A number of years ago, a thoughtful and talented business owner, Andrea, was bumping into some old anxieties about the sustainability of her business and the decisions she was making. We spent a couple of meetings teasing out the data behind her anxiety. We explored what she needed to be genuinely concerned about as the industry changed and the economy floundered. We also explored the various old messages, which were rooted in her family, that were grabbing her by the throat but provided no real information about the state of her business. In this process, she got very angry with herself for “still” being caught by these old messages—at 56 years old, she expected to be done with this. The belief that she was messed up—or “pathological” as she put it—was erosive and undermined her confidence. And it didn’t need to.
Having worked with thousands of individuals in a wide range of roles, many of them C-suite executives, we could assure her that she was not alone. All humans have had experiences in their history that have a powerful impact on their perceptions of life today. There is now a lot of research demonstrating that humans hold memories in their bodies and when something similar to an early trauma or wound happens, they react to it as if it’s the original trauma and have to force themselves to pause in order to see it in the current light. It’s the norm; it is not because she is broken, or crazy, or incompetent—it’s because she is human. When she heard that, she said, “Oh, I see,
we compare our insides with other people’s outsides.”
This is an important idea because we all do it all the time. We think that people with celebrity and fame are happy and life is easy because they look glamorous and are in the media, we believe our bosses are confident and sure of their decisions because they handle them professionally, we are certain that people with wealth and status have it easy. We are comparing our insides—our anxieties, our reactivity, our stories—with other people’s outsides—how they show up publicly.
Take a few minutes this week to consider how this plays out in your life. Who do you find yourself believing has it easy? Doesn’t get afraid? Always has it together? Ask yourself, “What if I am wrong? What if everyone gets afraid and hooked by stuff and it’s just that they have learned to handle it calmly in public?” Are there ways you could be more respectful of your natural process of making sense of the world, so that you have more of yourself exactly when you need it?