Once I was invited by the CEO of an engineering company to give a talk about change in the workplace. I talked about what stops organisations from opening up to change, initiate it or support it from the human perspective. My main points were that there’s not enough space for the heart or soul-life of the individual, that what really gives meaning to people doesn’t take part in the working environment, and that there’s a great fear of failing for which there is no room for honest communication.
At the end of the talk, I opened the conversation to the audience’s questions. I could see the CEO moving restlessly in his chair. He then raised his hand as if he had a question but apparently he was actually more interested in proving me wrong and pressing the point that his organisation doesn’t suffer from such emotional problems.
For a number of years now I really haven't been interested in men explaining things to me (to borrow Rebecca Solnit's brilliant observation), so I simply turned to the audience and asked “please just raise your hand if this talk about emotional stagnation and the desire to have a more open and honest conversation in your working environment was relevant to you in some way”. About 90% raised their hands.
More than anything else, I was happy to witness myself voicing out the truth that I’m loyal to, without being silenced by the dismissive remark of a CEO. But it wasn’t always like that.
To voice out your truth you need to get in touch with your vulnerability
Being human is being vulnerable
Lately, I’ve become fully aware of a thin voice veiling almost all my thoughts and actions. A voice I was partly conscious of. It wasn’t completely new to me. What was new was the awareness of how present it is in my daily life. That voice was saying something very simple
Are you stupid?!
It showed up consistently every time I followed my heart. Every time I followed my inner vision. Each time I chose the worldview, actions or perception that aligned with my deepest understanding of life. This voice had a very simple and clear message - “You will end up the stupid one if things don't pan out “your way” but more like “their” way”; “if this will not work you’ll be ridiculed. The joke will be on you for thinking you know different."
Working with my dreams to heal from a sickness instead of going to the doctor; moving to a new country without having a job, a guarantee, a plan for how it’s going to works out; starting a research consultancy business that focused on integrating mindfulness for people’s own feelings as part of evaluating the effectiveness of projects (way before mindfulness became a buzzword); leaving a successful career because I couldn’t resist the inner whispers urging me to discover my fullest potential and how to earn a living from it; not believing everybody’s fears about this and that, staying happy even when there’s no realistic reason for it; believing I will get pregnant naturally, even though doctors could give me nothing but negative talk, promising very slim chances according to statistics. In fact, saying it’d be a miracle if I did (what pregnancy is not a miracle?!)
The examples in my life are many for choices and directions that simply don't follow the mainstream way of doing things. I wasn’t looking to be special, outstanding or courageous in any way. Each time it was because, in spite of that inner voice, I never really had a choice.
The price you pay for following your heart and at the same time fighting an inner battle against the voices of fear is enormous. Too big to ignore.
To be human is to be vulnerable. We mostly feel vulnerable in places where we can get hurt. This is very personal and can change from one person to another, but we are normally afraid of getting hurt where we know we have a slightly (or hugely) different view or wish compared to the majority of others.
When I became fully aware of how present this voice was each time I followed an inner intuition about what’s right for me, I also became aware of how much energy I was wasting on that inner battle.
It all comes down to compassion
Becoming more aware of how this voice coated all my own personal wishes, perceptions and actions I started inquiring more deeply into how it manifests itself in everyday life. These are the stages of unfolding I witnessed in my process:
Silence - I became very silent when I faced cynicism and criticism of my worldview and wishes. I would just become a fish. Keep my thoughts to myself. Stop sharing, and walk away as soon as possible.
Convincing - after getting over my silence I would start sharing my reasons with my interlocutor and giving more context in an attempt to make them see why I felt this to be a good fit for me (and why I’m not stupid, of course).
Becoming aware of the convincing mechanism made clarified something very important: I wasn’t trying to convert anyone to my way. I was just trying to defend myself from feeling/being seen or treated as if I were stupid.
The shift came from becoming aware of the convincing tactic, which allowed me to drop it. This led me to be more sensitive to something fundamentally human in us
Cynicism and scepticism came from the pain and fear of the people who voiced it. Just like me, they were afraid of feeling stupid for believing in what they’re believing.
Some are really drowning in their own cynicism but some are really searching for a different footing.
3. Compassion - I stopped getting angry at myself for contracting every time I stepped into a doctor’s office, unable to step up for my truth. I brought forgiveness to myself each time I was using any kind of defence mechanism to just be able to stay true to my inner truth. I asked for grace and beauty to be present even in moments where I felt or was actually being attacked for being so self-assured.
4. Letting go - I let go of the idea I needed to prove anything - to others or to myself. When I reflected on how my life developed over the years I could only see new discoveries and outstanding steps, even when things didn’t work out exactly as I had envisioned them. I let go of the inner competition. I stored all the usual sayings “you can’t have it all”, “who do you think you are”, “this is impossible” in the dungeons of old archived objects.
I learned that people really want to understand other ways of living this life.
Some of them really want to believe it’s possible.
All of them are emerging from their inner pain and fear.
Compassion is the only way we can share this.
Loyal to the inner vision
I read this beautiful sentence by Mary Oliver “my loyalty is to the inner vision”. It was at the peak of my exploration into how the fear of coming out the stupid one was ambushing me all along. This touched me deeply. It made me instantly realise that staying loyal to your inner vision is a life-long work of art.
If you want to be more intimate with your inner vision just look for your vulnerability points, the things you’re most afraid of getting ridiculed for, or the places you’re mostly afraid of getting hurt, and you’ll know.
When people object your worldview, when they project the negative possible outcomes on your unusual choices, when they express their resentment to your difference it’s not just because they were taught to look at life like that and think about life in a specific way. It is mainly because they speak out their fear, their pain, their own suffering.
Your personal choices are neither your personal wins nor your failings. If you live in this dual world remember that each time you consider something to be a win it will have an opposing failure waiting somewhere. Instead, we can just keep our loyalty to the inner vision, do it in any way we can, and bring compassion to ourselves and the other.
Photo by Shifaaz shamoon on Unsplash