I don’t know about you, but I have a little voice in my head. And it seems to know better than me. It’s popped up at various times in my life. During my first marriage, when I was a corporate VP. When I was a startup CEO. When I was a strategy consultant.
Each time, the voice said, “This isn’t me”.
And it was right. I was unhappy in all of those situations.
We all have a little part of ourselves that sees better than the rest of us. Some call it your soul. Some call it the observer. I call it your true self.
Many of us forget our true selves. We prioritize all the things we should do and be over all the things we could do and be. And we fear our true selves, because the true self is a dangerous thing. Being our true selves requires risk. And risk is scary and awful and we'd rather just not.
So we stuff our true selves down deep into unconsciousness. And we forget who we are. And we feel lost, stuck and frustrated. We go into a shrinking pattern. We shrink away from life’s challenges. We shrink away from possibilities. We’re in what I call an Unhealthy Contractive state. Instead of creating our lives, we simply react to people and situations. We have given up our power to reach our full potential.
I once had a wonderful, kind, creative client we’ll call Janice. Janice had a big job at a very prestigious company. To the outside observer, her job was interesting and fulfilling. But Janice didn’t feel that way at all. She came to me because she had come to realize that she didn’t like who she was at work. Imagine that. She spent fifty or more hours a week at work, and she spent all of that time in a state of self-loathing.
We began our coaching relationship with some values exercises (learn more about values here). After a couple of weeks of work and reflection, Janice arrived at her core values: Curiosity, Creativity, Integrity, Effectiveness and Independence.
Those are awesome values! How could someone who has such values not like who she is when she’s at work?
I asked Janice what has to happen for her to feel her values are being upheld. And this is where it got really interesting.
For curiosity and creativity, Janice had to feel that she had the freedom to explore and experiment in her role. Due to the risk-averse culture at her company, this was not possible.
For her to feel integrity, she needed to know that the things she was doing had a net benefit to the world. And that she wasn't lying, cheating or hurting anyone. Janice’s company was definitely beneficial to the world, but it was also plagued with a culture of gossip and nasty-talk disguised as venting. And Janice bought into it, sometimes engaging in gossip herself. (I want to reiterate that Janice is a wonderful person. She’s kind and thoughtful. But being in the wrong environment caused her betray her better nature.)
For Janice to feel effective, she needed some kind of accomplishment. But in her company, projects were frequently scrapped mid-way through. She often felt her work was pointless. This was, of course, demoralizing.
And, for Janice to feel independent, she needed her decisions to be respected. Well, from what I’ve already told you about this company, I don’t think you’ll be surprised to learn that that wasn’t happening.
And so I asked her, “How many of your values are supported in your current job?”
And after a long pause, she answered, “None of them.”
And that’s why she didn’t like who she was when she was at work.
As we worked through just how Janice found herself in this position, she came to realize that her high need for certainty kept her in a place she hated and caused her to betray her core values.
It was holding her back from the things she wanted most in her life - to fully express her values.
As I told you in last week’s post, needs and values and values and needs are inextricably linked. When your needs are being met in positive ways and you’re in alignment with your values, you experience an expansiveness. There’s more of you to give to the world. You will have increased creativity, energy, joy and feel a desire to contribute more to the world and those around you.
Nothing can hold you back.
When your needs are not being met in positive ways and when you’re out of alignment with your values, you experience an unhealthy contractive state. And this causes you to betray yourself.
And you hold yourself back.
Fear not, there's a solution. Next week, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about expansive and contractive states, and how Janice learned to stop holding herself back.
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