I don’t remember when I stopped raising my hand at school, but I’m pretty sure I never started. What I do remember is a paralyzing fear of being called on and not knowing the answer, or worse, giving an answer that was wrong.
I’ve been on a quest to prove my competence and intelligence for what feels like my entire life, and it’s made me stay small because it is driven by fear.
How often do you worry about what others are thinking after you say or do something? How many times have you felt like you had to prove yourself to someone else, or play bigger—or smaller—because of the way they are showing up?
Most of us are plagued by the fear of what others think to some degree, and this can keep us from bringing our full value into the world.
Caring about how we make others feel is so important, but it’s equally essential to break free of the fear of what they might think. And the level at which each of us is affected by this is directly related to our sense of worthiness.
Think about that.
On the days when you feel at the top of your game and on top of your entire world, you’re not focused on obtaining the approval of those around you because you already feel good enough.
But during the days when your world is crumbling, and nothing is going right, you desperately vie for the validation of others to convince yourself that you’re still just as worthy as you are on your best days. But it doesn’t work that way.
If deep down you feel unworthy, no amount of external validation will change this belief. It may make you feel better for a short while, but the feeling is temporary.
Only fully stepping into your worthiness can change the fear of not being good enough into the freedom to know that you are, no matter what happens externally.
I’m an only child, and when I was growing up, I made it my mission to be equally fair to my mom and dad. They didn’t instill this in me. I did. I was a highly sensitive and perceptive kid who picked up on everything. Unknown to my parents, those perceptions shaped my world.
This led to a perfectionism that permeated every area of my life, including the workplace. I’ve been in the corporate world for over ten years, and the first time I’ve ever been given permission to be wrong was two weeks ago.
During a brainstorming session with a coworker, I prefaced a suggestion with, “This might be a terrible idea, but…” and he immediately responded with, “We’re just spitballing here. There are no bad ideas!”
I’ll never forget how I felt in that moment. It had such a powerful effect on me that it cut through the fear of what he might think of my ideas and allowed me to fully step into my creativity.
And that’s what happens when we break free of the fear. Suddenly our mind opens up to the full gamut of possibilities, and we’re able to tap into our inner genius because nothing else is getting in the way.
Now, it shouldn’t take a colleague to give us permission to be wrong or make mistakes, especially since that so rarely happens. We must give ourselves permission.
It takes some work to get to the point where this is possible, and it all begins with one question.
Getting to the root of it
When I’m wrong, the internal impact is far greater than any external repercussions. I beat myself up for not saying the right thing, but extend kindness when others make a mistake.
The fear that we have developed is so strong because our inner critic has created it as a protection mechanism. Its job is to protect us from getting hurt, and let me tell you: it takes the role of keeping us safe very, very seriously.
Our thoughts drive the fear that others won’t think we’re good enough, and the root of this fear is different for everyone. For me, in a professional setting, I hold back from sharing an idea or insight because I’m afraid others won’t see the value in it, or that I’ll be “exposed” for not knowing enough, not having enough experience and industry knowledge — the list can go on and on.
In personal situations, I so often hold back my thoughts or perspectives because I’m afraid others won’t get it and I won’t feel understood.
This uncovers a common theme of wanting to get something from our interactions with others in business and life. To make the “risk” worth it, we first need to ensure it’s safe enough to go there. But we rarely have the luxury of that guarantee, and the result tends to be not saying anything at all.
What Am I Making This Mean?
To begin managing the inner voice telling us some version of “not good enough,” the most important question is, what am I making this mean?
Whenever I say something that seems to fall flat, I make it mean that I’m less intelligent and assume that everyone within earshot agrees.
Does that make it true? Absolutely not. Does it make me less brave the next time I have the opportunity to share my ideas? Absolutely!
Identify the thoughts that are driving your fear and take a hard look at the story you’re telling yourself. We are constantly spinning tales throughout the day that attaches meaning to words and responses and actions that may not be true.
These thought-driven, meaning-making stories dictate how we feel, and also create our result. When you think you’re not good enough when you walk into a meeting, how does it make you feel, and how do you show up? When you walk in feeling like you belong in that meeting, how differently are you feeling and acting?
Each one of us has the power to change the story by recognizing it as exactly that — the story we’re telling ourselves about a particular situation, and a story that is very likely not true.
Whenever you experience a negative emotion, you’ve attached meaning to something. To unpack what that is and determine whether it’s true, become very, very still and ask yourself, “what am I making this mean?”
Sit inside that stillness until you know the answer.
Moving Toward Internal Acceptance
Another essential realization is that whenever you find yourself looking for external validation, what you need is internal acceptance. Questioning your thoughts can begin the journey into your worthiness.
Here are six additional questions to help you move from fear into freedom:
- What is the main thought driving your fear?
- Is it true? If so, can you prove that it’s true?
- Who would you be without that thought? How would you feel without it?
- When it comes to what people think, why does it matter to you?
- What changes when you view yourself from a place of complete worthiness?
- How can you give yourself permission to be imperfect, to be wrong, and still be completely worthy?
Asking these questions whenever a particular thought is causing you stress or any negative emotion can help you look inward to figure out the lesson that emotion is trying to teach you. And when you change the story, your sense of worthiness will dramatically change as well.
Work with me! Your inner critic has had years of practice driving this relentless feeling of “never enough”, and the most effective way to loosen its hold on you is to work with a life coach. Send me a message to set up a free consultation.