Insecurities

How to Not Feel Judged

This last weekend was my 20th high school reunion.  I hadn't been back since our 10th.

Nothing like a High School Reunion to Flare Up the Insecurities

What started off months ago as excitement at seeing my high school friends, many with whom I had gone to school with since first grade, turned into fear as the date got closer.

I knew it was fear because I recognize that anytime I have a voice whispering a variation of  "You're too different from them... they won't accept you" that my own insecurity is starting to put up walls of protection.  And the only time I'd need protection is if some part of me thought I was in danger.

Which of course I wasn't in danger.  But trying to convince the voice of a little insecure high school girl, who kept whispering that my marriage was too different, that my religious path looked too different, or that my lifestyle was too different, was like asking a baby to stop crying. Somewhat futile despite the best soothing.

You undoubtedly know the feeling. Sometimes it's walking into a cocktail party and assuming that everyone else knows someone, except us.  Or attending a ConnectingCircle where you hope to make new friends, but guessing  ahead of time that you probably won't have anything in common with anyone.  Or talking to someone and guessing that whatever we are (single, a mom, retired, a Christian, an immigrant) isn't what the other person wishes we were, leaving the conversation feeling very much like an outsider.

Fear Divides Us

And I knew that I wasn't the only one showing up at our reunion feeling the fear.  In fact, I guessed that there would be many who wouldn't even come, where fear was undoubtedly at the root of their reason.  With statements like "Everyone else still acts like they did back in high school," "I'm just too different," "We don't have anything in common anymore," and "I didn't even like them back then, I surely won't like them now," you can see that every excuse validates the voice of fear: "I'm too different." And the unacknowledged fear beneath that statement is that we'll be judged, or rejected in some way.

I often quote Rabbi Harold Kushner who says that our greatest human fear is the fear of rejection.  He makes a case that it is the fear of being rejected, or not being "enough," that is at the root of every other fear we hold.

If that is true, and I think it is, then we know that our default lens is often to presume we're being rejected, or somehow not measuring up.

If that's just true in day-to-day life, then the stakes definitely go up at reunions. There aren't many places in life where we "go back" to the same place and group of people.  That going back is like a mirror where we can see where we used to be, and where we are now. It's impossible to not see all the other paths we could have taken, how our choices have played out; and to then compare our current life either to those who graduated with us, or against our own hopes of where we pictured ourselves someday being.  Much like a door frame where our parents measured our growth with pencil marks, this ritual of going back can leave us feeling measured, evaluated, and insecure for any part of life that isn't "perfect."

I can feel sensitive about being judged for moving away and leaving our town; and someone else can feel fearful that I'd think less of them for staying.  Someone can come and feel nervous about being too accomplished and successful; and someone else can come feeling bad about not having finished college.  The person who is always being judged for having the "perfect" life is feeling just as insecure as the person who feels the weight of a bankruptcy, weight gain, or divorce.

What fear does is divides.  Fear whispers that we're not good enough.  Fear insists that there is a separation between you and me.  Fear focuses on the .1% that may appear different, rather than the 99.9% that is the same.  Fear forgets that we're connected. Fear builds up walls that tempt us to think someone is inside, and someone is outside.

How To Not Feel Judged...

Of course to bring our walls down means we have to feel safe.  And while most us think we need them to act loving before we can feel safe, I found it much more empowering to create my own safety.

Here are the two things I did differently this time, that resulted in me not feeling judged:

1)    First, I changed my story.

When I listen to most of us articulate our fears about what others might think of us, we say: "I feel judged for x."

Even if we don't use that word, we express those sentiments. You'll know you feel judged by the fact that you start defending yourself.  Only someone who feels attacked has to defend.  In defense mode we have two options: devalue them and/or inflate us.  We tell ourselves whatever we have to to try to feel better about our lives.

The problem with feeling judged is that it leaves us as the victims, implying there is someone doing something to us.  The story of judgment always has a perpetrator that we must defend ourselves against.

