In the spirit of gratitude to all of the people who have shared their vulnerable moments over the years, and helped me feel less alone and more hopeful in so many areas of my life, I am sharing with you what spilled out of me in a moment (a long moment) of fear and shame and sadness. This is the exchange I had with my ego last week. I hope you find in it something of value to help you through any downward-spiraling moments of your own, if you ever happen to have any...
An Open Letter to My Ego (She Started It...)
You’re terrible at everything you do, you are a failure, your business is a failure, you’re going to fail at every single thing you try to do in your life. Some people have it. You don’t. Give up.
(P.S. I’m not trying to be mean, I’m just trying to keep you safe.)
I would really love it if you wouldn’t do this. You are making me cry, and I have non-waterproof mascara on and it’s going to run everywhere and I’m hosting a blab in eleven minutes and really don’t want to have to run upstairs and clean my makeup off. Also, this mascara is particularly hard to get off for some reason, or maybe the makeup remover I got isn’t that good, and I’ll look like a raccoon even if I spend five minutes trying to clean my face, so please, PLEASE be nice right now.
I know you think you’re trying to protect me, I get it. God knows I’ve heard it taught enough times. And taught it enough times. But when you’re saying all those things I think they’re true, and it’s really hard to find any evidence that they’re not true and they make me feel really bad about myself and really hopeless and I want to give up. I don’t like to feel that way. I’m not saying I want to ignore realities of life and business, but I want a different perspective.
Here’s what I know:
1. I’m NOT terrible at everything I do. I’m just not. There are things I’m not good at, things I’m probably terrible at, but there are also definitely things I’m NOT terrible at. I’m not terrible at baking, even if I sometimes burn cookies, though I would suggest that that’s really the crappy oven’s fault. I’m NOT terrible at writing. I wrote a book. I write JOYmails people respond to. I’ve written papers that have gotten As and poems I really like. I’m NOT terrible at mothering my children. I’m not perfect—they whine, I whine, they don’t get to bed at the same time every night, sometimes they eat peanut butter sandwiches for dinner—but they’re pretty happy, and healthy, and loving. There are a lot of other things I’m not terrible at too, you you’re not right on this one.
2. OK, I am a failure in that I have certainly failed at things. I’m not sure I want to go into a list of these right now, I’m feeling a little sensitive… Suffice it to say that I acknowledge that failure has been and always will be a part of my (and every other human’s) life. HOWEVER, that does not mean that I am a failure. I have succeeded at lots of things, and done averagely-well at others. I think I may quit too soon at some things, either because I get unexcited or don’t want to do the grunt work or fail and give up, but the fact that I’m still here, that I get up and keep going means, I think, that I cannot be a failure. I can look at things I imagined or wished I would have accomplished by now, and I can say that I failed according to those expectations or wishes or metrics. OK. But in the meantime I’ve succeeded in so many other places, including figuring out what I could or should be doing to increase the odds of success in those areas. So, to repeat, while I have failed in different ways, I have also succeeded, and as long as I’m here, breathing, caring—I’m not a failure.
3. OK, again, this is such an absolute thing to say—“your business is a failure.” In some ways it has failed to meet my desires and expectations—like in the fact that I don’t have all the money I want right now (although, if I’m being really honest, I’m spending money on things that feel important to me but that I could live without, at least temporarily, so that’s another thing to keep in mind…) and in the fact that I would love to find a lot more of the ideal, fabulous people I can really help and love to work with. HOWEVER, the fact that I’m still here, that my clients are accomplishing some pretty amazing things, that my business has been generating a real income for years, and that I’ve never given up on my business altogether = NOT failure. I think business is hard. There are moments of synchronicity, where everything feels like it’s coming together, and everyone says yes and everyone loves you, and in those moments you may feel, “Finally! I made it!” And then something happens that’s really crappy or really scary or really damaging and you may think, “What the hell?! I thought I was finished! I thought I was set! I did all that work—how can this be happening??” But I think that’s just how it goes. And if you can maintain perspective, and know that you’re not alone and that this happens to everyone who runs a business, and that you may ride it out or change course or quit or take a time out then you can keep moving and you have not failed. Even if your business does “fail,” and you close your doors, there’s a good chance there were a lot of circumstances beyond your control that affected your business, and even if that’s not true and you’re just crappy at business then your business also kind of didn’t fail you—it just shut down so you could go do something else with your life. But for now, my business has helped a lot of people literally change their lives, and I am very proud of that. And it has cared for me and my family, and I am very proud of and grateful for that too.
4. “You’re going to fail at every single thing you try to do in your life.” Seriously? That’s just mean. First of all, you can’t possibly know that. You don’t have a crystal ball. You just don’t know what’s going to happen. And even if you say that you’re making an educated guess based on my track record, you’re still wrong—please reference points 1, 2 and 3. I haven’t failed at everything, I simply haven’t. Are there things I can do better? Sure. Are there things I need to learn and commit to and follow through on and take responsibility for? Yes. Do I have resistance to some or a lot of these things? Yes. Am I willing to say that a lot of how I do in the future is up to me? Yes. And am willing to say that even if I don’t change or “fix” one more thing about myself I’ll still be baseline OK? Um, I’m pretty sure yes. And, on the flip side, would I say that no matter how much learning, exploring and self-improving I do there will still certainly be things I fail at? Yes. So, there you have it. You can’t know that that’s true, there’s nothing that points to it being true, and, in fact, all evidence points to the pretty much guaranteed fact that my life will include both success and failure. I feel like I need to say just one more thing: I think there are things I can do, both internally and practically, that could help me feel this less. Practicing meditation, intention, consciousness, acceptance, compassion. There is room for that, I welcome that.
5. “Some people have it. You don’t.” Uggh. This is a harder one for me to argue. I really feel like this sometimes—like every time I read People magazine. I should stop reading People magazine. All these young, grateful actors and writers and people playing on the beach and in the water and being all fit. These people who “magically” made it and have amazing careers and tons of money and gorgeous houses and are living their art and have so many pretty dresses! It’s not fair. (Taking a breath. Coming back down to earth.) As Natalie would say, after asking who these people are who I’m comparing myself to, “Drew Barrymore?? Ha!” Fair enough. And yes, I know everyone’s got their stuff and their pain and their problems to handle. And you know what, more than that—I may not have whatever it would have taken to get “discovered” at the age of three, or fifteen, or thirty…but I have what I have, and the truth is, that’s special too. What I have fits some needs, and what I DO with it is what will, for the most part, make the difference. Am I willing to work hard? Because they do. Am I willing to put the time in and put myself out there and risk failure? Because they do. Am I willing to be in action, consistently, even when I don’t feel like it? Because I’m pretty sure they are. And am I willing to entertain the possibility that this is as it should be, that I have everything I need right now, that these lessons are lessons I need to learn, and that this life is special and perfect exactly the way it is? And that I get to take responsibility for shifting it in any particular direction that’s calling me, and that I’ve had "it” in lots of different ways? I co-wrote a published book. I speak and get clients. I have friends and family I love. I have stories inside me, and art that comes out of me, and I have what makes me uniquely me. I have what I need, it’s time to use it.
6. “Give up.” No.
So, Ego, I know we will likely have this conversation again. If you’d like to take the job, instead, of protecting me from real danger, and to support me in becoming bigger and advocating for what I believe and for my work and for what I want to create, that would be awesome. Either way, I know you’re part of me and that you do mean well.
But I don’t want to swim in this river. I want to remember that I’m human, just like everyone else, with lots accomplished and lots to learn. I want to know that it will be OK, one way or another, that ups and downs are normal, and that I am blessed.