Several years ago, someone who was angry with me told me–as a reference to my own behavior–that she “didn’t understand any woman who was insecure, much past the age of eighteen.” At the time, I was twenty-eight.
In the immediate moments after she said this, I hid the sting of her words. I started doing what Dr. Brene Brown calls “the hustle for worthiness.” I started saying things that (I hoped) sounded neatly packaged and tied together. I began trying to position myself in the best possible light.
Then, I promptly spent the next few years alternatively avoiding or trying to impress this woman. When I was in a room with her, I hustled hard. I talked about cooking or social justice or travel or learning languages, things that I knew that she was interested in. If there was any way possible to get out of an event that involved her, I bailed: “Gosh, so busy, gee, wish I could, but I’m working so hard on [insert hot shit product launch or new entrepreneurial endeavour].”
This was, of course, more insecurity. She had hit the nail right on the head with her assessment of my behavior. And–despite my best efforts, over the years I would hear about more criticisms of me, my approach, things I said, things I did, even though I was hustling so hard to change her opinion of me.
When most of us are in this kind of a situation, it’s a knee-jerk reaction to start tearing down what the other person said. For awhile, that’s what I did. I mentally justified why I was insecure, or felt relieved when a friend expressed feeling insecure (hey, it’s not just me!), and I tried to avoid being around her so as to avoid ever again hearing her criticisms.
But really, the problem wasn’t what she said or what she thought.
The problem was that I believed her.
The problem was that the moment that she made it clear that insecurity at my age was patently uncool, I superimposed her worldview over my own.
In that moment, I had had a choice. I could have said what I’d experienced to be truth up to that point, which would have sounded something like, “Actually, I completely disagree. It’s been my experience that everyone has pockets of insecurity, and I’m fine with the fact that I have mine. I admit to them, because that’s honest. I’m doing the best I can to work through them.”
It was because I didn’t believe her that I started hustling for worthiness. She didn’t “make me” hustle. I chose it.
How to Respond When People Criticize
As far as I can tell, people are going to deliver their assessments of your behavior. There’s no amount of hustling for worthiness that’s going to save you from someone’s criticisms or gossip. There’s no amount of trying to “do it right for them” that will spare you their stuff.
And really, it is their stuff. What this person was really saying to me about insecurity was that she didn’t like insecurity. I don’t know what that meant for her life, at the time.
All I do know is that since we can’t control other people, I see a few options in such situations:
1.) You can hustle harder to try to smooth things over, make them happy, phrase it in the right way, convince them that you’re awesome. This will be effective approximately 50% of the time, but the other 50% it won’t–and what works for them, will be completely different for someone else, so be prepared to shape-shift like a mad woman depending on who you’re talking with, if you pick this option.
2.) You can limit contact with them so as not to be around any criticisms. This option will be helpful for the person in question, but then someone else will crop up, so this also carries with it no guarantees.
3.) You can decide to know yourself, deeply and honestly and intimately, and to love all parts of yourself. With this option, what people say may hurt sometimes, and other times it won’t, because you’ll know yourself enough to know that it’s not true, or you’ll decide to throw down a little shadow work and see criticisms that trigger you as a place for investigation.
Let it be said: I really like door #3.
Door #3 is the journey of really understanding who you are–not just the shortcomings, but also all of the wonderful and unique things that there are to celebrate.
Door #3 is the path of finding out that there’s more goodness there than you were aware of, once you actually look closely.
Door #3 is the path of deciding whose opinion you want to matter, and whose you don’t–and assigning a hierarchy, even, of putting your opinion first and then those of the people with a demonstrable record of care.
Always choose door #3. Your energy can go into shape-shifting, and it can go into avoidance…or it can go into richly and divinely becoming absolutely everything that you already are, and loving this you, wholly and totally.
The energy will go somewhere. Where do you want yours to go?
Whatever happened with this person? I realized that I had felt insecure and that actually…I was fine with that. Whatevs. I came to understand that anything that came out of her mouth was just her worldview, her lens on life. Any criticisms that she had could just be reduced to feedback–feedback that I could use, or dismiss.
Really, I got so sick of knuckling under that fear–my own fear–of bracing myself for what she said, that something within me came to understand that it wasn’t worth it to me, to live that way. I stopped babbling about topics that she was interested in, when I was around her. False confidence (fear) gave way to practicing courage as I took a deep breath and risked disagreement, talked about what I was most interested in, and quit trying to be her version of cool.
I quite literally decided to just be myself, and that she could deal with that however she liked. Interestingly, in taking the focus off of hoping to impress her and be liked, I found more things that I actually liked…about her.
