Tracy Kennedy had a breakthrough that so many of us need: Learning to speak up and show ourselves to the world, in spite of our fears. As long as we don’t speak our minds and feelings, we live in the shadows, hiding behind a facade that can only lead to emptiness. When someone overcomes this fate, it’s a tale worth telling. Here’s Tracy’s story in her own words.
When I read the above quote for the first time, it resonated deeply. This initial a-ha moment soon turned to mild panic and a tightness in my chest. You know that feeling when an idea or thought strikes at your very core and at the same time, you’re scared as anything to take a closer look at what that might be?
I realized that I’ve spent a lot of my life helping others to achieve personal and professional goals, and build and grow their businesses. Sometimes I’ve do this through my work as a coach and consultant, at other times it’s been about supporting family and friends who reach out to me. I love helping others get to do more of what they want to do and find greater success and happiness – it’s a big part of who I am.
And yet, I guess if you asked a lot of people around me…
…wider family, friends and those I connect with in the community – what I actually do in my work, I think they’d be at a loss. I mean, they know I work, but while they could tell you I’m a mom to three amazing daughters and that I volunteer in the classroom and at Girl Scout Troop, I’m not sure they’d know what I actually do in my work.
I guess, I’m pretty private that way. Maybe it’s why I chose the profession I did – a chance to spend time asking other people about themselves and helping them move forward and achieve their goals or dreams. At social gatherings or networking events, you’ll always find me checking out what others do, what’s important in their lives, what they do, who they are.
When the tables are turned however, I get quite uncomfortable when faced with:
• How are you?
• What are you up to?
• What do you do?
I’ve always thought of this as an advantage. People want to talk about themselves right? They like others to be interested in them and their lives? And I am genuinely interested. I love hearing about people’s lives, adventures and stories. I light up when I hear their dreams and goals. I’m all attention – and feel privileged – when they open up about their challenges and hurdles.
All this must make me, what, ‘relatable’ at least? Apparently not. A few years back I got some feedback that my strong focus on others actually made it hard for people to relate to and connect with me, mainly because it meant I shared so little about myself. This was certainly interesting, I was up for the learning – but I truly never ‘got it’ at the time.
I kept on exploring and learning about myself. ‘Vulnerability builds rapport,’ a great mentor of mine frequently enthuses. I now get that I’ve never been that hot at the vulnerability part. Sure, I watched Brene Brown’s awesome TED talk on it. I guess my challenge wasn’t that I didn’t want people to know about me or that I was scared to be vulnerable.
In fact, I felt if anyone caught me ‘in the moment’ and hit me with a direct question I’d share absolutely anything. It was more that I didn’t see the point, that it felt a waste of time to be talking about me – and really what’s to know?
Maybe too, I just didn’t have the words, and above all, it wasn’t much short of excruciating.
Then, I had my ‘lightbulb’ moment.
As part of my NLP accreditation I learned about psychological theories of attachment. This is the idea that we are subconsciously causing the very thing that we want to avoid. We all have experiences of it: saying we want to lose weight as we reach out for the second piece of cake, or saying we want to work less, but accepting the next big project that comes along.
Or in my case, I want to make a difference and share my learning, but just keep ‘hiding’ myself – and what I do – away from the world. There we all go, subconsciously causing the very things we want to avoid.
Mike explained this to me as a classic case of self-sabatoge: the unconscious craving that causes what we consciously do not want. OK, a bit hard to get your head around at first. Bear with me. In Mike’s work there are three broad types of attachment: control, deprivation or rejection.
And, after further introspection on my part it seems like it’s the rejection attachment that’s got my name on it. Specifically – I’m a self-defeater and a perfectionist. Yep, apparently I’m attached to rejection.
So why exactly would I think that was a good idea?
I don’t, consciously. But, somewhere, somehow and long ago – self-protection, a specific certain event, a rewarded behavior, I may never know how it all kicked off, but boy have I been fueling it since. Bottom-line, instead of having others reject me, guess what, I get right on in there and deny them the opportunity.
If I don’t tell you about me, then you can’t reject me, right? Or if I don’t show up to a party, you can’t ignore me, right? Or if I don’t’ share my opinion, you can’t shoot me down in flames, right?
Then, looking at the other dimension of all this, if I let my perfectionist tendencies get the best of me, this is what’s playing out: if it’s not perfect, then I’m not good enough, so I won’t put it out there. Put this rejection and perfectionist stuff together – and if it were true – it all means that I’m not opening up, sharing – just hiding in the shell and unconsciously building a relationship with the very thing I wanted to avoid more than anything – rejection.
By not putting myself out there and giving people an opportunity to know and accept me, I’ve been rejecting myself by default.
So what if this theory were true?
Maybe it’s the reason why I never spoke up in class in college even though I knew the answers and graduated with honors? Would it account for not being one to speak up early in a large group even if there’s something I have to say?
Would it explain why I’ve spent my whole life helping others build their businesses and not my own – and having built incredible content and products for them, but never taken on the challenge for myself?
Perhaps it would explain why I had been keen to ignore branding advice to use Tracy Kennedy for my company name.
Mmm, I’m thinking there might be something to this….
Right as I was getting my head round it all, up pops a quote in my email:
When we are silent, we are not only afraid, we remain afraid and, as Mike would say, we cling to the rejection. The only way to stop the attachment to rejection is to stop feeding it. So, for me, the only way out – or at least the one I could see – was to speak up, to open up, and to allow for the possibility of rejection, acceptance – or who knows what.
So, scared as I was, I began to poke my head out of the shell. I began to speak up and share my thoughts and opinions more openly. I went along with being uncomfortable when someone asked me how I was doing, but made myself to answer them anyway. I wrote stuff down – like I’m doing now – to share with others. Yikes!
Will I be faced with rejection or acceptance? Who knows? Probably both. But my rejection attachment can take a hike because I’ve decided I would rather share my thoughts with the world and have the chance to make a difference – and face the possibility of rejection – than to be so afraid to speak that I am guaranteed to make no difference at all.
So, I’ll pose these two questions to you:
• Do people think you are just your shell or do they know the real you?
• Where could poking your head out of your shell bring benefits to you and others?
If it’s anything like my experience it’s going to be uncomfortable, scary and probably quite hard.
But be brave. You got this.
Many thanks to Tracy Kennedy for her courageous, insightful thoughts on learning to speak up. Find Tracy at her life coaching and consulting website: Tracy Kennedy.