The other evening I happened to see the seventy-seven year old Gloria Steinem being interviewed on the Charlie Rose show.
Whether you call yourself a feminist or not, most everyone agrees that this American feminist icon, journalist, women’s rights advocate, and founder of the first national women’s magazine run by women, is a person who has led a breathtaking life; one overflowing with accomplishments.
So when Charlie Rose asked Ms. Steinem if she had any regrets about her life, my ears perked up, especially when she said, “Yes” and gave this provocative answer.
“I have regrets…I kept on doing the same thing I already knew how to do, instead of trying to do something new. There’s a great motto for growth (that says) follow your Fear…”
And she regrets that she didn’t follow her fear enough, choosing instead, to take on roles and work that felt comfortable. She went on to elaborate, “I think because I felt so invisible as a child…and to make myself visible, I needed to be useful. So I did that too much.”
These quiet words of reflection by such an out-spoken advocate of women struck a chord in me. Why? Because interestingly enough, Steinem’s regrets were not about any of her controversial, bold actions that catapulted her into history. Instead, her wistful regrets were about things she never tried, new frontiers that she hadn’t pursued.
“ …follow your Fear…”
Pursuing fear? Yikes. It’s a jolting idea for someone like myself, who relishes the comfort of sameness. Yes. I do know myself well enough to understand that so much of my need to control is about preventing those pesky little surprises, those abrupt shifts in my world that happen without warning. So this idea of actively pursuing scary, new, nerve-racking situations has not been my cup of tea.
Only wait a minute, I’m actually right here, joyfully pounding out these words at my computer because I took such a risk.
It happened when I said “yes” to an opportunity that initially made me uncomfortable. It was a simple job on a Loyola Guild board that required me to try new things; duties that involved searching for prayers, getting personal about God, and sharing my writing at a very intimidating conference table each month. And the result? I ended up with some simple reflections that evolved into the God and Coffee concept, which later transformed into my Gwen Moss blog, a totally mind-boggling idea just months ago.
All this, because I followed my fear, and instead of saying, “that’s not me, I couldn’t do that,” I took a deep breath, ignored my nagging self doubts, and said, “Why not?”
And what about you? As you sit and read these words, answer this question.
Photo: Google Images
When was the last time you said, “Yes” to something you fear?
It seems that Gloria Steinem is making a distinction. It’s one thing to say “yes” to a job that’s a rehashed role of things you’ve done before, but it’s an utterly different experience to walk into a situation where you feel vulnerable and unsteady; simply because you’re no longer an “expert” at something. In fact, those butterflies in your stomach come from a real, live and throbbing possibility of failing; of leaving your comfort zone and saying “Yes” to something that you may not even KNOW you can do.
Photo: Google Images
How to avoid having regrets…
1. Take an inventory right now
Today, when you’re busy going through the details of your day, pay attention to how much of your life is a comfortable repetition of what you already know. Are there times when you feel like you’re simply “going through the motions?” Are you feeling bored with your daily routine? Gloria Steinem suggested that her painful childhood experience of being invisible led her to seek out repetitive experiences where she could feel recognized and productive. Do you know how your childhood role may affect your decisions as an adult?
You may have pent up ambitions that you’re ignoring. Real desires for something new brewing beneath the surface. The fact is, it’s OK to want more. Even if the kids are still little, or you don’t know exactly what kind of challenge you may be ready for, taking an inventory means putting these honest feelings into words. And knowing yourself. (You can read more about this HERE)
2. Stop saying this: “Oh that’s not me, I couldn’t do that”
How about this statement? Where does this feeling of self doubt come from? You need to look deep within, if these are your common thoughts. Because the biggest obstacle to trying new things may be YOU. Or more specifically, the kinds of messages you tell yourself. The truth is, you may be the biggest cheerleader for your children and friends yet secretly put yourself down. And just because you never say your negative self doubts out loud, doesn’t mean that they lose their power over you. Look around. What happens when you see a woman that you admire for her accomplishments, do you put yourself on a lower rung, automatically assuming that she’s more capable, or smarter than you? In fact, even the words that you use can be a window into your self image. For example, if you often find yourself “looking up” to others, the visual image is one of you being beneath someone. And be aware of the people in your life who may reinforce your self- doubts. You might have to build a wider support net for your healthy self image to grow.
3. Uncomfortable feelings? Bring them on!
OK. I admit this sounds out crazy. But this is because most of us operate under the assumption that emotional discomfort should be avoided at all costs. But here’s the ultimate truth. Growth is both scary and exciting; yes, you can feel both things at once. It’s uncomfortable to try new things. It’s stressful when we’re pursuing exciting opportunities that will help us grow as women. But those tension headaches or jittery feelings can be managed so that they don’t stop us from moving forward. Begin by answering this BIG question, “What are my fears really about?” Find someone who is a great listener, and who won’t try to shut you down with positive jargon. And explore these fears. Getting through uncomfortable feelings happens quicker when you allow yourself to make sense of them, and to actually FEEL them.
And the next time someone suggests a bold exciting idea that intrigues you, catch yourself. Instead of that
Try thinking this: “My nervous feelings are a great reminder that I’m alive. And today, anything is possible for me.”
Even a well-timed “Yes,” to something scary.