When other people criticize you, don’t fear what they say. Fear believing them (and then work on that). It’s betting on yourself, and that’s a bet that’s worth investing in, totally.
“Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, the providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way.” — W. H. Murray
verb (used with object)
1. to give in trust or charge; consign.
2. to consign for preservation: to commit ideas to writing;
3. to pledge (oneself) to a position on an issue or question; express (one’s intention, feeling, etc.):
4.to bind or obligate, as by pledge or assurance; pledge: to commit oneself to a promise; to be committed to a course of action.
5.to entrust, especially for safekeeping;
Commitment? What’s that?
If you want to see your life change, you’ve got to commit.
Important point: I define commitment as the decision to show up fully and consistently while seeing things to their logical or necessary conclusion.
We live in a society where it’s become easier than ever to wiggle out of things. It can get confusing to sort this out–you don’t want to adhere to the rigid notions of commitment that your grandparents might have stuck to, turning your life into a sea of joyless obligation, yet you also understand that when you quit on something before it’s time, you miss out.
Commitment is not “forever” unless that’s the life cycle of the thing you’re committing to. You get to set the terms, but part of setting the terms for when something should end means understanding that there are consequences–things you miss out on–when you walk away too soon. Part of commitment is accepting responsibility for the consequences.
Commitment is the decision to show up fully and consistently until it’s time to expire.
Your commitment to something is being practiced when you are basically, most of the time, more often than not, consistent in walking your talk.
And, of course, no one is perfect. Certainly, I’m not. But basically, most of the time, more often than not, I am consistent in practicing my commitments, whether it’s a relationship, my business, or personal growth.
Another way to describe commitment in action? You do not start stuff, not really show up fully, and then just stop.
A Few Examples
If you want the business to work:
Lackluster and inconsistent = not fully committed. There is no magic bullet out there for starting a business; you can stop buying more and more programs and workshops. Everything that I share in The Coaching Blueprint has been time and experience-tested as effective for myself and other coaches, but none of the business wisdom in that program would work if someone isn’t committed to applying it.
Note: commitment is a particularly important thing for coaches to address within themselves, because much of what you’ll be helping clients with is how they commit to themselves, the things that are important to them, to the people around them, to shifting internal belief systems that cause suffering, etc.
While no life coach is perfect, I do think that we need to be committed to walking our talk in our own lives.
Turning it around: Whatever marketing newsletters you’re subscribed to, actually make time to read them each week and apply what they share. Whatever programs you’ve already purchased, finish them. If you signed up for an e-course or group coaching workshop and didn’t listen to all the calls or complete all the exercises, go back and finish them. Create standards for completion before you take on anything new.
If you want your relationship to work:
Lackluster and inconsistent = not fully committed. There is, of course, another person involved in this, but speaking from personal experience, the greatest challenge of shifting a relationship is keeping the focus on my own crap and all the places where one moment of being triggered makes me want to completely backslide on any change I’ve promised to make.
Also–couples therapy? A must. I’ve read that most couples quit before they’ve had five sessions. Consider that you’re coming into the relationship with your entire history of patterns, and he/she is coming into the relationship with the same thing. Is it really reasonable to expect change in an intimate relationship in fewer than five couples counseling sessions? For most people, that’s five weeks. In other words, just barely over a month…to shift years of patterns created by two people.
Turning it around: Commit to shifting the relationship in a positive direction, rather than trying to change the person. Show up basically, most of the time, more often than not, more or less consistently with a true desire to change and put into practice any insight for change that comes your way.
If you want to make a personal-growth or self-help change–like getting more present, prioritizing what really matters most, not being so negative, attracting more friends?
Lackluster and inconsistent = not fully committed. Whatever program you’re on, commit all the way.
- If zen meditation is your deal, then commit all the way.
- If you can’t get enough of Eckhart Tolle, then commit to that path all of the way.
- If Danielle LaPorte’s Fire Starter Sessions was a revelation for you, then go back, re-read it twice, finish every last worksheet–commit all of the way.
- If you’ve resonated with everything I’ve ever said on this website, then there’s an entire program behind it (just be sure to commit all the way).
- If there’s a social justice activist whose work inspires you, commit all the way.
- If Jesus or The Buddha are your homeboys, if the diving feminine resonates all the way through your chakras, then commit all the way.
