We attended the same high school. Beth was a cheerleader. She was beautiful and popular. I was awkward and shy. She married her high school sweetheart and proudly shares pictures of her husband, children, and grandchildren on Facebook. I was on an insecure theater geek driven to find my place on the stage.
I graduated from high school with a singular ambition: I wanted to leave my old insecure identity behind and become a new person on Broadway. I left St. Louis shortly after graduation to create a new self. However, my old self packed her bags, too, and followed me with the same passionate energy and ambition. Her voice became my inner voice.
My critical inner voice constantly reminded me I was not good enough, smart enough, bright enough, or talented enough to experience success anywhere. Her voice was ingrained in my bone and the harder I tried to accomplish one successful feat after another, the louder her voice echoed within me.
I lived with a group of Catholic sisters before I started college. We organized summer youth camps for children in the Ozark mountains in southern Missouri and northern Arkansas. Acts of service softened the critical voice within me; but it did not silence her.
My passion to experience the lights of Broadway was replaced by a new desire after my summer missionary experience with the children: I wanted to inspire others. I wanted to show others how to embrace their inner light and be proud of the gifts they breathe into the world. I hoped that, in inspiring others, I might discover my own light.
I became a teacher. I published. I received conference invitations and a doctoral degree. Any confidence earned from success was quickly hammered into the ground by the much stronger voice within me that chanted I was not good enough. I would never be good enough.
I was terrified to be authentic. I was afraid I was a paranoid schizophrenic and, if anyone ever found out, I’d be committed to a psychiatric hospital. I finally gathered enough courage to admit my truth and self-diagnosis to a doctor.
“Why do you think you are a paranoid schizophrenic?” he asked.
“Because I hear voices,” I explained.
“What are the voices saying?”
“The voices say I’m bad. I’m damaged goods. I’m no good.”
I couldn’t run from myself or the voices anymore. Commitment to a psychiatric hospital was easier than running.
“Those are scary voices,” agreed the doctor, “but the voices you hear are coming from inside of you. You’re listening to a nasty negative tape that’s playing inside of your own head.”
“How do I make it stop?” I inquired.
“Choose to listen to a different tape,” he answered. “You have the power to change your own thoughts.”
I did not know I had the power to change my own thoughts. I wanted a tape like the one Aibileen Clark, the fictitious maid from The Help, cooed to Mae Mobley:
You is good. You is kind. You is important.
Shortly after my visit with the doctor, I received an email from Beth announcing a high school reunion. I was afraid to attend the reunion because I did not want to run into the scared, scarred, awkward, shy misfit I left in St. Louis. I replied to Beth’s email and shared my apprehensions. As I wrote my response to Beth, I prayed for reassurance that my perceptions were distorted. My letter was an unconscious dare to Beth: Please prove to me that I’m wrong.
I did not know how severely inaccurate my perceptions were until I received Beth’s response. She thanked me for trusting her enough to share my feelings. She admitted that she respected me when we were in high school … she revealed how shy she was (just like me) and how much she admired my abilities to act and sing in front of an audience. Reading her response opened the door to a life-altering change.
I spent a lifetime trying to squelch the voice of a scared little girl who never felt good enough. In the quiet of silent reflection, I created a visualization where my confident adult self embraced the scared little girl and promised to protect her. I resolved to replace the tape of negative self-talk that berated my anxious, insecure self with words of kindness, gratitude, and love. Both selves are part of my whole self … and I need both selves to be complete.
And, for the first time in my life, I felt calm.
Beth recently subscribed to my blog. I reread the questions in her letter.
“How different do you think our lives would be if we had the wisdom we have now when we were teens?” she asked. “But then again, would we be who we are today had we not encountered the difficulties and the joys experienced over our lifetimes?”
I think our experiences are valuable for those who follow in our footsteps, but not for reasons we suspect. Although our experiences teach us rich lessons, I believe what becomes of value in the sharing of the stories are the relationships that deepen as a result of the telling. Shared stories unveil our humanity and invite others to connect with us. Not because our lessons changed them or their behaviors in any way, but because we invite transparent trust to change both of us. We experience what the Greeks call Metanoia, a change of heart.
I spoke recently to a large group of women about self-esteem and positive affirmations. One woman asked, “Do you have a personal affirmation?”
I do. Now.
I inspire everyone to dream big and live with purposeful intention.
Thank you, Beth, for walking with me into the heart of a Metanoia experience.
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