On my boyfriend’s birthday, we sat down to breakfast overlooking beautiful Caribbean ocean. Palm trees, green and blue waves, birds everywhere. A relaxing setting for a relaxing breakfast. The couple next to us was discussing whether to jet ski or snorkel. Another table was gently gigging about last night’s black jack game. Me? I was intensely recalling the first time I met our community vice president. After meeting me, she concluded that I wasn’t “really a community leader.” That she didn’t feel like she had “really met Emma.” When in fact, I actually was the community lead. Nonetheless, she didn’t get that when she met me. She got someone different…someone less authentic.
I sighed remembering the day: we closed the store because of a hurricane, but I had call with my regional manager and area community manager. They told me that I didn’t come off as a community leader during a dinner we had attended with the vice president earlier that week. “Community” meaning strongly rooted in our company’s brand philosophies of authenticity, giving without expectation, and operating from a place of love that is void of ego. Instead, I came off as flighty, dedicated but ungrounded. When I hung up the phone, I burst into tears, then quickly changed into my workout clothes and went downstairs to run out my emotions.
Just your average birthday breakfast conversation.
My boyfriend paused and looked over at me. I can see that, he said. I caught my breath, surprised. Have you seen me act that way before? I asked. He nodded, cautiously. My heart started racing. I stared into the water. But I’ve been working on this for years, I replied. Years! My whole region helped me work on it. They even had a name for her – the woman who didn’t sound like the authentic me – Aurora. By the time I moved regions, I thought I’d squashed this problem, but it’s a difficult problem to work on because it doesn’t come up so much with my coworkers or friends. It happens when I feel like I have prove something. To impress someone. When I feel like I’m being evaluated… I over-explained my greatest personality hurdle. He stared at me intensely. I know, he said.
I wanted to leave the table, angrily slam my chair in, grab my bag and march away. He didn’t know anything! What do you mean you know? I asked trying to be calm. So you’ve seen me act that way? I have. When? I asked sharply. He gently reminded me of a time when I had met one of his brother’s friends and hadn’t acted like myself. He remembered being surprised and wondering why. It didn’t happen again soon enough to seem like a real pattern, however, he hadn’t forgot about it. Sometimes he thought about it when he saw traces of that women in other situations.
Someone kill me, I said out loud. Emma, he protested. That’s dramatic.
But how incredibly frustrating and disheartening and monotonous and deplorable and harrowing to be working on something for years, and still not able to completely overcome it. Is something wrong with me? I wondered. Am I destined for a life of intermittent pain caused by hapless self-sabotage? I felt hot tears filling the corners of my eyes. Sweetie, am I upsetting you? he said softly. I really didn’t mean to… I sighed. No, I am upsetting myself because even after years of working on it, I can’t stop doing something potentially detrimental to my professional and even personal relationships. I took a drink of water.
My boyfriend put his hand on my arm. We all have those things, baby, but most people aren’t ardent enough to continue working on it. I tend to agree that many people are neither hyper-aware nor motivated by self improvement enough to a) receive candid feedback b) examine the part they played to elicit such feedback c) enlist a team of friends, coworkers and family members to help them overcome the source of the feedback and d) persist, persist, persist. On the flip side, some people just change more quickly than other people. I am the queen of learning the lesson the hard way. For me, it takes a few times of the same feedback and then many failures in implementation before I change. And when I change, I relapse and relapse and relapse.
My saving grace is a wonderful support system. People who aren’t afraid to say, Yes, my love, I have seen you do that Aurora thing. Friends who can honestly articulate feedback and generously share their examples of failures so I don’t feel alone. I may be a self-sabotage repeat offender with a song and dance default mode, but I am surrounded by genuine, successful people. People who love me. With that in my back pocket, I soldier one. It’s a little trickier than overcoming fear of public speaking or stating your opinion in a more diplomatic way. The offenses can be quite nebulous; the feedback esoteric. But my truth is a fully expressed and authentic version of myself, so soldiering on is part of the journey. But should you see Aurora song and dance through a post, feel free to leave a comment.
It takes a village.