You find that which you seek.
It starts when you are a child and you are told your first lie. It’s usually something like: you are fat and not good enough, or women are catty and they’re all out to get you, or you will not be successful if your competitors are, or you will only be happy if you get what you want, or you are a loser because your life doesn’t look like your peers’, etc. These things stick with you.
Then you go through the rest of you life finding evidence to support this false claim, because that’s just how the human brain works.
The Lie That Holds Me Back
I’ve always believed that no matter where I am, I’m the dumbest person in the room.
Lies like this start from somewhere specific. One can almost always recall the earliest memory of when they learned to believe the lie, and it usually traces back to childhood.
For me, it was in first grade, when we were given several weeks to prepare a project of our choice for the school science fair.
Despite daily reminders from our teacher, Ms. Smolinski, I was almost out the front door of my house on the morning of the science fair when suddenly remembered. I screamed, “Mom! I didn’t do a science project!”
My mom, a master improvisationalist (as most mothers are), handed me a plant. But it wasn’t just any plant– it was a plant my older brother had grown by watering it solely with vinegar, just to see what would happen. And all that happened, really, is that our family had a plant that smelled like vinegar instead of like a plant.
When it was time to present our projects to our classmates, my 6-year-old best friend wowed us with a presentation about the human hand, plus a fancy diagram and memorized mini-lecture. (FYI, she went on to become a successful lawyer.)
When it was my turn, I felt ashamed of my smelly plant and what I thought it said about me. So when it was my turn to present to the class, I just stood there. Completely silent. Ms. Smolinski had to prompt me to talk by asking things like, What are you holding? and What do plants need in order to grow? I answered with 2-word sentences. And then I ran back to my seat, hoping no one would smell the faint scent of sour toe jam as I walked by.
Shame Shrinks Your Potential
This sense of shame about my intelligence continued throughout my youth and young adulthood. Even now, when I’m in a scary work meeting, my biggest fear is being perceived as intellectually inferior to everyone else. Feeling dumb makes me want to hide in my leather swivel chair at the conference table and let my colleagues thrive without me.
Lies from your childhood shrink your potential, your dreams, and your impact on the world. So here’s your assignment: Discover the truth of who you are.
I may not have an above average IQ, and I’m certainly not the sharpest mind at the conference table. But I’m smart in my own way. I know how to tell mildly amusing personal stories that help people make the story of their own life a little more beautiful. My intelligence cannot be translated into a science project or a business meeting. I am more than just my vinegar plant, damn it!
I love the following mantra from a book and film called The Help: You are kind, you are smart, you are important. If you believe anything that contradicts this mantra, you’re holding onto a lie from your childhood. You’re living small.
It’s time to lean into adulthood and be delighted by the truth of who you are. It’s time to live big.