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If you want to change, if you want to be more fulfilled, if you want to be stronger—you have to learn how to face your fears.
Now I’m not talking about bungee jumping or smashing a spider or “facing your fears” in a conventional way.
We all have traditional fears like arachnophobia or agoraphobia, and those are things to overcome, and yes, they can hold us back, of course…but those aren’t the fears that keep us from becoming fulfilled in a larger sense.
Our fears that keep us from becoming fulfilled are based on the things we don’t say because we hold back. They’re the things that terrify us about ourselves. The feeling that we shouldn’t change. That we aren’t worth changing. That we’re too much, not enough, disappointing, or not worth putting forth the effort for. The feeling that we’re supposed to always be “the strong one,” no matter how we really feel.
New York Times best-selling author Marianne Williamson wrote,
It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.
YOU are powerful. Each of us has, within our very being, the ability to become our greatest self. We can face our fears; we can overcome them and realize our full potential.
Carl Jung discussed our shadow self in his archetype model. Inside each of us, we have certain archetypes (or selves) that make up who we are. Jung describes two of these as our persona and our shadow self.
Our persona is the face we put on for the world around us. In fact, the Latin origin of persona literally means, “mask.” We put on this mask and walk around presenting the side of ourselves we want others to see. This is who we think we should be. It’s how we want people to see us.
Each of us has this other side, however—our shadow self. It sounds menacing and scary, and to be honest, it can be. Our shadow self is our denied self. It’s the desires, our fears, and our embarrassment that lies within us. It’s the thing that both holds us back and represents the feelings we have that “aren’t okay.”
Maybe you were raised in a family where it wasn’t okay to be angry.
All of us feel anger, of course, and logically and consciously you probably know that. Whenever YOU feel angry however, you might have this nagging sensation that it’s “wrong.” You may think it’s not how you should feel or that your anger isn’t okay.
So what do you do? You smash down that anger. You put it away. You feel guilty for feeling it. You might even think you’re a bad person.
Eventually it builds and builds inside you. One day, you explode over something when it might not be warranted and you’re filled with shame. You feel like you shouldn’t have gotten angry. You’ve reinforced the belief that not only that what you did was bad, but that YOU are bad. You have this monster inside you.
First of all, we have to embrace our shadow self. To feel alive, we have to reanimate this area of ourselves that we’ve cut off and not allowed. What happens to tissue when it’s cut off from blood flow? It necrotizes. It dies. It infects the rest of the tissue around it and kills it.
Instead of allowing these negative and false beliefs to dictate how we feel, we instead need to let go of our family myths and our limiting beliefs. We need to open it up, examine it and heal, rather than cut it off.
Now, of course, it’s not that easy. You can’t just go, “This makes me feel bad, and so I’m going to let it go.” If it were that simple, we’d all be living our best lives right now…without any work.
Instead, we have to really listen to what’s going on inside of us. We have to understand the ideology of our own hurts. We have to open the doors, even if we’re afraid of the floodgates and what might happen when they open up.
You know what will happen? Change.
It might feel scary and it might feel uncertain, but what is life if you aren’t embracing it for all you can? What is life if you aren’t pushing yourself?
We’re all carrying around these pieces of ourselves from our childhood. Many of them were formed before we even realized it or could do anything about it. These pieces we carry around might be painful. They might be pressures put on us by our parents—maybe you had a mother who emotionally “bled” all over you to show how much you hurt her when you disappointed her, so consequently you walk around in fear of disappointing all the other “mothers” in your life.
Maybe you had to absorb your father’s anxiety and anger. Battleships have zinc cores because they have an electrical current that runs through the center. If left, the current would eat right through the ship, so the zinc is there to absorb all of the electricity. Often, particularly with women, they end up having to “be” the “zinc” to absorb the anxiety and stress around them. (Think of the Office Manager, Human Relations Director, or the Engagement Coordinator.)
We all have a dark side, a shadow side. We all have pieces of our youthful selves running around in our head, believing those very things we were told as children, such as: You’re too much. You need to help calm things down. You disappoint others. You need to protect everyone around you. It’s not okay to be angry.
By not facing and dealing with this unfinished business, we can’t put our best selves out there.
Experience the pain. It’s okay to feel pain and use it as a gift. If you deny pain, you’re denying your gift to the world around you. We have to start exercising that best self, grow ourselves up, and start to embrace change no matter how frightening.
We’re all interested in stasis. Stasis is safe. It’s familiar. It’s easy.
But when you want to be truly great, when you want to level up and fight, stasis isn’t productive. In fact, stasis is damaging. Even if it’s painful to push ourselves, it’s through that pushing that we grow. We have to stretch our muscles, stretch our brain, and stretch our emotions to push through and become the best we can be.
So often, when people are on the verge of real success, be it in business or in life, they reach a point where they get scared and they start holding back. Rather than grow their business in the next step, take their marriage to the next level, or push themselves further, they hold on to the status quo, thinking they’re happy enough. They’re afraid to rock the boat.
You know what? Screw being happy! Aim to be fulfilled, not just “happy.” Aim to make your last breath your best breath, not just to hold where you are.
I’m reminded of a clip from the movie Any Given Sunday with Al Pacino:
I don’t know what to say, really. Three minutes till the biggest battle of our professional lives all comes down to today. Now either we heal as a team or we’re gonna crumble, inch by inch, play by play, ’til we’re finished.
We’re in hell right now, gentlemen, believe me. And, we can stay here — get the s*** kicked out of us — or we can fight our way back into the light. We can climb outta hell one inch at a time.
Now, I can’t do it for you. I’m too old. I look around. I see these young faces, and I think — I mean — I made every wrong choice a middle-aged man can make. I, uh, I pissed away all my money, believe it or not. I chased off anyone who’s ever loved me. And lately, I can’t even stand the face I see in the mirror.
You know, when you get old in life things get taken from you. I mean that’s…part of life. But, you only learn that when you start losing stuff. You find out life’s this game of inches. So is football. Because in either game, life or football, the margin for error is so small — I mean one-half a step too late, or too early, and you don’t quite make it. One-half second too slow, too fast, you don’t quite catch it.
The inches we need are everywhere around us.
They’re in every break of the game, every minute, every second.
On this team, we fight for that inch. On this team, we tear ourselves and everyone else around us to pieces for that inch. We claw with our fingernails for that inch, because we know when we add up all those inches that’s gonna make the difference between winning and losing! Between livin’ and dyin’!
I’ll tell you this: In any fight, it’s the guy who’s willing to die who’s gonna win that inch. And I know if I’m gonna have any life anymore, it’s because I’m still willin’ to fight and die for that inch. Because that’s what livin’ is! The six inches in front of your face!
Now I can’t make you do it. You got to look at the guy next to you. Look into his eyes! Now I think you’re gonna see a guy who will go that inch with you. You’re gonna see a guy who will sacrifice himself for this team because he knows, when it comes down to it, you’re gonna do the same for him!
That’s a team, gentleman!
And, either we heal, now, as a team, or we will die as individuals.
That’s football guys.
That’s all it is. Now, what are you gonna do?
So that’s the question—do you heal NOW? Do you let yourself move forward? Do you let go of the things holding you back and kick yourself in the butt and start making each moment your best moment?
Dr. Bob Wright is an internationally recognized visionary, educator, program developer, leadership and sales executive, best-selling author and speaker. He is a co-founder of Wright and the Wright Graduate University.
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Wright Living is a division of the Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential, a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.