This time, every time I was tempted to take on the story of "feeling judged" I replaced it with "I feel insecure about x." I owned it!

That shift in language changed everything!  Now, instead of being a victim that needs to defend myself against someone doing something (that most often is only imagined!); I am simply recognizing that I feel the fear.  Now, I am in charge and I can ask myself, "Why do I feel insecure about this part of my life? Is it because I'm not happy with this myself? Or, am I not at peace with it in some way? What information can I take from this that will help me live my life more in alignment? Is there anything I can do to make myself feel better right now? How do I want to respond?"

Owning it as insecurity, rather than projecting judgment on others kept me loving to them with the clarity that they aren't the problem and empowered me with the information and empathy I needed to look inside and grow myself.

2)    The second thing I did was create a mantra that I said silently through out the whole weekend:

"Focus on loving people, not trying to impress them."

So this time... I listened with empathy to that little high school girl inside of me that just wanted to be accepted.  I heard it, validated the hunger, assured that little girl that others felt the same way, and decided that my own odds of feeling accepted would increase if I came in ready to give that to others.

I decided that I'd rather leave people feeling good about themselves rather than worrying about them feeling good about me.  That means I chose to affirm them, share the very imperfect parts of my life with honesty, and listen deeply-- all things that can't be done with a heart of fear.  Walls don't lend themselves to connection and love.

And truthfully, people like people who like them so odds increase that if they feel good--as opposed to insecure-- talking to you, they'll like you! Acceptance has a way of breeding acceptance.  Which is what we all want anyway... so why not just get straight to the point?  :)

You probably don't have a high school reunion coming up... but I'll leave you with this prayer:

May you know your worth, feeling deeply how valuable you are.  May you remember that while your default mode is to feel rejected, that you can choose acceptance instead.  May you continue to grow in accepting yourself and giving that gift to all whom you meet.  We are all accepted, all good enough, all created with love....we just forget sometimes. Let's remember...

 

I Just Want to Fit In! The Insecurities of Not Belonging.

One of the hardest parts of life is feeling the fear of not fitting in, whatever that means. As a kid I wished I could afford the ever-cool Guess jeans and Ked shoes instead of the $14.99 Jordache's and Payless Shoe Store wanna-be's that my mom bought. Later, my idea of fitting in would include wishing I'd start my period, need a bra, and kiss my first boyfriend when it seemed everyone else had already passed into the land of adulthood before me.

I can laugh now at the silliness that seemed so important at the time. It also causes me pause to consider what my Keds are now-- what feels important now but might look silly to me down the road?

Now I have been gifted with the maturity to realize that my value doesn't fluctuate on how others view me and that "in" means a thousand different things to different people.  But to know I don't need to fit in everywhere doesn't mean I still don't want to. I blogged a couple years ago about how our greatest fear in life is rejection, and even just feeling the possibility of not belonging is enough to tap all our insecurities.

Sometimes my maturity is overridden by an insecure teenage girl that still just wants to fit in.

Do I Belong Here?

Yesterday, I was at a Women 2.0 Pitch Conference geared for female founders of tech start-ups.  The irony isn't lost on me that a conference where I should feel like I fit in perfectly can still stir up all my little inner critical voices. Fear really isn't all that rational.

So in the spirit of transparency I'll admit I felt out-of-place. Yes I was a woman. Yes I had founded a start-up company.  Yes it's doing well and growing. Yes it's in the space of technology. Yes by all intents-and-purposes I belonged there.

I've blogged before about how difficult conferences can be for many of us (Pushing Through the Nerves to Meet People and The Mistake that Cost Me a New Friendship) but it can be in any setting where we may not already know a lot of people, may have a lot to learn, and may be surrounded by lots of amazing people that cause us to question our own amazing-ness.  There's a thin line between wanting to be inspired and called forward, and yet not feeling overwhelmed and incompetent! Put us in that place where we start wondering if we can reach our hoped-for-success and we're automatically in a very vulnerable place.

