Thursday, January 4, 2018

Something I learned in my twenties (on changing your life)

Years ago, when I was a twenty-seven-year-old grad student I found myself completely paralyzed.
No, I’m not talking about physical paralysis. I’m talking about a mental one, I’m talking about having a burning desire to tackle something that felt incredibly challenging, even downright scary, and I couldn’t do it. Only it wasn’t exactly optional, it was something required of me at my job, a task I was completely capable of performing, and I found myself stricken by stuck-ness. 
I simply couldn’t ‘see’ myself doing it. In other words, it was my own view of myself that was holding me back.

As you enter into this new year and you begin your list of new goals or resolutions, it’s easy to become myopic, to focus your energies into defining WHAT your goals will be and the logistics of your new schedule, rather than spending more time on the WHY question.

Why am I not doing those things I say I want to do?
Because at the heart of any real, enduring changes to your life, is You, and all that invisible emotional baggage you carry around with you. After all, it will be your consistent actions and follow-through each day that determine whether your dream becomes a living, breathing reality. And this is where the insight about your own self-image, those old beliefs and feelings you have about yourself will begin to surface

What happens if you don’t feel completely ready for aspects of your new undertaking?

What if you’re walking around with an outdated image of yourself that undermines your self-confidence?

What if underneath all your excitement about your latest goal, you can’t actually see yourself  completing it?

If you’re like me, there will be times when you will need to simply ‘act-as if,"  while you persevere through those times of struggle.
In a world where only eight percent of people succeed at their New Year’s resolutions, I think this little lesson from my twenties can be a game-changer.

Let me explain.

When I was a grad student, my first real job included keeping a specialty Eating Disorder Unit in a Southern California hospital filled with patients; this meant being the face of the unit in the bustling professional LA therapy community. Only at this point in my life I was still suffering with what I refer to as the “imposter” hang-up, based partly on fact.  I had stretched my way into a dream job above my experience level, and without anyone to train me, I found myself immersed in a fake-it-till-you make-it situation.”

For anyone with a modicum of self-confidence this would have been fine, however I was plop in the middle of my clinical program, and raw from my on-going personal therapy (required for degree) and every day I was struggling to be successful at new job on which every EDU employee’s work hours depended on--- to say I felt like I was walking a thin tightrope is an understatement. I was completely in touch with all my insecurities. Which at this point included my lack of a Master’s degree.
Funny the things we give symbolic meaning to; I was surrounded by fellow staff members all with Masters degrees, PhDs and MDs and back then that felt like a metaphor for my life. 
Fortunately, all my neurotic performance worries manifested in a type A achievement on the job, which meant at least outwardly, I appeared perfectly comfortable most of the time.

Except for this one situation.
It was to be my job to get up in front of a community of professionals who were coming to see our charismatic Medical Director, Manohar Shinde lead a teaching seminar in our hospital boardroom, and it was turning into a jam-packed event filled with clinicians, --that little old grad student Me,—had admired from afar.

“What?!  Can’t someone else please do this?” I asked the Nursing Director, a woman who became a female mentor for me. “Pat-can’t-you-do-it, please?”
Of course not.
This was my job and when I wasn’t standing in front of a podium shaking, I was efficient at it.

On the afternoon before this dreaded event—which had now taken on ridiculous importance in my head—cementing my imposter status to the world—Dr. Shinde surprised me by stopping by my office and asking me to lunch.

A private lunch with our Medical Director was rare and I knew why.
Over our lunch—while he ate quickly and I picked at my salad-- he listened with keen ears while I  blurted out my litany of self-doubts about this situation, after which I was sure he would relieve me of this duty. Instead he gave me a bizarre response.

He said, “Yes, I think you will need to act as-if.”

I was confused. WTF?  Was he telling me to pretend? Did this esteemed psychoanalyst and my personal role model whose daily focus was on uncovering one’s most authentic feelings and encouraging truth-telling, advising me to…fake it?!
“But… that’s not how I feel!!!” I blurted out. “I don’t feel like that person you’re asking me to be.”
Remember, I was practically living on a psych unit, this was the way staff talked.

And his answer was basically yes. He encouraged me to think of it this way. No psych-mumbo-jumbo, just this simple one-liner. Basically, there are times we must do things without that feeling of emotional readiness. But with our actions, often the (desired) emotions will follow.

I remember feeling stunned. Everything I was learning in my therapy and witnessing on the Eating Disorder Unit was focused on the principle of honoring our feelings. Exploring them. Working through them. Nowhere did it imply ignoring them.

I was acutely aware that if I listened to my feelings right then, they were telling me this task was completely premature for my comfort level. I wasn’t ready. I was simply too insecure.

He wiped his mouth with a white paper napkin and hurried away after he patted my hand.

“I know you’ll be fine.” He smiled.

Well, I don’t need to tell you the end of this story.
You probably figured out I did my job and it went fine; and for a short time, I stood up and acted like the confident person I hoped to be someday, feeling ever the faker, but once I got over the shock of having a fairly successful experience, I felt different.

Today I understand. Although my insecurities of those days have become duller, I never forgot THAT CERTAIN FEELING I had afterwards. It was jolting and indisputable, an electrical charge wiring me for the future.

