I woke up early yesterday morning unable to go back to sleep, which is unusual for me. But my mind was so busy hurling accusations at me that no lullaby could be heard above the ugly words. In the dark hours my critical voice sounded strong and empowered as she told me what a loser I am. She grabbed my new book, my business, my classes and projects, and everything she could get her hands on and tore them up in front of me by telling me how they weren't good enough, how I wasn't doing enough, and how I could have done better. Her words were plentiful as she made her case for my lack. She used my own dreams and fantasies against me reminding me that not only had I not yet lived up to them, but that I probably never would. Her convincing words echoed through me this time in a way that resonated with my own deepest fears. So even as the sun came up, I couldn't shake the feeling that she had been right: I'm failing.
Now I can defend myself with the best of them by jumping into the game and trying to name my successes or by assuring myself that the ruler she used to find me wanting wasn't measuring the right things. And I typically am a pretty positive and hopeful person. But as a girlfriend arrived later in the day for our early dinner plans, I welcomed the back-up by exclaiming: "Oh I am so glad you're here-- I'm being bullied by a bunch of inner mean girls!"
The Five Amazing Responses of My Friend
I am sharing this story with you primarily because I want to share how my friend responded so we can all feel inspired to show up for each other when we feel under-attack by ourselves. But I also am pushing myself to share this because it's important that we all hear reminders from each other that self-doubt and fear of failure are on every playground, even (or especially?) in lives that have stretched, dreamed, and succeeded by some measurement. For me, right now, it's centered on the gap between the impact and teaching I want to be doing versus what I feel I am currently achieving; but for you or one of your friends, it might be about hoping you'd be married or have kids by this age, feeling like a failure because you don't have x (fill in the blank: a 401k, a book deal, or a corner office) yet, or feeling discouraged because while you are making good money you aren't pursuing your creative work, or vice-versa. Unless we've reached pure enlightenment, we tend to fan a desire for something more that we're secretly convinced will make us feel better about ourselves and more peaceful about our lives.
Here are some of the ways my friend loved me well and brought me home feeling more hopeful:
- She Took It Seriously... Before I had interrupted her with my current condition she had been walking up the stairs to my apartment exclaiming, "There's the amazing and famous author and teacher who has been out traveling the world!" But when she heard my panic, she pivoted quickly and instead of dismissing my feelings and telling me I was crazy, she validated them, "Oh no! I am so sorry. Those voices can be so cruel. What awful things are they saying?" I felt supported, seen, and heard; not crazy, weak, or silly.
- But Not Too Seriously... But as we started walking into the neighborhood to find a spot for dinner, she also helped put it into perspective: "Shasta, I don't know a single author who doesn't feel depressed at some point after their book comes out. It's a post-adrenaline drop after working on something for so long, your heart is still trying to catch up to your body as you traveled all over the country in the last few weeks, and everyone has higher hopes for their work than the immediate response. It makes sense you're feeling this way." She helped again to validate my feelings but also subtly reminded me that how I feel now isn't the final answer.
- She Matched My Vulnerability Without Taking the Attention Off of Me. Upon sitting down in our chosen cafe, she shared with me how she had a similar attack over the weekend, feeling like a complete loser because several of her friends were buying their dream houses or had just moved in to new homes recently. Her mean bullies said all kinds of awful things about her as she compared herself to others in that department. She confided how she had pouted, how she had hurt, and how she had eventually been able to hear her own wisdom. I felt closer to her for her willingness to reveal her own insecurities and felt peace that I wasn't being judged; she understood.
- She Invited Me To Find the Joy that Mattered. When our drinks came she asked me to share with her 5 highlights from my book tour. Five! Most of us would simply ask someone how it went or to share a highlight or two... but she asked for five. And somewhere between thinking up the 4th and 5th one, I had given myself enough evidence of how much had gone really, really well. She cheered for me, toasted me, and found joy in my answers.
- She Brainstormed With Me. Knowing full well that I was undoubtedly being too hard on myself, she also knew that there was some truth(s) to what I was saying mattered to me. Much like when we're menstruating--our feelings might be heightened or we may have less reserves--it doesn't mean that what we feel isn't real or that what upsets us shouldn't. She started asking me questions about my business and my book to see what actions I might want to consider in the weeks and months to come. She didn't try to solve it; she just opened up the space for me to feel like I could respond to these feelings in productive ways at some point.
In my book I have an entire chapter on the five acts of vulnerability, three of which my friend and I practiced in a big and beautiful way yesterday:
- Know Yourself to Share Yourself
- Shine In Front of Each Other
- Share Your Shame & Insecurities
We both shared honestly about what we were feeling, we revealed the fears we hold and what those mean or symbolize to us, and we invoked each other to shine, to be successful in other areas, and to dream. Which is significant because when we say we want to be loved it includes accepting both the amazing and insecure pieces of us.
I was willing to show up as I was; and she met me right there in the most affirming and generous of ways. As we practiced vulnerability with each other, we not only bonded our relationship in deeper ways, but we both left that time together feeling seen, safe, and satisfied-- which is what friendship can give us that matters so very much to our lives.
Thank you, dear friend. And may your kindness inspire all of us to show up with others knowing that even in success, there may lurk doubts and fears that we can witness.