Growing up, I excelled at getting perfect attendance and straight A’s, and I checked out as many books as I could carry home after spending an entire day at the public library. I was one happy little girl! I aimed for excellence, even perfection, in everything I did. These attributes were valuable in my academic life and have served me well in terms of career success. However, I also developed a type of tunnel vision that kept me constantly pushing forward without tuning in to my own internal guidance, and left that happy little girl behind.
With external approval as one of my primary motivators, it took me decades to become my own sage. It’s only recently that I realized my propensity for forging ahead, but once I did, tracing its origin has been easy and shifting away from this mindset has been life-changing.
How it started…
As a young girl, I sought approval from my father because he was gone all the time and I wanted to capture as much of his attention as I could when he was home. Due to his limited education, lack of work in a border town and racial discrimination pervasive in the 60’s, he had to find work elsewhere. When he worked in San Antonio, we saw him on weekends, and later, we saw him twice a year when he worked in California. My dad always encouraged us to get good grades, probably because of the limitations he experienced in his own life. My mother was tasked as the ‘project manager’ to ensure we stayed on course in addition to running a household and working odd jobs to make ends meet. I never wanted to disappoint them, so I poured everything into doing well at school.
I recognize I was fortunate to have the support and encouragement I received from my parents even with modest means, but it’s important to look at my behavior of ‘striving’ on a societal level. Our culture conditions us to get good grades, get a good job and establish a typical family unit; it’s all about chasing the elusive carrot with the promise of success. From a young age, we’re taught that success requires us to stay in our lane, do what we’re told and follow social norms. When we do this, society rewards us and when we don’t, we are criticized. What’s worse, is along the way, our neuro-pathways become wired to limit living in any way that steps outside the box.
Fortunately, when we notice this tendency, we discover our world expands to new possibilities. When we become aware of the traps, stories, doubts and fears holding us back from living our most authentic, exciting, and creative lives, we realize we have the power to create a life on our own terms.
This year, I was invited through a leadership platform group, CEOX, to participate in a six-week mental fitness program on positive intelligence that uses research and neuroscience to rewire brain pathways and strengthen mental muscles to create a better self. (For me, this felt like the mental equivalent of training for a marathon). As part of a cohort with five other amazing ladies from across the nation and two amazing coaches, Ron and Steph, I became acutely aware of my own ‘conditioning’ and moved through an intensive process to unravel my wiring that no longer benefitted me, and in some cases was holding me from being fully present. This intensive process was simultaneously transformational, exhausting and exciting as I began to unravel the old neuro pathways and create new positive ones.
It was during this six-week experience I discovered that going from one success to another without having inner peace and well-being left me feeling a bit hollow. Through the progression, I learned how to identify my “saboteurs”, which are the negative emotions that lead our lives in our relationships, work and service to others. I also recognized saboteurs from others and learned not to engage in their energy. Until I paused to center myself and delve deeper to look at the root cause of my actions, I wasn’t being true to my identity. On the other side of this rewiring, I realized there’s a far more enjoyable and fulfilling way to achieve the life I want to live.
The advice I received on unraveling my saboteurs, is important for anyone to follow. Unless you become aware of the traps, stories, doubts and fears that keep you stuck and learn to rewire your brain pathways, you become a victim to your past and unable to fully embrace the beauty and opportunities in your present life. True success happens when we stop chasing the carrot and tap into our own sage for direction.
While hyper-achieving is my saboteur, it might not be yours. Unless we are fully enlightened beings, we all live – and always will live with saboteurs but they should NOT lead our lives. The practice is to bring them down to 25 % rather than the 50-75% of those negative emotions leading our lives in decisions and relationships. Minimizing their role saves us from causing a lot of pain, hurt and regrets. Often the saboteur shows up as the negative voice inside our head that tells us we are not good enough, not worthy or is constantly warning us that failure is imminent. The hardest part of quieting this voice and giving it a new perspective is identifying it in the first place.
While the negative emotions won’t completely be removed, they will shrink to a manageable size with continuous practice. The good news is, there are lots of ways to pull your sneaky saboteurs out of the darkness and reduce their power. Here are some takeaways from my experience and a few ideas to try:
1 – Talk to a trusted friend. Someone who knows you well and has your best interest in mind. When you vocalize dreams and goals, they take on a new meaning. Ask that person to help you identify your strengths and to discover habits or behaviors that don’t serve you.
2- Write down a life or career goal. Make it something BIG and exciting. Now, write down ALL the doubts and fears you have about why you don’t think you can be, do or have whatever you want. Then, flip the script by disproving these fears.
“I am scared to fail at my business,” becomes, “I can figure it out one step at a time and have the resources and support of others to make it all come together.”
“I don’t have time,” becomes, “I make time for what’s truly important.”
“In the past, I used to think that …,” becomes, “ but now I believe …”
3 – Mix it up! This is part of the rewiring. Do something that replaces old thinking like taking a class, traveling to a new city or attending a new networking group. This helps you break free from living your “conditioning” and expands your perception of what’s possible.
Learning to access the sage in me, has not only helped me design a life and business that makes me grateful and excited to wake up in the morning, but I’ve also become a better mentor and advisor to my clients. Through a process of listening and collaboration, I’m able to help them tap into their own inner sage.
As leaders, we owe it to ourselves and to others to do this deep internal rewiring. Just think what might happen if more leaders made decisions by going within, growing their mental muscles and exploring new ways to achieve optimal results. Rather than leading with scarcity, fear and controlling behaviors, we can lead with empathy and create innovative win-win solutions.
I used to think rebellion meant leather jackets and skipping school, so as a recovering approval seeker, I find it comforting that the most rebellious thing I can do in society is to listen to and trust my own inner sage. The truth is that while it may feel like a newly discovered superpower to me, this powerful guidance is available to anyone at any time. Build time in your day to pause, breathe and listen. The Sage is in you~