I was surrounded by people who had all earned MBA's.  Seemingly all from Stanford.  And suddenly I felt like I would never know the right people, be a part of the powerful network, or be able to learn fast enough everything they already seem to know. My insecure little girl kept whispering "let's just go back home where we feel safe and comfortable." You see, my expertise is in personal development, relational health, and spiritual growth-- not in funding rounds, code engineering, product shipping, user interface design, and market research. In some worlds my skill set could make me a rock star, in this one I was just very aware of everything I lacked.

And therein lies the challenge with fear--we'll never get where we want to without feeling it since it pops up anytime we leave our comfort zone. And obviously our comfort zone, while not scary, isn't bringing us want we value. We want to keep moving forward... but that always includes leaving our comfort zone. UGH!

For most of you in my female friendship community-- you crave deeper connections.  But unfortunately that requires you to meet strangers first.

Then follow-up. And do it again.  And wonder if they liked you too.  And wonder if it's their turn or your turn to make the next move. And then you have to risk sharing pieces of you, getting vulnerable.  And you have to find a new way of being with someone new. It's not without fear and insecurity that we walk that path.

Whether it's you wanting local meaningful friendships or me wanting to know how to best grow my company so that you can all make more friends-- we both will feel the fear of the unknown.

And we will eventually have to value the potential as greater than the fear we feel.  We'll have to feed the dream, starve the fear.  We'll have to weight the outcome as worthy of the path.

I Have to Believe I Do Belong.

At the conference yesterday they had a red chair there for the Sit With Me campaign designed to validate the role of women in the technology field. Men and women around the world are sitting in red chairs as their way of saying "we need to sit together, we want all voices and talents involved!"

On a form I was asked "Who are you sitting for today?" And while the obvious answer is for women in general, I specifically wrote that I was sitting for all those who weren't sure they belonged at the table, no matter their insecurity, perceived obstacle, greatest fear, hidden truth, or lack of credentials. I sat in that chair and whispered to myself "I do belong and so do thousands of others."

I sat in that chair and whispered that hope for you. That whatever chair you need to sit in-- that you would know you belong there.  No one else has to tell you that you do.  You just have to sit.

Kinda the way Rosa Parks belonged in the front of the bus.... Belonging can't be given to us, we just have to know it.

In some ways I was out of place, but in other ways I belong there and have much to offer that world in ways that no Stanford-MBA-serial-entrepreneur ever could. They're needed. And so am I. We all belong not because we're the same, but because the world needs all of us, contributing our best. Blessing the world in whatever way we each can.

If you're afraid of meeting at a ConnectingCircle or going to some event with strangers, I invite you to show up, sit in a chair (even if it's not red!) and remind yourself you're putting action behind what's important to you. There is room for you!

It's not without insecurity and doubt that we will contribute, step out, participate, engage, and sit-- in order to stand for what we believe in. It is even with those fears that we will do so.

And it's because of what we hope could be the outcome that will make the fear worth it.

 

 

 

To the Oprah-Haters and Other Women Who Devalue

Their conversation stirred me in a really deep and defensive way.  The example they set has now been forever etched in my memory as an illustration of who we can all become when we forget our own worth. On Sunday, in the Virgin Airlines terminal of Las Vegas, I overheard five women engage in a colloquy of criticism.  It began with one voice sighing, "ugh, you know who I hate? Oprah.  Who does she think she is?" and spiraled into ugliness at such an alarming rate. Apparently her weight, lesbian rumors, amount of money made, career choices, fame and personality were all somehow offensive to this group just shooting the breeze while waiting to board their plane.

Oprah Winfrey

Five adult women, presumably ending a girls weekend in Vegas, spent ten minutes spewing venom and anger toward someone I'd venture to guess that none of them have ever met. There is no need to repeat all the insults, only to say that it was eye-opening and heart-exhausting to witness them all participate in the hate-fest as though adding to the conversation made them each feel better somehow.

We Devalue Others-- Revealing Our Own Insecurities

As a student of relationships, I have long witnessed that we tend to devalue anything that threatens us.  We push down on others; hoping it raises us up.  It's almost as though we think life is a see-saw where only one of us can win.

