What situation do you hate most to find yourself in? Do you cringe at rejection? Do you loathe being ignored? Do you hate it if people look down on you?
I hate to feel stupid. I’m very happy to dance around, be bold, even to look an idiot in various ways … but not to feel stupid.
I’m sure it has a history. When I got a scholarship to a private school, I mixed with girls who came from wealthy families, and my parents used to joke (half-joke) at home that we might be poor but we were clever. I’ve since realised that our idea of cleverness of that time was fairly limited, but still the mantra helped me, back in the day. It became important to feel clever.
The trouble is, some of these feelings still bug me today. My family will tell you that no one gets more grumpy than me when I am filling in a tax form and don’t understand what they are getting at, or when I meet a problem with my laptop and can’t find a solution. I then feel stupid, and being stupid is just not okay.
Such gremlins hold us back. What might you not do if you were willing to look stupid? What might you accomplish if it was fine for people to reject your ideas? Or if other people’s disdain just made you more energised and positive?
I’m constantly amazed at how much negative stuff we carry around with us, convinced that it is a necessary part of who we are, though it does us no good at all. We have shed every last physical cell of the person we were twenty years ago so we’re a completely different person physically, yet we still carry an inflexible historical mental idea of who we are. I’m this sort of person, not that sort of person; I can do this but not that; I believe this to be possible and not that.
New York Times’ best-selling author Meg Wolitzer’s recent book, The Female Persuasion – as indeed her other books too – looks at the impact of small acts of kindness in people’s lives. She gives the example of a teacher in grade school who would write down the stories Meg told her, and who gave her the great gift of starting to take herself seriously. She writes a startling question in that book,
Who gives us all permission to be the person that we walk around the world as?
I think it’s much easier to answer the question, who in your life stopped you from being who you might have been? It’s much easier too, if we are lucky in life, and particularly if we socialise with people similar to ourselves, to acquire the habit of thinking that we arrived where we are solely through our own efforts. It feels good to think, “I did it myself” when we are successful; and to forget supportive parents, inherited money, prestigious school that led to prestigious university that led to perfect qualifications including accent, style etc. for prestigious job, advantageous relationships and so on (or any elements of the above).
But Wolitzer’s question, who gave you permission to be the person that you walk around the world as? That’s much more interesting. Who helped you in your sense of yourself?
If I were to start a list of people randomly now, there would be:
My Mum who introduced me to books with enthusiasm when I was very small.
My Dad who was resourceful in practical things and lent me resourcefulness too.
The girl with Down’s Syndrome who taught me in her singing that confidence is for everyone.
The colleague who in a simple sentence gave me the belief to move on.
As I start to write, I realise that I could continue this list for quite a while. What about you?
Permission is a central concept in my voice work with people. Many difficulties with expression are associated with tension, particularly around the neck, throat and shoulders, which prevents free spontaneous expression. Often it’s chronic tension associated with times when the person was diminished in some way in earlier life. In the present, this tension announces forcefully that expressing oneself is fraught with danger; and so it inhibits communication, and prevents a person from being who they can be. It disallows. Releasing the tension (a physical and mental process) allows the person to find their real voice again.
All the more important to seek out and appreciate people who allow, who give you permission.
Who are the people who, maybe in small acts of kindness, have given you permission to think well of yourself and prosper? It might make you gasp to realise how often other people have helped and still do help you on your way.
The corollary, of course, is that we too are enablers. How many times, in small forgotten acts or minor serendipities, have you given someone else permission? You can’t always know. Maybe you have done that again and again in your life. No one’s given you a gong for it, but you certainly deserve it.
By the way, I must tell you about my Meg Wolitzer serendipity. Checking her quote about permission yesterday in an online article, I idly looked further and discovered that my local library had an available copy of her latest novel. I walked into town to the library. Opposite the entrance as you enter there’s a display stand of books to catch the eye of the visitor in a hurry. There, at the dead centre of the front row of this prominent display, was the very Wolitzer novel I had come to look for. How many novels does the library hold? I love coincidences, don’t you?
Enjoy your summer. Go well,
I had an amazing time in Norwich for TEDx @tedxnorwich last week – “Butterflies and Sweaty Palms” definitely in general evidence before the event! Met some brilliant people. The Talks will be up on TED.com in about 4-5 weeks.
THE ART OF COMMUNICATION
If you’d like to dip into my latest book, you can read an excerpt here. You’ll find the book especially helpful if you want to find ways to be more real in your connection with others. We live in times where “living the image” has become a pandemic, and it chokes off genuine problem solving. This is true for our relations with people close to us just as much as for solving the world’s ills.
Think about those small acts of kindness in your life, those people were being real, weren’t they?