I’m going through old blogs and came across one I wrote in 2010 after Sandra Bullock won the Oscar for “The Blind Side” and then discovered her husband was cheating on her. It contains an important message about claiming agency over our lives and I thought I’d share it again with you this week.
Who Do You Think You Are?
Once again the tabloid media has taken to plastering their covers with a celebrity who, at the height of her career, has been taken down by a personal tragedy in the form of betrayal by her husband. My heart goes out to Sandra Bullock as she navigates the complicated waters of a broken marriage while having her personal life splayed out for all to see. I can only imagine the hell she’s living in.
Each time I see a public person knocked off a pedestal either by their own undoing or by someone else, I see the writing on the collective subconscious wall: “You better not get too big for your britches or we’ll take you down.” While it seems some need to come down in order to stop hurting people, others become the poster children for our collective fear of being too much.
As I watched Bullock’s public embarrassment unfold, I thought, great, here’s another chance to reinforce the belief that it’s not safe to step into the light and celebrate your gifts.
Each of us has a boogieman (or woman) who keeps us in line by reminding us to tone down our brightness, to take one step back and stay with the pack, or to keep our flaws handy in case we need to pull one out to prove that we’re a card-carrying member of the “fit in” club. For some, this voice is loud, persistent, and demanding in its request to stay small enough to keep others comfortable. For others – most people actually – the voice is subtle and sneaky, but equally pervasive and debilitating. We end up playing by its rules to keep ourselves safe and, as a result, miss out on fully living our lives. You get close to what you really want, for example, and sabotage your efforts because it feels too risky. You find an excuse to avoid making the phone call that just might land you a great job. You eat one more candy bar to stay comfortably numb so you don’t have to confront the brazen friend who made fun of your latest creative idea. Or, you toe the line with family members by leveling the playing field so you don’t ignite the sarcastic comments or guilt-inducing statements that warn: “Don’t you dare leave the tribe by being more successful than us.”
If I were a betting woman, I’d put money on the fact that Sandra Bullock probably started worrying about a bomb dropping on her life when the first award nomination was announced. You know the drill. Things are going a little too well and immediately you start waiting for the next shoe to drop. You pull back, shrink inward, and maybe even start slipping up just enough to steer clear of being “too much.”
Here’s the thing: Eventually the other shoe will drop. That’s the way life works here on planet earth. There will always be an eventual downside to every up. Someone you love will get sick shortly after you launch that new business you’ve been dreaming about. A friend may betray you shortly after being a member of your wedding party. Or, you might lose a promotion because someone more qualified showed up at the last minute.
The real issue is what you do with what happens, not the drama around the details. After all, your safety net (and the ability to claim agency over your life) comes from the investment you make in your own healing journey. How will you grow from the downside? What character traits will you develop? What old wounds will you finally face and heal? The answers to these questions (and the work you do to address them) are the insurance you purchase with your hard work. This insurance gives you the courage to express your greatness in spite of what happens or what others think.
It’s time to challenge the legacy of smallness that hurts us all. Toot your own horn. Speak confidently and skillfully about your accomplishments. Set a firm boundary the next time someone tries to keep you in line with their fear and insecurity. Be willing to risk getting knocked around a bit (metaphorically speaking) to stay true to your strengths and talents. I don’t know about you, but I’m willing to piss a few people off or weather a few storms to ensure that I’m playing strong.
I may go out with a few chipped teeth, but you can be sure I’ll go out smiling 😀.