How we’re all looking in the wrong place to find our best selves, and the security and freedom we seek.
I remember when I was first given a significant piece of developmental feedback. It was about my impact on others. I was horrified. I couldn’t believe that me, the one who I saw as friendly, helpful, caring, good at relationships could make someone feel bad. I felt shame. Humiliation. Definitely not good enough.
And so began a journey of personal development. A 10 year quest to be the best me I could be. Something to work hard at, get better at — this “work hard at and get better at” was a skill I’d spent my life to that point practicing in a quest to “get there” so I was sure to be able to apply these skills to “me”.
It seemed to help — a journey of leadership development programmes through work, having children, beginning my coach development, my own business — they all seemed to help me get better at managing my “self” and therefore at managing my interactions and engagement with other “selves”.
One of those development programmes helped me see that my actions which led to that person feeling that way back then, were coming from a place of my “return from mat leave insecurity”. I was so scared about being pushed out and getting the raw deal that I had gone into overdrive of protecting my “self” and my baby from the danger. With the help of this development I saw that I was making it mean I wasn’t good enough and, with a fresher perspective, gathered some evidence that this wasn’t true.
And so the development journey continued, with, in hindsight, the thing always making the difference being insights and realisations that how I was seeing something wasn’t the only way to see it.
Except, always at the back of my mind was a lurking fear — what if I mess up again, what if I’m really still not good enough, what if that part of me that caused that upset all those years ago had the potential to come out again?
Driving me on to keep learning, keep improving, keep developing, keep striving to be the best “me”. Keep working to hide and deny that awful part of me that I didn’t want to surface again. Unknown at the time, a lot of energy was going into this “self” management!
And then it happened again and I said something stupid, I upset someone, friendships went and I went into a spin. Argh! It’s that “me” again! That awful “me” is still there. I’m a horrible friend.
And so I engaged in therapeutic coaching, I started yoga, had acupuncture. It helped. For a time.
But still again. A relationship that led to upset, this time each of us apparently and inadvertently hurting, upsetting or causing problems for the other.
And so I began meditation. It helped. I was calmer and kinder to myself and this automatically showed up with those around me who I’d been judging or feeling frustrated by.
All of it steps on the journey, and then I found something new. An understanding that I was ready to hear and that made complete sense. Something which has removed my need to meditate, or yoga (although I still do because I enjoy it), or work hard at hiding that awful part of me.
I found there was no “me”.
Not the “me” I’ve been working on all these years. That “me” is a collection of thoughts and beliefs. It’s a creation. A collage of bits and pieces of thought — my thoughts, my interpretations of others’ thoughts, my interpretations of society’s thoughts.
That “me” never really believed it was good enough because from early on it had been told to “work hard”, “do your best”. It sounded like this was what was needed to be acceptable, loved, included. And so it had always been seeking that security in working hard to get to “best” and avoid doing less than “best” at all costs. An unmeasurable “best” that would never be attainable and that even just 3 people would have a different perspective of what it counted as.
The world would say — but this is what we do. We work hard, we improve, we aim to be better and best. This is what gets us progress, success, appreciation. If we don’t have that, what do we have? What’s the point?
But the truth is we will always be doing. Always living. That’s what we’re designed to do. The world might count some of it as progress, or it might not. But whatever it’s counted as by the world or by us, that “counting” of it is only ever created from the same thinking that creates the idea of “me”.
When we believe the thinking, we tangle our worthiness in the progress (or not progress) believing they say something about who we are.
The thing that makes the difference is whether you’re seeking and striving for those things in the insecure belief that they will secure you. That when you get “there” you’ll be OK.
Or whether you’re following your nose out of curiosity, fun and compassion, knowing that wherever you go it will be where you’re meant to be. Knowing that if you get what is called “success” it doesn’t say anything about who you really are. It might be nice being there, and it might not. Probably much as things are here — sometimes nice, sometimes not. Progress and improvement happening without them being requirements to make you feel OK. And you discover that the less you rely on those incredibly variable, unreliable external factors and events the more secure you feel.
From this place you have freedom.
Because the truth is that the you behind the “me” is the source of security, the source of freedom, of creativity, of wellbeing, of resourcefulness, of intelligence in the moment.
It’s stable, constant, ever-present, unaffected by anything that happens to it and, when you’re connected to that real you, you won’t be acting out of insecurity, so the “me” you’re scared of showing to the world is so much less likely to show up. Why would it? There’s nothing to fear.