingly with Sheila internally – Wise Self to Wise Self – and then turn the whole thing over to God for resolution.
And so she does.
About a month later, Sheila resigns from her job. She found one that is a better match for her skills and experience and is happy to move on. Heather and I give thanks to the Divine for orchestrating such an elegant outcome.
And I remind Heather to offer acknowledgment and appreciation to herself for so wisely calling on one of her key strengths in helping to create it. Rather than being “too woo-woo” for the corporate world, she is just the right kind of “woo-woo” to help her navigate that world with Grace.
What about you? Might you be comparing yourself unfavorably to others, thinking there is something wrong with you, when in fact the very thing you are judging is a key to your next level of fulfillment? Go ahead, say it out loud or write it down: “I think I’m too _____________.”
Ask, “What is the hidden treasure in this?” Here are a few possibilities to expand your perspective:
“Lazy” might really be…wisdom about the need for ample rest and replenishment.
“Unfocused” might really be…your Wise Self calling you to stop trying to focus on what you think you should do and, instead, go deeply within for guidance.
“Scattered” might really be…evidence of a creative mind that easily thinks outside the box.
“Indecisive” might really be…the ability to see all sides of a situation, which helps prevent reactive choices that aren’t in your best interest.
“Sensitive” might really be…intuitive, compassionate or empathetic.
“Stubborn” might really be…courageous in persistently honoring your values.
“Weak” might really be…gentle and wise.
Of course, even with your strengths, you are still called to grow. Being indecisive, for example, can be paralyzing. But if you recognize the gem within it – being able to see the likely implications of choosing each option – you can focus your exploration on sorting out which of those implications are most important to you.
You might also commit to developing your intuition in helping you make choices.
Are you getting the idea? Give it a try by daring to look for the hidden gems in your so-called flaws. What is their true essence? Ask yourself, “In its purest form, what is the highest expression of this attribute?” Keep exploring until you recognize the truth of this higher quality within you.
Then call on that quality to help you grow into new levels of skill and fulfillment, as Heather did. Consider how it might help you navigate through a challenge or point you in a whole new direction. Make the bold assumption that you are talented, you are growing and you deserve to be fulfilled – and that your perceived flaws are actually pointing to hidden treasure within you.
Because when you make that assumption, you forge a relationship with yourself that is loving and empowering. And when you feel loved and empowered, you are unstoppable.
What do you think? I welcome your comments!