Again–commitment is not about perfectionism. Commitment might not even be about “forever.” You define what commitment “is.” The social justice activist might inspire you to commit all the way in helping her raise money for a political initiative–not necessarily joining her by getting your Master’s in Social Work. You need not lay down your life for Eckhart Tolle and build an ashram in his name–just commit to truly understanding the principles that he teaches and apply them in your own life (basically, consistently, most of the time, more often than not).
It is about saying to yourself: “For the duration of this program/for the next year/until I’ve explored this deeply and thoroughly, I’ll consistently show up and I will basically, most of the time, more often than not, put into practice the things that I learn.”
Commitment is courageous. It’s tough, but it’s your proudest shining moment when you look back and realize the journey you’ve traversed. If you want to know how to have all the success you’ve ever dreamed of, there’s one word: commit. That’s courage, in action.
I met a nurse who had recently moved to San Francisco. I asked where she worked, and she said that she was still looking. There were few nursing jobs available.
This got me to thinking about “security.”
Ten years ago, I remember hearing a lot about the “nursing shortage.” Efforts were made to entice people into the profession. Now, apparently, there’s such a glut of nurses that getting a job is competitive, and you’re likely to be relegated to nothing but night shifts for at least the first year, until you move up in the ranks and have more seniority in choosing your schedule (at which point, another nurse comes in for a year of sleepless nights).
The real estate market used to be the bastion of job security–after all, everyone needs a house. No one foresaw the bubble of predatory lending and easy credit bursting (except, I guess, a friend of mine who religiously reads The Economist and who told me that it was going to happen about two years before it did).
Getting a tenure-track job at a college with union benefits is typically seen as the type of air-tight job that you can count on until you’re ready to retire. Of course, everyone forgets that if the college goes bankrupt or loses its accreditation and is taken over by the state, which is happening to a number of California community colleges right now, that all bets are off.
It happens in relationships, too–if you find the right person, work at your marriage, go to couples therapy, and religiously observe date nights, the relationship will hold together…right? Nope. People leave for any number of reasons (including unexpected and sudden death).
It happens with our health. I’ve heard of vegan Ironman triathletes who get breast cancer. Yoga devotees who are the calmest, most relaxed (and, of course, bendy) people you know–and they have a stroke.
Clinging to Security
It’s easy to fall into the trap of clinging to security. It’s what we’re fed: if you just follow the right steps, you’ll get the results you want. It feeds a culture of shame and blame (those people over there? The ones who must be *so* different than you or me because they struggle with addiction, or they’re homeless, or their marriages broke up? They must not have done the “right things”).
But what happens when you do all of the right things, and then there’s *still* the health crisis, the financial crisis, the natural disaster, the marriage that crumbles under the weight of a thousand invisible cracks?
What skills do you have, then, when you’ve spent a lifetime clinging to security?
At the basis of my work, especially with The Courageous Living Program, is this: I want people to learn how to totally trust themselves. That’s where someone arises on the other side of fear, when they’re consistently practicing courage.
I want people to experience life wholeheartedly, living 100% fully alive, and that includes understanding that hey–no bullshit, here–there are going to be challenges.
When those challenges arise, it’s my hope that people totally trust themselves and their capability to handle what arises. Having that sort of capacity is a skill-set that anyone can learn, develop, and master. It’s gorgeous to see it in action.
Of course, you can’t even start…unless and until you release that clinging grip.
Often, we hesitate to release the grip because we don’t know what’s next. “The devil you do know is better than the one you don’t,” is how the saying goes.
Here’s the thing: no one *ever* knows what’s next.
Roger that? NO ONE EVER knows for sure, what’s coming. This means that all of the clinging, attached, stressed-out planning to try to orchestrate everything to go the right way in order to have security? Pointless.
It’s not that security is “bad.” I like feeling secure, and I prepare for a foreseeable future.
It’s moreso that it just doesn’t work to place our sense of security in the stuff “out there.” The jobs? The relationship? Glowing, vibrant health? If those things form the basis of your “security,” then as soon as they shift or change (which is inevitable) then the structure you’ve built a foundation on is going to be exposed as sand.
We’re stronger and more powerful when we redefine security as being secure in ourselves.
Secure in being the wellspring of our own happiness.
Secure in our capacity to make, and recover from, mistakes.
Secure in releasing attachments to what others do or think of us.
Secure in choosing what feels right.
Secure in creating relationships and communities–creating love.
Question what you call “security.” Your house? Your job? Your identity as a mother, a provider, so-and-so’s lover, a CEO?
Be grateful for all of it–treasure it! celebrate it!–while keeping the focus on the kind of security that only you can create: the security of completely trusting yourself.