It’s been a weird year for me.
For the most part, I think it’s healthy. Very growth-oriented.
The truth is, I’ve had my ass handed to me on several fronts in very painful ways. Business, professional associations, friendships, relationships, even my health and wellness.
I think they call these “growth opportunities” but I can tell you that in playground parlance, we call that getting your dick knocked in the dirt. (Nevermind that I don’t have one. We’re being metaphorical here.)
The other night on Twitter, I asked folks what their biggest lessons were from the last six months.
I got some amazing answers, some funny, some sad, but many of them had a central theme to them. That our lives are what we make of them, and we have to own not just our mistakes but our success and our selves.
A few people asked me what my lesson was in all of this. I had to actually think about it for a bit, but now that I have it, I’ll share it with you.
I have to learn to trust myself.
That means a few different things, so I’ll explain.
The first part of it is pretty self-explanatory: I need to listen to my intuition more than I’ve ever done. Because it’s there, sometimes whispering and sometimes slamming a 2×4 repeatedly in the back of my head. But I am astoundingly good at ignoring it.
Why? Because I haven’t learned to trust myself. To trust that my intuition could possibly know what it’s talking about.
I have fundamentally believed, for a long time, that I am flawed.
Not just that I have parts of me that I wish were a little different. Not just that I have habits I wish I could break, or tendencies I wish I didn’t have.
I mean I have really and truly believed that as a human being, I was undesirable and unworthy enough that even my own thoughts weren’t worth listening to.
There’s a lot of dichotomy here, because I spend my living doling out professional advice to people, whether it’s on stage speaking or in the board room consulting. People pay me a lot of money to tell them what to do with their businesses. And most of the time, I’m right, and they find success with what I tell them.
But deep down, that pesky impostor syndrome is always waiting to remind me that it’s just a matter of time before someone finds out what a hack I am.
Compared to my professional self, however, my personal self has been an utter hot mess.
I don’t trust that I’m attractive, physically, because I’m not tall and thin. I still have a problem with this. I probably always will, to a degree, even as I do CrossFit and change my eating habits and learn new approaches to overall wellness.
I don’t trust that I’m a decent parent, and am convinced that my daughter will need twice as much therapy as I ever have.
I don’t trust that I’m worthy of love or affection, because I believe that my highly-emotional, heart-driven self is not something that other people do or should want in a friend or romantic partner.
Which means I’ve spent a lot of years – a lot of them – learning to be a chameleon. To adapt my “self” to be a reflection of what I thought other people needed or wanted me to be.
You know what that spelled?
Because I succeeded in neither being true to myself nor being very good at being someone else. The result was kind of this shell of a person that stuffed down real emotions but exploded with irrational upset when those got to be too much to internalize. Friendships that were unfulfilling, intimidating, or invasive. Relationships in which I denied what I really needed in favor of trying to be more desirable.
Somehow, along the path of life and for many, many complicated reasons, I learned that my natural tendency to be emotional, raw, vulnerable and to share those emotions with others meant that I wasn’t “mature”. Because let’s face it, we’re taught to “control” our emotions more so than we are taught to sink into them, to feel them and try to understand them, to work with them instead of against them.
So I figured emotion and feeling were bad.
Which meant that one of two things happened: I either withdrew in the face of it, hiding from what I felt, or I overflowed with pent-up feelings and let them pour out, over, and at anyone who got in my way.
That’s what happens when you don’t deal with your personal reality.
I’m not saying that someone should be like me any more than I want them to tell me I should be otherwise. In fact, that’s exactly the point.
My first discovery in all this big introspection is that I am not sorry for being the person that cries when she’s happy, sad, frustrated, overwhelmed, joyful. I enjoy sharing my personal thoughts like this because it makes them real to me. I can own them this way. Let other people know they aren’t alone. Know that I’m not alone (yes, validation is a very human need, and that’s okay sometimes).
I’m a heart-driven person. And my heart has a lot of healing to do, because I have mistreated it and been unfaithful to it for a very long time. Decades, pretty much.
The second part of my lesson is that I don’t even really know who I am.
Because I’ve spent so long trying to be what I believed would make me lovable or interesting or attractive or successful, I have utterly lost track of who Amber really is. Truly. Without filters. The good, the bad, the ugly.
And you can’t really stand tall in your own truth until you understand and know what you’re standing for.
So that’s pretty much my personal goal this year. To discover what I think. What I believe. Who I am, who I want to be, what makes me tick. What inspires me, what scares me, what I won’t compromise and what truly doesn’t matter to me. What I love. What I don’t. And why.
I’m kind of fascinated to find out the answers, really, because I’m not sure I’ve ever explored them. Not really. Maybe I’ve been afraid to? Maybe it was easier to take the plot lines from other people’s lives?
Not sure. Doesn’t really matter.
It’s a pretty sobering thing, really, to realize that you aren’t sure who you are at 38. And I’m pretty sure that finding the answers is a lifelong quest.
But you have to commit to asking the questions and exploring (and yes, I literally have a list of questions). Thinking. Without judgment, but with grace for yourself. Without characterizing yourself as too this or not enough that, but simply helping yourself understand what lives in your heart and brain.
So. Learning to trust myself means understanding the “myself” part before I can learn to trust it.
No time like the present, right?
If you’ll pardon me, I have some inquiring to do.