It was that feeling of, “Yes! I can do this.”

I realize now I would have been deprived of this transformative experience if I wasn’t forced to plow through my most primal fears and get to the other side.

To “Act As-If” means acting before we’re officially feeling ready. It means honoring our feelings, but not being restrained by them. It means that you might be the smartest person in the room with the best intellectual grasp of your dream, and you’ll need to be aware that those same cognitive machinations can contribute to your decision to wait. And think about it some more.
When it comes to our dreams or goals, beware of what I call, analysis-paralysis.

I know from first-hand experience. Which is why you’re reading these words right now.

Action will be the game-changer in your life.  And thankfully, it’s your actions—whether they begin as New Year’s resolutions or simple habits—that will begin to change the way you view yourself.

In the words of Oprah, “You get the life you have the courage to ask for.”  Well, I’ve been a slow learner of this ‘asking part.’ But I’m getting braver.

Are you feeling immobilized by those nagging self-doubts? Are you stuck waiting for that perfect moment to embark on your private dream?  

Getting emotionally unstuck requires intentional action. Get moving, start small. Every day do one little thing toward your goal.

And remember.

Sometimes you just have to jump out into the

air and grow wings on the way down.

I'm sharing this post with friends:


Calypso In The Country said...

It's like you are speaking directly to me, my friend! Thanks for the motivation. This is just what I need!

Van@Luxuria said...

Such a fab post Leslie. I SO needed this. I was just saying to my Husband over Christmas I feel like an "imposter" most days.
You see I have a scientific training. I am a left brain thinker. Creativity doesn't come easily for me. I am not good at writing (writing my blog is a struggle most of the time), I don't think I am not particularly artistic and yet I have a successful jewellery boutique. I work damn hard at making it work and everyone thinks it comes naturally and easily for me. Here's the thing-I let them think it comes easy. I don't show my vulnerable side most days to friends and relatives; I do what I have to do and most days I am paddling like mad under water. Your post just gave me permission to keep doing that. Thank you Leslie xx

Simply LKJ said...

Oh how I am trying to get better at this! I still,at almost 50, struggle with the "what if..I'm...fill in the blank." Only to miss out on so many opportunities. Thanks for sharing.

Debra said...

I think you have been reading my mind. I am not sure what direction I need to go but you are right, sometimes you have to jump.

Blondie's Journal said...

This is such a powerful post, Leslie. If I could use a yellow highlighter pen on my computer screen, there would be a lot of food for thought.

I have felt like you many times, especially when I was in the professional world. Act the part. Do your research, but put on that confident persona whether you feel you might fail or fly. Maybe it's a matter of confidence. That you can show your real talent or knowledge, or if need be, sell yourself by associating with an inquisitive audience. I used to smile, but now believe in, my husband's pat response when he didn't have an answer. He would say, "That's a good question." It made him sound relatable. It made you feel like you has asked a brilliant question. No matter what he said after, you were feeling on his level. Isn't this something?

However we cope, relate, get by, or plain out scrabble and succeed, it's in our nature to survive. And you did it under so many exhausting circumstances. I'm always in awe of you.

Jane xxx

Blondie's Journal said...

Oh---and wrote to tell about it!!!


Donna@anangloinquébec said...

Great post Leslie!

This is such a common issue for so many people. I feel like this is part of a greater learning process that continues throughout your life. Your idea of "act-as-if" is quite intriguing to me. My father used to always tell me to go with what I already know and to be open to that changing (as it surely does)... and to know what I don't know and to be excited by that changing as you open yourself up to learning from others... and to finally know that there is a wealth of information and understanding out there that I don't even know about (and that takes the will, desire and courage to explore the unknown). We often set ourselves up to expectations that we imagine to be in place when the reality is that those expectations are often self-imposed and completely unrealistic. At this stage in life there is nothing more refreshing to me than listening to a young 20 something share with me their knowledge and excitement in our field of work and recognize how I might help them expand on that knowledge.... all the while knowing that I will grow too in that shared discovery. Age seems like such a strange construct when you think about it. Anyway, I am rambling but thank you so much for this post .... a great way to start off the new year.

Unknown said...

It isn't easy for me to admit~but I have always been a jumper. Once or twice I felt like an endeavor overwhelmed me. I am not highly educated but blessed by a mother who told me I could do whatever I made up my mind to do. My husband of 52 years and I, were in bed the other night and listed all the things I put my mind to do and accomplished. Sorry if this sounds like bragging but my point is Just DO IT. Your post makes me realize that for some, things are really hard to do because of their mind limits. Confidence is GOD given! Thanks for your words love your posts.

Richella Parham said...

I love this post, Leslie! I think we all feel that kind of paralysis at times. Your story is especially poignant because of the context--for sure your mentor wouldn't have given you advice that was going to be psychologically bad for you!

So this year I must act as if I'm a professional author. To tell the truth, as of January 1 I am just that, since I've signed a contract with a major publisher. But I'm having to push through lots of feelings of self-doubt and insecurity. Your post is very timely for me!

Thanks so much for joining the Grace at Home party at Imparting Grace. I'm featuring you this week!

J said...

I love this. That is all.

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