I see it in break-ups frequently: the person that was most cherished only weeks ago is now criticized in an attempt to comfort us that we are better off without that person. As though we can't admit their worth and hold ours at the same time?

I see it in friendships where two women make different choices: the one who had the baby, took the job for money, decided to move away, chose a private school for their child-- both women, to hold the belief that they made the right choice, are tempted to devalue those who make an alternative decision.  As though we can't hold the belief that we could both be making the right choice for our lives, even if they look different?

I see it where there appears to be an inequality that provokes our jealousy: the person who seemingly has the fame, the power, the money, the happy family or the good looks receives the most criticism. Ironically we secretly want something they have, but instead of using their success as our inspiration, we attack them with our insecurities disguised as complaints. As though it's their problem for having what we want?

And therein lies the toxicity of devaluing: it says more about us than it does about them.

We Devalue Others--Heightening the Conflict in this World

If someone gave me a magic wand to make one wish come true, it would be to give us all the ability to see our own worth so clearly that we never had to treat people from our own fears and insecurities.

Think about it... What problem does this planet hold that couldn't be solved from our ability to see the value of each other? Of not needing to prove our worth? Attacking so we don't look weak? Devaluing another to justify our own choices? Putting up walls so we don't risk not being liked?  Not knowing our own worth and bestowing that gift on others is the cause of wars and political battles, inequality and injustices, suicides and bullying.

Ladies, I may sound dramatic.  But I'd argue that I have good reason to go there.  We don't have control over bombing other countries or solving all inequalities against gender, religious, sexual identity and race differences.  But we do have control over doing the hard work of holding a healthy self-esteem so that we can offer it to others.

We Devalue Others--Risking Significant Relationships

In a community committed to healthy friendships, it is important to me to challenge you to show up differently than those women.

  • I invite you to engage in conversation that ensure that others leave feeling better about who they are.
  • I invite you to own your insecurities.  When you see someone who has what you secretly want choose to be inspired by it rather than threatened by it.
  • I invite you to refuse to engage in any conversation that puts others down. Whether those others are people you know (i.e. your ex's, your family, your work colleagues) or people you may never meet (i.e. Charlie Sheen & the Kardashian sisters).
  • I invite you to do the work of holding firm to the belief that you are fabulous, talented and perfectly prepared to do your life calling.  You are enough.
  • I invite you to not see life as a see-saw, where someone else has to fall before you can rise.  There is room enough for all of us to be our best.
  • I invite you to give the freedom to others, including Oprah to do life her very best way even if you would do it differently.
  • And, I invite you to realize that if you want to bring change to this world, more people are transformed by affirmation and grace than by criticism and shame.

So, to the women in the terminal who felt they were in any position to judge Oprah, I say to you:

I'm totally okay with you not being an Oprah-fan, but I invite you to cheer for her as another woman doing the best she can.  I hope for you that you someday step into your own power and offer the world what you think she's missing. But cheer for her as she does her thing.  And I cheer for you as you do yours.  You are amazing.  You have worth.  As does she.

________________________

I'd love to hear your comments ladies!  Am I overreacting? Do you see your own tendency to step into devaluing others? What have you done to build your own self-esteem?

Our Greatest Fear: Rejection

A few nights ago I attended a lecture by Rabbi Harold Kushner, who's probably most well known for his best-seller "When Bad Things Happen to Good People" but whose subject this evening was his most recent book release: "Conquering Fear: Living Boldly in an Uncertain World." The introduction caught my attention when it was said that more people have died of fear caused by 9/11 and the idea of terrorism after the fact (anxiety produced complications and deaths) than the number of lives actually lost by the events that day. Wow.

Our Greatest Fear: Rejection Interestingly, terrorism is not our greatest fear. Nor is the economic recession. Nor is it the reality of aging or the thought of someday dying. We hear a lot of about those things; the news is consumed with those subjects. But, truth be told, the most paralyzing fear we experience is rejection.

