(Warning: PG Content)
There is a myth associated with the self-development industry that we Life Coaches largely have our shit together and that, because of this, we’re in a perfect position to sort everyone else out. The careful cultivation of self-branding allows sparkly veneers to appear without buffs or scratches.
And hey, I’m a savvy girl that has practiced this too – I hold my hands up!
I have, however, been encouraged recently to see fellow self-dev people start to talk more openly and lift the veil on the shiny exterior that we see. It’s not all green juice, kundalini and mindfulness. In fact for me it’s more like caffeine, walking the dog and binging on Oprah and Gabrielle Bernstein on Youtube - but I am getting there!
When it comes to sharing the not so glossy stuff, I went public with a very personal DOOZY of a lesson learned the hard way – as can be seen in print in June’s Essentials magazine. (Smiley me can be seen just to the right.)
It was when I wanted to post the picture that I realised there's more to this than an ego trip vanity boost. Behind that quote lies a lot of pain for me and a very personal story. I could either post the pic with a snippy little 'go me!' comment or I can share with you what lies behind it. And I've decided the latter.
In life, shit happens and my life is no different. It’s empathy, relate-ability, humility and intention to be the best I can be that I feel brings credibility to what I do as a coach. I have never made a secret of the fact I’m a work in progress and it’s been sharing my experience through this blog and speaking gigs that I’ve been able to build connections and meaningful relationships with those going through tough times – people ‘get’ that we’re all just trying to ‘get’ it, including me.
As many of you will know, my ‘Mastermind chair’ topic is comparison caused by social media or, ‘compare and despair’ to use the media term. I’m intrigued by how our Facebook feeds makes us feel, act, share, connect, reflect and freak out in equal measure. Part of that goes back to my brand strategy background, as I’ve always been good at seeing what turns people on, off and explain why in the process.
Part of my keen interest in comparison, however, is closely linked to my own comparison habits. How in the past, and to a lesser extent now, I've compared myself to others with not always great results.
I have, in the past, damaged my sense of self, emotionally beaten myself up and social media was my weapon of choice. Not cool and not very life coachy, is it?
Having to fix, repair and strengthen my confidence to claim my place in the world, defined by only me and what I’m about, has felt like the job of a lifetime. The catalyst for this came out of nowhere and shook my world upside down. I’m pleased to say, in the words of the Frozen anthem – I have Let if Gooooo!... but as part of my intention to always be real with you guys, I want to reveal it in its ugly glory…
At the age of 27 I thought I had this life and aspiration thing licked.
I was engaged with an impressive rock to a successful businessman and enjoying the trappings of that lifestyle. Barbados holidays. Eating out most nights. Mini breaks to festivals abroad. Not only were things sweet at home, I was really making a name for myself in my job and working with some of the greatest minds in the branding business. The only way was up, right?
As far as the universe was concerned it was a “LOLZ NO LUCY!!” Over the course of 2010, things got tough with my OH’s business, then they got worse and then it shut. Closed. Game over.
In that one day in September everything I thought and had hoped for myself up to that point changed – it was the opposite of aspirational. And, for me at the time associating my sense of worth with material success, it was devastating. My ego took a pounding like never before.
It was about 8 months after this that I attended my school reunion back where I used to live and, around that time, also caught up with a group of old work friends - the grads from my cohort.
Like anyone who has ever been to a reunion will identify with, I was excited and nervous to see people I hadn’t in a long time, so two reunions meant double those fizzy feelings.
The events were lovely – fab lunches followed by chilling out in lush, green gardens and swapping giggle and chatter with the girls and boys I used to know. Not to mention meeting some super cute kids too.
Unfortunately for me, I was unaware that my sub conscious was playing the role of an evil MI5 agent. Mining for information and making assumptions that I could draw on later to keep my esteem as low as possible. I dreaded being asked personal questions and so kept conversations focused on the people around me and inadvertently generated more and more stuff I could twist to make myself feel crappy.
What I hadn’t realised until it was too late, was how fragile I still was on the inside and that my ‘I’m fine’ act was just that, an act. But by that point I had set the wheels in motion and what could and should have been left as lovely days of nostalgia for me, started to cast a dark shadow.
What followed those reunion experiences would be like opening the door to my own private ‘Las Vegas of comparison’ and negative introspection – complete over stimulation and gorging on how beneath the other guys and girls I felt and how far behind I was compared to my high achieving classmates and former grad peers.
These beautiful and intelligent women and whip smart, dynamic men that I felt I couldn’t hold a candle to anymore.
Why did it seem to me that they were 'rocking it' in every respect and that I just felt like 'a nobody from the North'? I remember thinking “I’d be smiling like that if this shindig was a year ago” but instead my reality was that we were about to lose our house. Things hadn't hit rock bottom yet.
Even as I type this I can feel the tears in my eyes as I think about the relentless campaign of self-doubt I subjected myself to. Making crazy comparisons between my situation and other people's circumstances at a time I needed to focus on myself, be my own best friend and yet, I was the complete opposite.
I am still so disappointed and ashamed I was not able to fully share and ‘show up’ as myself to celebrate the success and fully join in the banter with the rest of the guys at the reunions but my internal radio was tuned to ‘Lucy is crap FM’ playing all the hits to make me feel sh… yup.
I *SO WISH* I could go back and handle the aftermath of those events differently but I simply didn’t have the tools I have now and I needed to build myself from the ground up.
That was a process that took me a good year or so and thankfully, at aged 30 I feel like the ickiness following that time is a distant memory.
If I had skipped my campaign of self-doubt I would have missed out on the amazing gifts of my self-repair.
By putting myself back together I have been able to reignite friendships that have meant I’ve partied in New York ‘til dawn (you know who you are!) shared in the inspirational stories of others with their eye on their prize and more recently, in the next couple of weeks I can’t wait to catch up with one of my faves for lunch – one of the coolest girls about London town that I know (shout out LP!)
I’m embarrassed about it but that comparison crazed time is far behind me and I have a healthier relationship with myself and Facebook now.
I am nervous to reveal what was a horrible emotional time when I used social media to obsessively remind myself how crappy my own life was and ultimately, keep my feet in concrete. It feels good to be able to be really honest about the experience with a wider circle and I hope it provides some good vibes and encouragement for any of you who are in a similar scenario.
Having been caged by self-comparison and done the work to get over it and make things happen for myself in ways I never thought possible, I feel my coaching comes with an extra dollop of empathy and insight. When I say 'I get it', I mean it.
But one thing I know for sure is you CAN create the life you want and live it in a way that is meaningful to you.
Now, when I look at Facebook and see those girls and boys from school, previous jobs and similar people from my past posting about what’s going on in their lives, I think “good for them AND good for me too”.
The hidden blessing from the experience is that I mean it and I live it now. There is no ‘I’m fine’ act to hide behind. I don’t need to act anymore because this is who I am.
If I help one person beat a similar comparison wobble then I will go to sleep happy :)
With love always,
(Sources: http://www.buzzfeed.com/sarahaspler/17-things-that-happen-at-your-first-spin-class-f6ih, http://www.buzzfeed.com/katienotopoulos/crystal-clear-examples-of-why-we-need-sex-ed-classes-in-publ, http://www.buzzfeed.com/loudtallblonde/expectation-vs-reality-moving-home-after-college-n6v4, http://www.buzzfeed.com/swinburne/15-things-you-should-never-ask-a-uni-student-qd18, http://www.buzzfeed.com/ariellecalderon/things-you-took-for-granted-in-college, http://guyism.com/celebrities/28-sexiest-katy-perry-gifs.html?single=true, http://www.buzzfeed.com/rsultan/squeemail)