The past couple of months I have been focusing on this topic of control - how really the only thing I actually can control in life are my reactions, how I deal with situations, and how I show up to this world. I've tried to control how people feel about me, I've tried to manipulate situations to go my way, I’ve reorganized the dishwasher because it wasn’t done how I would have done it, I’ve stressed out about giving a presentation because I was nervous about how people would react -- in fact I believed the stories I made up in my head about a conclusion to a presentation that hadn’t even happened yet. In reality it’s all just extra, unneeded stress.
When I originally started writing this post, I had a completely different direction of where I wanted this to go but as I started writing I realized my brain had something else to talk about so I went with it.. I mean this is all about learning to let go of control right ;) I am going to do a series of posts on this topic specifically because I realized this whole control thing is something I have and continue to really struggle with. There are multiple layers. Today I want to focus on what is, in my opinion, the most important part: we only have control over how we show up to this world.
Like I mentioned in my first post, I took a lot of pride in what kinds of grades I got in school. And simply put my grades, to me, were a reflection of my self worth...
and then someone called me stupid.
Not exactly in those words, but that’s how I heard it. When I got back from Bike and Build I switched my major to Marketing. I was a Junior at the time so completely switching my major from Speech Pathology to the business world wasn't exactly a small pivot. It was a completely different beast. I wasn’t learning about throat muscles and brain chemistry anymore, it was now all about targeting your niche audience, accounting, and business case studies.
Being the teacher's pet and front row student my entire life, I asked a lot of questions, I was comfortable talking in class and I was alwaysss the person with my hand raised. So naturally it wasn’t any different in my new setting. Somewhere down the road during my many questions I heard another student refer to me and say, “yeah, she just doesn’t get it.”
Holy knife to the heart. That comment broke me. It may sound overly dramatic but when school was “your thing” growing up, the only thing you were actually good at for the majority of your life, the thing that you directly identified as a reflection of your self worth. It was soul crushing.
From that point on, that comment lived in my head, I started believing that comment. I started thinking, “maybe I don’t get it.” I started reserving my questions more and did the worst thing you could do when you’re learning, I pretended I knew the answers. This whole world of business really started to scare me and deep down, for the first time, I questioned my intelligence. My identity.
I graduated and got a job with a large corporation and realized pretty quickly I didn’t fit in. I’m not going to lie, I struggledddddddd with my first “big girl job.” I was terrified. There was so much i needed to learn but so little I actually questioned. I let my coworkers and my manager intimidate me and I put myself on the bottom of the totem pole. No matter what kind of good feedback I got I clung to the negative, what I should be doing better. I was going to work in fear every day because I was so afraid of looking stupid. I made myself sick over stress and when I get stressed, I tend to do things to avoid the actual problem. And by avoiding the problem it made my stress levels worse. It was a circle of stress.
Over the last 5 years or so I have had some pretty amazing opportunities to work at some pretty amazing companies. But really until early this year, I still hung on the believe that I was unintelligent in the business world and that I wasn’t going to succeed. There was a consistent comparison to my coworkers where I believed they brought wayy more value than I ever could. I constantly remember thinking “I wish I was really good at my job.” Looking back, the reality was I was focusing on all of the wrong things. I wasn't confident, I wanted people to see my value and worth so badly that everything I did was in hopes that they would see it. I stressed over how people would react to my presentations, to my quota performance, to my participation in meetings. It went back to the thought, “my performance is a direct reflection of my worth.” And if I failed, then I definitely was stupid, and I definitely didn’t belong.
You know those moments where all of the light bulbs in your head go off and the stars align and the thousands of puzzle pieces you've been trying to put together suddenly just fit? I had one of those moments with a previous manager. I was working on something that was completely out of my comfort zone, out of my job description, and I was wearing one of those hats that you just have suck up and put on because if you don't there isn't anyone else who will. I put my whole being into making sure this task was done right and that it was done perfectly. I remember sitting in the conference room with my boss and the coworker I was doing this task for, presenting it so excitedly and proudly, only to be told that it wasn’t done right and was going to set everyone back. I was devastated. I have only one vivid memory before this moment of crying in front of coworkers.. And this surpassed it. After it was just me and my boss in the room, the waterfall of tears exploded. I was mortified.
To this day I will never forget what he said to me, “I know you hate disappointing people, but I would rather have an employee who cares and may need some more teaching over an employee who doesn't care and does everything ‘perfectly.’ No one is dying in this situation, everyone is going to be fine, you’re going to be fine. You did the best you could, and that's all we ask for.”
In that moment it hit me..
THE ONLY THING I CAN CONTROL IS HOW I PRESENT MYSELF TO THE WORLD
That’s it. No matter how hard I try, I can't control how someone reacts to my presentation, to all of my hard work. If I do the best I can with what I have, that is all I can do, that is all I can control.
But the most important thing I have learned through all of this: If I ask a question and someone things I am stupid, that's THEIR REACTION. The only thing I can control is whether or not I choose to believe it. Someone's opinion doesn't reflect who I am, my worth, or my value.. I CHOOSE my worthiness, I DEFINE my value. NO ONE ELSE. If I put my absolute best into a presentation or into leading a meeting and it doesn’t go well, THAT’S OKAY. IT HAPPENS.
That’s how we learn, that’s how we improve. As long as you know you did the best you could, that’s all you can do. Let’s learn to be happy with that rather than beating ourselves up trying to strive for the perfection that ultimately doesn’t exist.
By learning to be confident in my abilities, in my worth, in my value, in my self approval, and to not worry about how others perceive me, I perform so much better because now I can focus on producing my best work, rather than trying to get people to react in the exact way I want them to. I go to work and do the best I can.
I've learned to look up to coworkers I admire but not to directly compare myself to them because while there is definitely stuff I can learn, I can and should be my own person at the same time. I've learned to recognize that I have different abilities, perspectives, and ideas to bring to the table and not to be afraid to speak up when I want to share rather than not saying anything in fear of looking stupid. I've learned that I will never know it all and that I will always be learning, even when I am at a job for a long time. I've learned that my work isn't a direct reflection of my worth and that no one but me can tell me otherwise. I've learned to admit when I make a mistake or NEED HELP because fear of saying I didn’t do something correctly isn’t going to stop me from learning/growing anymore.
I've learned not to always assume the worst, because if I start believing thoughts or ideas that aren't real or that haven't happened, I stress. I put on blinders that have me believing my fears rather than seeing reality.
BECAUSE ASSUMING THE WORST/BELIEVING MY FEARS IS SOMETHING I HAVE IN MY CONTROL. I can choose to believe the best possible scenario rather than choosing to believe the worst possible scenario. See the difference?
I will tell you that my new job is going a hell of a lot better and I am way less stressed because I am choosing to be confident, to ask for help, to ask questions (and not to apologize for asking them), to be honest, and to trust my abilities. I choose to show up and do the best I can with the day that I have. It’s one of the most freeing things I have experienced.
I let the fact that someone called me stupid drive my entire behavior for years. It was all because I decided to believe them, that their reality, their thoughts about me was my reality. But others don’t decide those things, we do. We decide how we feel about ourselves and what truly defines us. Being out of control is scary and the unknown can be a difficult thing to come to terms with, but trying to control every possible outcome is EXHAUSTING and folks, take it from someone who has tried their entire life, it’s impossible.
So my take away? Show up, do the best you can with the day you have. Leave expectations, control, outcomes, all of that jazz at the door. Trust in yourself. Be honest with yourself. Take off the fear and expectation blinders. Choose to be confident. Realize that the way other people react is OUT OF YOUR CONTROL. Live YOUR reality. And again love yourself - life is just way too short ;)