Handling your worst ‘visibility nightmare’

COVER JULY 2015 SIBYL MAGAZINE

As published in Sybil Magazine, July 2015.

(#7 of a series of 12 articles on ‘Unlocking Your Sacred Power’)

What’s your worst ‘visibility nightmare’? Being raked over the coals after giving a presentation at work? Shaking as you stand before a packed auditorium? Freezing on your first live radio interview? Putting yourself out in public can be a tender and fragile act, and research shows that fear of public speaking is second only to the fear of death. But what makes the prospect of stumbling in public so frightening?

My biggest nightmare was the fear of being publically attacked. Afraid of ‘slipping up’ and feeling humiliated, I imagined wanting to sink through the ground and disappear. So, as a preventative measure, I did disappear. I continued improving myself to make sure I was ready. And when I did write, I held back my most raw and powerful voice in favor of a writing style that was ‘popular and acceptable’. I stayed safe, but I also held back my gifts, my career, my income and my impact in the world.

And then it happened. One sunny morning I wrote a story about a fugitive peacock that went viral on Facebook. Readers loved the story. They wrote that I had inspired and made their day. They said I was a beautiful writer. But then it came – one highly critical note that took issue with a phrase I used. The reader accused and labeled me and invited me to examine my beliefs and assumptions.

The critic surprised me but I didn’t have the reaction that I thought I might. I asked myself: “Should I respond and explain or defend myself? Should I apologize or ‘process’ the matter with her? None of those responses felt right.   And then I made a choice – I chose to NOT turn her criticism into self-attack.

When someone judges or criticizes what we put out into public it doesn’t mean that we have caused or are responsible for their reaction. It doesn’t mean that we owe them an explanation, retraction or apology. But I do think we owe our critics something – the respect to pause and consider what they have to say. Each of us has blind-spots. So we SHOULD stop and reflect on how they might they have understood our words, how their life experience might have been different, and whether there’s something they might teach us (which may or may not be different from what they set out to teach us). But we’re not obligated to be ‘wrong’.

I’m now grateful to the critic who criticized my sweet peacock story. Because the experience set something free in me – the belief that I have to be perfect in order to show up fully in public.   Speaking your truth publically comes with risks – the risk of angering someone, and the risk someone may criticize and point out your flaws – rightfully or not. But censoring yourself is far more damaging.

Could Invisibility be a Secret Power?

 
As published in Sybil Magazine, April 2015

As published in Sybil Magazine, April 2015

(#4 of a series of 12 articles on ‘Unlocking Your Sacred Power’)

Nowadays in social media and elsewhere the ‘come out of hiding and step into your power’ message seems to be getting louder and louder. But I often wonder… does this admonishment make us stronger? Or does it offer the message that we have to change who we are, and what we are doing to ‘become’ powerful?

When we see our quiet nature, or our need for privacy or internal time as negative, we buy into the notion that we have a ‘problem’ that needs to be fixed. We adopt another ‘should’ instead of asking who we are and what gifts we possess. We can then become “the woman in hiding,” the shy one “afraid of her own power”, the one who is constantly on the verge of success but “can’t quite make it”.  Instead, we need to stop and question the whole notion that a quality like introversion (or a need for turning inward) is ‘hiding’ – wrong, bad and worthy of shame. And to question the belief that power means being extroverted, ‘having impact’ or being constantly in the spotlight.

What is the truth about declining the spotlight and visibility? Is it the opposite to ‘stepping into our power?’ In the popular Harry Potter series, as he apprentices to become a powerful wizard, Harry is gifted with several secret tools or powers. One of these is the Invisibility Cloak. When he dawns the cloak, he does not lose power. He gains it. He gains the ability to travel great distances without being seen or impeded. He is able to observe conversations without being detected. And it allows him to act on behalf of good in the world without fear of being thwarted by the forces of evil.

Similarly, when we are introverted, or when we chose to remain silent and out of the spotlight, we gain valuable opportunities – to observe, to listen deeply, to gestate, to see the whole, or to quietly prepare until we are ready to speak. As a powerful wizard, Harry doesn’t live his life under the invisibility cloak. But having it and learning to use it wisely gives him an advantage that others lack.

I’m not suggesting that women should hide their power or not speak up. But what I’ve learned is that when we’re judging ourselves, when we label our behavior with words like ‘hiding’, we are fighting ourselves. We are denying and pushing away our unique, inherent power. Whether the fullness of your power stuns like the roar of a lion or mesmerizes like the quiet beauty of fireflies against the night sky, it has its own unique nature, needs and rhythms.

