I have a few habits that keep me half stuck in my old life, that pull me back to a time when I felt like a victim with no agency over my choices. As much as I have grown personally and rehabbed my mindset, I hang on to a bit of the old me out of fear. The one who procrastinates on important projects for the publication of my book (hello book proposal), the outdated version of myself who searches for stress relief at the bottom of a bag of Trader Joe’s white truffle potato chips. The former self who refuses to purge a closet full of clothes that are no longer my style, hanging onto them like a shabby chic security blanket. Jeans that haven’t fit in two (six?) years and unflattering blouses I bought when I didn’t care whether I felt amazing in them or not. Despite reprogramming my brain to live in gratitude and cleanse my energy, I still waste time scrolling mindlessly, in effort to ease the panic that rises when I come dangerously close to the life I want.
Even though I have substantially tamed the negative voice in my head and trained her to say only nice things about my body, evening snacks keep extra weight on to prevent me from feeling truly confident in my own skin, from performing at my athletic best and self-conscious enough to keep distance between me and everyone else on earth. At times, I’ve stayed home from an event if I’ve been too uncomfortable with my appearance. Feeling like I am literally too much gives my self-esteem a daily kick to the teeth.
Clearly, these self-defeating behaviors slow me down for no good reason. A speed bump to delay the progress that, intellectually, I really do want. The scared part of me prefers to tread water instead of gliding through the waves towards the beautiful island of my dreams, where creativity thrives and peak health and confidence are mine.
I asked for help with this self-sabotage at our group coaching session this week.* When my question was addressed, self pity settled heavy on my shoulders. I suddenly felt like bringing my problem there was all wrong—that it was a topic more appropriately discussed in a mother daughter conversation than a semi-public forum. Better in a private exchange where I would be reassured that I am okay, loved no matter what. The kinds of things I say to my own kids when they feel bad about themselves.
While the coach and a therapist* tag-teamed on solutions, I breathed away the discomfort of admitting weakness to these capable, kind people. They expertly ticked off a list of options for me to try. As we spoke, I slowly unclenched my jaw and relaxed into appreciation for the smart, generous women who took time to think critically about my wellbeing.
They reminded me that there is no rule that says I must feel bad about myself if I engage in this behavior. It is me who attaches the judgment. It’s such a reflexive move for me—I hadn’t separated the behavior from the judgment until now. Yes, I had fixed the mean voices once they became noticeable. But judgment is more subtle, like a cold, heavy silence. I can forgive myself for staying stuck, for not being ready. I’ll get there. But it will probably be easier and lighter if I don’t apply all that pressure and expectation.
It started to dawn on me that I now give myself what I no longer receive from my family of origin. I have loved myself on the condition that I keep up with projects and eat responsibly. My mother loved me on the condition that I not hold her accountable for her behavior. I can still love myself when I don’t perform up to scratch. I can choose unconditional love for me.
So, the question is, what am I scared of? This morning on our way to school, I told my youngest not to be afraid to shine in his sport. He joined the team belatedly after swearing off playing for good. The coaches don’t know him at his new school. They have no idea he likely has the most raw talent of anyone on the team. In years’ past, he has felt a tremendous amount of pressure to perform perfectly and then ruins his own good time. Wonder where that came from? I asked him to go out there and be himself and that would be good enough.
Don’t be afraid to shine. Forget the pressure and judgment. Give yourself some grace.
In the meantime, I will continue to study the fearless wonders, the people who cultivate good habits just by deciding one day that doing something different would be better. If it’s true that “success leaves a blueprint” then my friend Melanie Emmons Damian should trademark hers. She is the very picture of confidence and self-discipline. I don’t mean to suggest that she is superhuman and doesn’t ever struggle with life’s difficult questions, but she has great habits and, in the twenty five years I have known her, she hasn’t been afraid of taking on anything.
As a young hotshot attorney with the prestigious law firm Tew Cardenas, she decided she had what it took to start her own law firm. She broke out substantially earlier than most, especially for someone who had just started to earn big money. She convinced her trusted colleague and dear friend Peter Valori to take a chance on themselves and the rest is history.
Melanie’s firm (dvllp.com) has been wildly successful, but the work she does outside her fancy Brickell office has dramatically changed thousands of lives for the better. Even when opposing political forces threatened to shut down her efforts, she persevered. When those who believed in her mission the most lost hope, Melanie and the Emmons sisters pushed on. As a result of their tenacity, literally thousands of children and young adults have received an education and improved the quality of their lives for having received support from the programs Melanie and her family put in place. The story of how she brought The SEED School (miami.seedschool.org) to Miami is feature film quality and I can’t wait for everyone to hear it tomorrow.
You will also hear how Melanie and her sisters started Educate Tomorrow (educatetomorrow.org) after discovering a tuition exemption available through the State of Florida for children aging out of the foster care system. The sisters decided to create an organization around that provision so that those young adults would receive access to higher education and the necessary support. The organization now provides the comprehensive services every young person needs to have the best chance at success. Don’t miss our conversation on Instagram Live on Friday, March 19 at Noon EST when Melanie will be my guest on my monthly series, Tell Me All About It. Don’t miss it! (But if you do, the recording will be available on my 3/19/21 Instagram post @elizabethheise1.)
When you recognize your fear and give yourself some grace, you get the sense that it’s all going to be okay.
WRITING PROMPT: What habits do you struggle to change? Have you made progress? Why or why not? What would you do if you weren’t afraid?
*After I completed Caroline de Posada’s Core Challenge which I wrote about in my story of 2/19/21, I joined her ongoing support program. She is now allowing members to join the program without the challenge—lucky for you newbies. For more info check out carolinedeposada.com.
*Dr. Betsy Guerra is a lifetime member of Caro’s community and a gift to us all. You can check her out on Instagram @betterwithbetsy.