I’ve had the most remarkable experience of being one of the finalists in the Know Your Value competition in Washington, DC – something I never expected, something I will never forget. It’s now 7am on the morning after the event, and my mind is overflowing with insights about how much I learned in the past month – many ‘a-ha’ moments – many little gems that I will carry forward with me into my next adventures.
Here are the top 10 lessons learned:
1. Hard work doesn’t entitle me to Success. (I use the capital ‘S’ to describe the mainstream million-dollar version of Success.) I had a nasty little weed of expectation, which was: If I work hard, I deserve to be Successful. Bullsh*t. If I work hard, I will see results. I may feel proud. I may even get a paycheck. But everyone else (that I know) is also working hard, accomplishing amazing things, and doing good in the world – and they often go unrecognized. Just because I’m working hard doesn’t mean that I am entitled to recognition, compensation, validation, and so on. Why does this matter? Because this expectation undermines my happiness. Every time I see someone who has Success, my mind says: That should be me. I work hard. I should have that. This is unhealthy thinking and I don’t want it in my head. I would much rather feel myself to be part of a community of amazing hard-working people who are doing good things in the world, knowing that no matter what the outcome, I have self-respect and I’m proud to be doing what I’m doing.
2. My inner-critic will never shut up. Sometimes I can hardly believe that I am 40 years old and I still have an inner voice that it yelling at me, criticizing me and giving me a hard time. Seriously?! Fifteen years of yoga, meditation, therapy and such is not enough to eradicate the nasty thoughts in my head – apparently not. So now what? Well, I need to recognize that this voice is trying to undermine me and sabotage me. I need to be on high alert for thoughts like: I’m sorry. I shouldn’t. I can’t. I’m embarrassed. And then I need to IGNORE them and move on with whatever fabulous thing I am doing. I need to not give power, credibility or credence to the mean inner critic. Just because she won’t shut up, doesn’t mean I have to listen to her.
3. Life goes really high up and really low down. The night before last when I was in the glamorous Marriot Marquis in central DC trying to fall asleep, I burst into tears because I couldn’t believe how far the pendulum had swung from grief to joy. It felt as if I were in some surreal dream. Less than a year ago, I attended my father’s funeral. He was one of 5 family members that died in the past 18 months. In addition to family loss, I lost a romantic relationship, lost a good job, and had a severely ill pet that needed to be fed through a feeding tube for several weeks to stay alive. Life was just one bad day after another last year. Now I’m being celebrated on national TV and doted on like a celebrity – holy crap! I can’t get too attached to the high or too bummed about the low because that’s just how it goes. I have to remember: what goes up must come down, and when I’m down, I’m bound to go back up.
4. I need to OWN who I am. I am a bohemian, hippie chick with 6 tattoos and a PhD. I live on an old sailboat and spend too much money to get my hair done. I am dorky, nerdy and goofy. I can be a real diva. This is ME. The same inner critic voice that says, “I shouldn’t” is also telling me “I should” be like other people. I should be …less serious, more motivated, less hippie, more professional – whatever, it doesn’t matter. It’s all part of the sabotage that undermines my happiness. The fast-track to suffering is to compare myself to others – how they are better, smarter, bolder – and how I am not living up to some imaginary standard. Nobody has got it all figured out! We are all just limping along, imperfectly imperfect, trying to do the best we can.
5. Don’t “be good,” be YOU. Being good means following the rules, making other people happy, doing what you’re told. Forget the rules. Be yourself. I had several women come up to me during the conference yesterday, desperate to undress and show me the dozens of tattoos that they were hiding with suit jackets – they were thrilled that Thomas was making a big deal about my tattoos because that meant it was ok for them to have tattoos, too. And the irony is that I was super-embarrassed that Thomas was making a big deal of my tattoos because I thought: the women at this conference won’t take me seriously if they know I have tattoos. I was so wrong! I shared a shame with the ‘tattooed’ women that was unnecessary. We are beautiful, amazing, smart, competent ladies– and we have tattoos! Hooray!
6. Too much Success means loss of Soul. I have looked into the eyes of enough super rich people to know that there is a high price to be paid for Success. It takes a deep toll on the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual bodies. It’s exhausting, draining and often debilitating. (I won’t even get into all the work I did in LA rehabs with celebs.) I’ve made choices to be less Successful so I could be more healthy. And it wasn’t always easy because I am super ambitious. But I have to OWN that, too. I made the choice to push less so could tend to my inner world and cultivate some quiet, private time that I needed for healing and growth. I don’t’ regret this choice – in fact, I celebrate it. My ability to slow down, be present and listen with full attention is what makes me a great healer and teacher. I’m proud of that.
7. Control is an illusion. I’ve had my suspicions for a long time that maybe I’m not in control of the Universe, but now I’m sure of it. I can’t will the Universe to do what I want any more than I can move an object with my mind. The Universe is its own autonomous, unfolding dance and I am lucky to be a witness. If I get too attached to outcomes and too worried about why things didn’t turn out the way that I intended (even though I prayed and meditated and prepared and planned), then, again, I am undermining my happiness. There is a miraculous world blossoming before my eyes – all I have to do is watch it, appreciate it, enjoy it – and STOP trying to control it.
8. If something is not working, it’s my fault. This may seem totally contradictory to the previous statement that ‘control is an illusion,’ but it’s not. Just because the Universe is doing its own thing, doesn’t mean that I am not responsible for my own life. If something doesn’t feel good, then I have to make different choices, I have to have a different attitude, or I have to do something differently to re-align myself with joy and gratitude. I am responsible for my experience. I am responsible for my emotions. I am responsible for my physical and mental health. Even when I can list 1000 reasons why the odds are stacked against me, why the world is unfair, why I am at a disadvantage, I still undermine my happiness if I don’t figure out how I am contributing to the situation.
9. Self-care is my greatest strength. If I am not taking care of myself, I am not taking care of my life. There used to be a sneaky pride that came with being a martyr. Oh, look at me, I am so helpful, I help everyone, I don’t need anything, I just need to help everyone else. This is sick thinking. It’s self-destructive and dishonest. I need to be joyful so I can share that joy with others. I need to be healthy so I can share that health with others. I need to be vibrant so I can share that light with others. I can’t let myself be fooled by the twisted-thinking that putting others first is noble and righteous. My oxygen mask goes on first, and then I hand out as many other masks as I want.
10. It’s all about being grateful. The further away I am from grateful, the further away I am from JOY. I can’t be angry and grateful. I can’t be depressed and grateful. I can’t be resentful and grateful. They are mutually exclusive. I am either super happy to be surrounded by awesome people and having a great experience and having so many blessings or I am pissed that sh*t did not work out the way that I planned. Gratitude is the True North that keeps me on track to where I am supposed to be.
I am so grateful for this experience of the Know Your Value conference. I will carry it with me always. Thank you to everyone who made it possible.