“Ah, I see. You were hidden all that time.” Barbara smiled across the dinner table at me knowingly.
Wtf? No, no, no. I had just described my ‘successful corporate years’ starting inside a Fortune 25 company at just 21 years old, and continuing for two decades on the outside as an Executive Coach to leaders inside places like the one I’d left.
But hiding? The word struck me as gutless and worse — intentional.
Who hides accidentally, or without meaning to?
But that night, I didn’t find the indignation to disagree with her. Not only was I dining with a dear friend, a pioneer in ADHD education and Master Certified ADHD Coach; but I had at last lost all desire to ‘sell’ this, my professional story of origin one more time.
All those years, I had thought myself busy, engaged in work I loved with clients I cared about. My gut check told me this was true then, and still pretty valid today. Except. Except for when it was not true.
Two days later while reading my ‘Gifts of Imperfection’ e-course homework, Brene Brown grabbed me by the collar and stared me down with these words:
“Belonging is not fitting in. In fact, fitting in is the greatest barrier to belonging. Fitting in…is assessing situations and groups of people, then twisting yourself into a human pretzel in order to get them to let you hang out with them.
Your level of belonging, in fact, can never be greater than your level of self-acceptance, because believing that you’re enough is what gives you the courage to be authentic, vulnerable and imperfect.
When we don’t have that, we shape-shift and turn into chameleons; we hustle for the worthiness we already possess.”
Lacking courage to slow the career train I was riding and begin something scary and whole-hearted, I got it. My very old, deep-seated belief that I wasn’t good enough to belong, had seduced me into trying to fit in. The less I fought it, the truer it felt. Thoreau’s words about ‘most men leading lives of quiet desperation and going to graves with their music still inside them’ rang in my head.
I knew it well. On at least a hundred occasions, I’d shown Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society, spouting Thoreau and Whitman to classes. Then I asked them each to write a personal mission statement. Tears were not uncommon. I can still feel the energy: I wasn’t hiding and I wasn’t letting anyone else hide either.
How did this happen to me? Here’s what I know now.
6 Ways I’ve Hidden from My Best Life
1. I pretended to understand spreadsheets that made no sense. Confused by fast chatter about excel spreadsheets, I presumed I was the lone idiot. And then I pretended to understand the spreadsheet.
2. I took to heart the words from the boss who called me an organizational mess. As a sales rep in training, my boss (former Army) lifted an eyebrow at the coffee-stained interior of my company Buick. You have ‘very large shoes to fill’ said he. Apparently, my predecessor could keep the same pen all day in one place, find it after each store visit and complete the day’s call report in one color of ink. Although I had felt pretty happy about finding a pen of any color each time, I got the message. And I worked hard to be Jim instead of Sherri.
3. For a while, I allowed fear to separate me from my passion. In college, I changed majors. I actually left journalism, which I loved, to become a business major which I hated. Why? My college boyfriend told me I was going to become a bag lady otherwise. I not only believed him, I married him.
4. I confused BS, bluster & bravado with genuine confidence and real intelligence. In one case, I allowed a narcissistic, blowhard of a boss to intimidate me with his computer skills. In 1984. Ok, it was probably just an early model word processor. But it worked. He meant to leave me intimidated and he succeeded. For 3 years in the role I inherited from him, I sat under fluorescent lights being interrupted all day. At day’s end, I scooped everything into my manly briefcase, went home, dumped the contents out on the guest room floor and tried to save myself. (Pretty sure this is where over-preparing and isolating myself started.)
5. I accepted unacceptable treatment from others. I believed friendship meant tolerating a lot of inappropriate stuff because at heart, I knew I was faulty friend material.
6. I permitted myself to forget about things I loved because I couldn’t produce perfection. I’ve grown distant from the love of my life, writing. Admitting to hiding out for this reason is maybe the hardest for me to own. As I write this, I still don’t think I’m a perfectionist. Hard working? Yes. Never satisfied? Yes.
But here’s the thing. I’ve not been paralyzed into complete inaction by anything like I have by writing. While everyone, everywhere, all the time, suddenly began blogging, posting, tweeting and pinning, I went further into hiding.
You see, as a California resident of 30+years, I have opinions about our world, that so far, I choose to believe my midwest family only suspects are different from theirs. Yes, there’s a COEXIST sticker on the back window of my car right next to ‘Obama 2008’. But the rest of how I see the world, I’ve left open to their imagination.
This means that until this moment, I have opted to ‘fit in’ by carefully concealing who I am. By hiding from would-be judgment and by keeping my opinions to myself. Or on my car.
When Michel asked if I would write here, I said yes, knowing I would not welch on this commitment. And I figured that I would learn something. I was right. Amelia Earhart said, “Courage is the price life exacts for granting peace. The soul that knows it not, knows no relief from little things.”
Thank you, Michel.
Here’s to no more hiding; to courage and to peace, my friends.
Sherri Dettmer Cannon
January 17, 2014