A few years back I was in a coaching group with terribly intimidating people – a gold medal athlete, a world class speaker, a surgeon, an actor, even a naturopath who recently treated the highest paid actress in the country. There were twenty-four of us there leveraging our speaking abilities by learning how to tell story. On a normal day, I might have been comparing myself to others and feeling down on myself, but this day was worse. In the weeks leading up to the first two-day event, I had received news of three life changing diagnoses to immediate family members (one of whom was my seven-year-old son), and the sudden death of my sister-in-law.
When tragedy hits, the reserves which help us show up as our best selves are lower than usual, and often we regress, even if just momentarily. My automatic program of unworthiness and the toxic voice in my head was on full blast.
Fortunately, since I’d been acquainted with my toxic voice for the last decade, I knew the little bugger thought she was going to get the better of me. So, I did the only thing I could think of to do; I let her in.
When the class started at 9:00 AM, I had my notebook ready. I took a note every time she piped up, which was roughly every five minutes.
9:03 AM: “Gorgeous woman sitting in corner, built body, long flowing red hair. Doctor. Better than me.” (She wasn’t a doctor by the way, I had made that up in my head. I did later learn she was the most down to earth lovely person one could meet). Every three to five minutes I had another entry.
9:07 AM: “Wealthy attorney – smarter than me. I never could have got through law school.”
9:27 AM: “Accomplished athlete – gritty. I give up before I’m out of breath.”
9:35 AM: “Actor – connected to big players. I’ll never get a speaking gig.”
All morning I imagined their homes, their possessions, their gorgeous, talented children (all of whom were from intact families – they didn’t drag their kids through a divorce like I had).
Even now the hideous nastiness of my old toxic voice shocks me. Who would be that mean? (Here’s the moment to ask yourself: Is your toxic voice that mean to you? If so, it’s time to do something about it).
By lunch time I had bored myself to tears. This was fortunate because it enabled me to get past my self-pity, my erroneous self-image and my grief, which in turn, allowed me to engage in the material being taught without all the noise.
The next day we were each to stand up and tell our story and receive feedback from our coach – a Broadway actor and former NFL star. As I watched everyone deliver their story, I was impressed with what they had to offer the world. I wasn’t comparing myself so much, but I knew my place. Afterall, I had spent the previous four weeks in bed with my Netflix remote, a box of tissues and my phone talking with doctors. Who did I think I was?
I was confident these other folks would be out there kicking ass and taking names in no time. In my seat I looked through my eyes, and saw deeply passionate and talented people, and somehow that also meant something about me…I was not one of them.
Then it was my turn. I got up and for the first time ever to a group of people, told the story I’d rehearsed. It was about the most humiliating day of my life (a day, at the end of which it was revealed to me, that I had spent my life to that point feeling unworthy, and I had made life choices from that vantage point).
When I was done, I stood naked, waiting for my feedback.
“Huh. I didn’t think you were going to say that,” the coach said. He looked around at everyone watching. “Did anyone here think Abby was going to say she felt unworthy?”
Everyone shook their heads no. As the coach gave me feedback, I watched the other 23 students watch me.
Suddenly, my body was transported into their chairs. I was looking at myself through their eyes, and it turned out that their eyes weren’t any different than mine. They saw me, little ol’ me, the same way I saw them – passionate, talented and worthy.
A presence washed over me, one which vacated my toxic voice, and in that moment, I understood it didn’t matter what I had or hadn’t done or accomplished in my life. Even if I went home and crawled back into bed and never dared to dream again, I was worthy, just because I am.
Your path is yours. It has zero to do with anyone else’s path in life. There is no hierarchy. Your value lies not in your accomplishments or your belongings, but in your “you-ness.” That’s it.
You can start walking in the direction of your dreams or you can cop a squat; it doesn’t matter. Neither is a reflection of your worth or your success as a human being.
Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others. Enjoy your life.
**If you want to outsmart your toxic voice, try my trick. Every time you find yourself comparing yourself to someone else, write it down and keep a list. It gets old fast.