Clarity comes in interesting ways.
The other day I was listening to one of my favorite Life Coaches, Nancy Levin, on Hay House Radio when one of her callers said something that triggered an ah-ha moment for me. And helped me uncover a life-long pattern.
The woman was describing an unkind comment made by a dance teacher she’d had when she was young. It was a thoughtless comment that caused the caller to have doubts about herself and her body image for many years to come.
As the woman told her story I suddenly remembered an incident from my own childhood.
It was a comment made by my grade 4 teacher that ended up having a profound effect on me as well.
Except that in my case my teacher was very kind. I believe her intentions were nothing but good.
It’s just that being who I was at the time – a rather sensitive, people-pleasing kind of girl – I took her comment the wrong way. Or at least I used it the wrong way.
I used it as a weapon against myself instead of as a gentle guidance tool. The way she most likely intended it.
I remember that day back in grade 4 quite clearly. I had been outside playing in the schoolyard with my friends. As a naturally chatty and exuberant nine-year old I said something to all of them – I can’t remember what – that must have caused my teacher some concern. She took me quietly aside afterwards and said:
“When you speak Kerry, people listen. So be careful what you say.”
I’m convinced my teacher meant well at the time.
I imagine she was trying to caution me to be more thoughtful about my choice of words. How I used them. To let me know I sometimes had influence over others. And when I did to use that influence wisely.
She recognized the power of my voice. And wanted me to wield that power carefully.
The only problem was, her words stung. And they ended up silencing me.
I was already hyper-sensitive to criticism and wanted nothing more than to make my teachers proud. And of course I never wanted to hurt or mislead anyone.
So instead of empowering me, her words instilled me with fear.
Fear of my own voice.
The way it could hurt others. The way it could hurt me.
From that point forward I began to distance myself from the power of my voice.
I can’t tell you the number of times since that day where I’ve been asked to take on something much bigger than what I’d imagined for myself. A leadership role that someone saw me capable of filling. A speech someone thought I could make.
But I unfortunately did not. And so I did the exact opposite.
Instead of stepping up and speaking up, I stepped aside.
I handed the role or speech over to someone else. Always with a twinge of shame and regret.
Sometimes, depending on the situation, I would do what I call my “belly-up” response from the very get-go. I would flip myself over (metaphorically) like a dog. Showing the other person my soft underbelly. So they would instantly feel I wasn’t a threat.
I would demonstrate to them, in my own passive way, that I could be trusted. So they were free to be the alpha. And shine their own inner brilliance instead.
There were times when I used this response purposefully. Strategically even.
Like the early days of my divorce. When it served me well to let my ex-husband believe I wasn’t a threat. It was my way of protecting my son and me. It lowered the tension. And bought me time. To figure out a more peaceful way of getting my needs met.
But most times I didn’t use this tactic consciously. I simply found myself doing it by default.
Rolling over. Playing dead.
Subverting my own wants and needs for the sake of another.
Because it was easier to do it that way. Because ultimately it was safer.
But was it really?
Sure, I might tell myself at the time it was safer to play small. To silence my voice. To step down, step off or step aside. So that I wouldn’t, god forbid, hurt someone.
Or worse, get hurt myself.
It certainly took less effort. And there was far less risk.
But there were also far fewer rewards.
Over the years I started feeling like I’d blown it. Like I’d somehow missed reaching my potential. That it was simply too late for me.
I had become masterful at lifting others up. But somewhere along the way I had forgotten to lift myself up alongside of them.
By holding back my voice and dimming down my own light, I thought I was doing the right thing. The smart thing.
When in fact I wasn’t. Not at all.
As Marianne Williamson says in her famous poem:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is out light, not out darkness that most frightens us.”
I now know, after all the personal transformation work I’ve done, I was meant to shine my own light, too.
It’s what I’ve always helped others do. To see and express their own special gifts.
Now I’m finally helping myself to do the same thing.
I have dreams and aspirations still yet to reach. And the way there is through my voice. It’s time to reclaim it.
I’ve started with this blog. We’ll see where it goes from here. But I am no longer afraid to use my voice.