If you are pushing yourself to be more visible, or resisting your ‘hiding’ in any way, I invite you to pause and consider this. What secret powers may your invisibility cloak be offering you?

Why is ‘Shining’ a Daring Act?

COVER FEB. 2015 SIBYL MAGAZINE

As published in Sibyl Magazine, February 2015

(#2 of a series of 12 articles on ‘Unlocking Your Sacred Power’)

Shining our full light should be second nature. It’s what we did when we were newborns. It’s what we do when we’re relaxed or ‘in our element’ – whether that’s horseback riding, hiking trails, or when we’re in love. During those times we radiate joy, happiness and comfort – with ourselves, with others and Life. But for so many of us, shining becomes limited to rare occasions, those special weekends, holidays or times when we’re with our closest friends, rather than our everyday state of being.

We lose our light gradually as we accommodate to the needs and demands of our world, first to our parents, then to our teachers, and later to our supervisors at work. We hold back parts of who we are in order to stay safe, to fit in, to please others, to avoid conflict, to get ahead and earn a living.   Accommodation isn’t bad. It allows us to negotiate unfamiliar situations and helps us meet our needs for love, safety, belonging and more. Often, it’s the price of admission to success at school, in the workplace, in our homes and community.

The problem is this. As we put aside more and more of our true needs, values, desires and capacities it’s easy to lose or forget who we are in the process. We can end up identifying with the image we present to the world, the person our job or others want us to be, rather than the person we truly are. Or we can live our lives chasing a definition of success we don’t really believe.

A turning point in my journey was surfacing a hidden belief – that it wasn’t safe to be truly, fully visible.   Speaking with other women, I soon realized I was far from alone. Buried deep within is the fear that if we allowed ourselves to be truly transparent, we could risk our safety, security, success, and the support and nurturance of those we loved. It’s an ancient archetypal wound that many women carry – the fear that our tribe could abandon us to die us at the edge of the village if we dared speak our truth or be who were truly are.

But there’s a deeper truth. As the Earth and our world face unprecedented dangers and challenges, our old comfort zones and identities only offer the illusion of safety. There’s a larger definition of safety at stake. The future of our world asks women to own our full brilliance, to live by our most cherished values, and to speak our deepest truths. To live, speak and act not only on our own behalf, but for the entire web of life.

Shining our full light can entail risk and enormous courage. But fearing and refusing our brilliance can pose an even bigger risk.

The Truth About Hiding

As published in Sybil Magazine, January 2015
As published in Sybil Magazine, January 2015
(#1 of a series of 12 articles on ‘Unlocking Your Sacred Power’)

When it comes to sharing our gifts and our wisdom with the world – that is, really sharing ourselves in our fullest brilliance and expression – why do so many women still hold back? As Marianne Williamson has said, “Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”  But WHY? Why are so many brilliant, talented women – heads of organizations, academics, women launching their own businesses – afraid of their brilliance, light and power?

In the process of helping women claim their unique power and wisdom, and working with my own fears of visibility, I’ve found many reasons we hold back. Sometimes it’s fear of an embarrassing failure, of somehow being ‘not enough’ or ‘too much’. Sometimes we think we need more time to perfect our talents, believing we’re ‘not ready’. Sometimes we’re afraid we’d lose the approval of loved ones if we stepped out more boldly. Or fear what more power and responsibility could cost us – or our families. And sometimes we hold back because of the uncomfortable uncertainty we feel when we step into new roles and territory.

But the fear of our light and power reaches far beyond our personal psychology. It’s buried deep in our experiences of a world that doesn’t always value our unique gifts and perspectives, and in the collective history of women. As gifted helpers, teachers and healers, many of us have learned to hide our most treasured gifts so as to keep them – and us – safe. Safe from possible misunderstanding, ridicule, judgement, and sometimes even violence. The roots of those fears go deep – to the witch-burning trials and beyond.

It’s important to acknowledge our fears and the strategies we’ve adopted to protect us. But it’s equally important to weigh their cost. Dimming down can drain our aliveness, joy and fulfillment. It can dull our relationships, create a glass ceiling on our career success and our earning potential. And when we hide our truth from others, it becomes harder for us to see it too. But there’s an even larger cost. Holding back our light cheats the world of what only we can offer.

This moment of history is asking women to discover our unique gifts, to reach past our fears to our courage and power. To speak and live the messages of our hearts, intuition, and greater knowing. To act on behalf of what is most dear to us. And to support each other – as sisters rather than rivals – as we do it. Releasing our tender gifts into the world can be the most vulnerable act of courage and love we’ll ever take. But as we each step into our unique power, we give others permission to do the same. And thereby birth a new world.