Swami Kripalvananda said, “My beloved child, break your heart no longer. Every time you judge yourself you break your own heart.” This section ends with this quote, and this essay, because I think in times like these it’s easy to get caught up in thinking how you could, or should, have done things differently. But if the way we talk to ourselves, about ourselves, is shaming, blaming, angry, destructive—pejorative in any way—how can we expect to show up in the world confident in our ability to contribute?
From what I’ve observed, the trouble often begins when we begin comparing our insides to other people’s outsides: a nasty mental cul de sac that can lead to an internal dialogue along the lines of, “I can’t believe I let that happen.” “I’m such an idiot,” or “How could I have been so blind?”
For example, I have one client who had worked with a public relations firm for the last ten years. For the two years before the firm declared Chapter Eleven, he had been hearing rumors of cost cutting on the employee level combined with the acquisition of still larger and more lavish houses and cars by the CEO. His trouble was that no only did my client like the guy at the top—he’d taken a chance on him when no one else would—he was also scared to move as he had a mortgage, credit card bills, school fees for his kids … so he stayed. And when the firm did indeed, go belly up, the death throes were compounded by my client’s anger at himself for not leaving sooner. His brain became a non-stop feedback loop of self-loathing—which only added to his stress at having to look for a new job.
At this point, the request I made of him, and I would make of you, is to step back and ask yourself: would I speak to a close friend that way? My guess is you wouldn’t. Or, as my friend Bill said to his girlfriend Sarah when she was running herself down, “Hey, don’t talk about my girlfriend like that.”
The tricky part is that, as the saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt. We’re often so deep inside our own story, and consequently so conscious of all our mistakes, that we forget to give ourselves credit for all the kind, smart, or strategic things we do, instead choosing to focus on all the things we think we could or should be doing differently.
My point here is that you do have a choice, and the more productive choice to make is to shift your focus from self-improvement to self-acceptance. I’m not saying it’s easy, but I am saying it’s possible.
This is not to say you get a bye on creative procrastination, heedless decisions, or generally poor behavior—these are never acceptable, and if you notice a pattern to their occurrence it needs to be addressed. What I am saying is that most of us are doing the best we can with the tools that we’ve got, and cutting ourselves some slack is going to get us further than beating ourselves up. Your willingness to think the best of yourself is going to help others think the best of you, and increasing your awareness of the story you tell yourself is the quickest way to have that story change.
We all deserve a great story.
With this in mind, I offer you the following:
When I first started my company—and please note this was career change number five—one of my advisors took me out to lunch and said, “Here’s what nobody tells you: there’s plenty of room at the top—so come on up.”
That knocked me out. In a world where many successful people like to shroud their decision-making in mystery—preferring instead to make their good fortune seem inevitable to them and unattainable by you—finding someone willing to say, “Hey, when you’re ready, there’s more than enough to go around,” was indescribably heartening.
And I promise when you believe this to be true— know on a cellular level that it is your right to be at the top— you will be.