Sitting in that auditorium, that observation resonated. How much of my life choices are impacted by that fear? Whether it's doing something to try to get someone to like me or not doing something to avoid someone not liking me. Whether it's not trying for the promotion, the new job, the business idea development or the sale for risk of failure or pursuing them only to try to gain approval. Whether it's acting uninterested when I really am. Or acting interested when I'm really not. How much of our lives are influenced by the desire to be accepted or the desire to avoid rejection?

"Whether it's losing a job or being rejected in a failed romance, it can pull the rug out from under peoples' sense of identity," says Kushner. Indeed. I've been through a divorce. I know it takes a while to rebuild the self-confidence, to hold the belief that someone else could possibly someday like me. And that, coming from someone who considers herself quite self-confident! I can only imagine how difficult it would be to take risks if you've had multiple experiences of rejection that you had taken personally or if you were raised not ever experiencing real acceptance.

How our Fear Impacts our Forming Friendships I came home from that lecture thinking about how important GirlFriendCircles.com can be in this world-- an opportunity for people to connect and build a sense of belonging. Surrounding themselves with friends that remind them of their acceptance.

But on the reverse side, I thought about how hard it can also be to actually take steps to creating that community if one's greatest fear is rejection. It's a double-edge sword. We feel lonely and crave connectedness and yet can't pursue it because we fear no one will actually like us. And so we stay lonely. We hunger for acceptance, but avoid giving people that opportunity.

In our GirlFriendCircles community, there are hundreds of women who have signed up and paid and yet, haven't attended their first ConnectingCircle where they can actually meet friends. For some it comes down to scheduling, but for many it comes down to fear. We wanted friends enough to sign up, but when it comes to actually putting ourselves out there, the discomfort is too great. And so we just put it off.

And for some, we have gone to one or two events, met a few people and used our experience to confirm our fears. Someone didn't write back so instead of concluding that it might be her issue (she's flaky, her spam filter got it) we conclude that it's our issue: no one likes us. And we give up.

Or, worst, we assume someone is going to reject us because we're different and so we self-reject and project it onto them. This happens all the time. We assume since none of them have kids and we do that they wouldn't want to be our friend. Or that because they're older that they probably think I'm too young. Or she's more stylish, has more money, seems more popular, looks more beautiful, etc. so therefore.... you get the idea.

How does fear of rejection impact you in your journey of making friends?

Overcoming Fear For Kushner, conquering fear requires a combination of "rational awareness of potential consequences complemented by the willingness to reach out to family, friends and community for help."

That makes sense to me when the fear is, say, a natural disaster. But it's a tough formula if our greatest fear is rejection. For what do you do if the very medicine (reaching out to friends) is also your greatest fear?

And how I wish I had an easy answer to this. I do not. I only know that in my line of work, I often see people choose the fear of loneliness over the fear of risking rejection. The one thing we crave-- to be accepted-- sometimes isn't a strong enough desire to push us past the risk. And it breaks my heart.

All I can do is try to create a community where you know it's safe to try. Where you are reminded that no matter how wonderful of a person you are, there are simply going to be times where, to no fault of your own, you need more friends. Where you are surrounded by other women who also value friendship and are willing to risk for it. Where you have permission to take your time and do it in your own way. Where you know it's okay that you don't connect with everyone, nor does everyone need to connect with you-- that doesn't speak less of either, it simply acknowledges that the fit wasn't there and it doesn't have to be anyone's fault.

And perhaps that's all we can do-- engage in the fear together, as a community, so no one goes it alone. "If you can't solve the problem by yourself, you do a worse job when you're afraid," Kusher said. "You make things harder if you try to do it alone."

For if we can engage in relationships even in our fear. (Wasn't it Mark Twain who said courage isn't the absence of fear but rather valuing something else as greater than the fear?) Then, we're that much stronger against any terrorist, disease or crisis. And together, there is so much courage we can offer this world.

What is one step you can take today to pursue what's important to you regardless of your insecurities and fears?