I spend a good deal of my waking hours coaching people who have huge contributions to make to the world. I’ve coached screenwriters, directors in Hollywood, the leaders of some of the world’s biggest companies, and policymakers in Washington DC. No matter how huge the contribution anyone is making, no matter how vast the dream, nor how deep the sense of selfless service, there is a refrain that returns, again and again, to the minds of the truly creative and generous.
It is the voice that says “I am a fraud, I have nothing to give, my life is a failure.” I am extremely familiar with this voice myself, not just now and then, it is a frequent guest. For example, I often travel for weeks at a time, teaching seminars and training coaches. When I’m on the road, it’s go-go-go. Several nights a week: speaking engagements, weekends fully booked, sterling candidate learning to become amazing coaches. It is so easy to get puffed up during these periods of intense activity. Yeehaw! Watch that boy go!
Then of course it is easy to buy into the story that I am somebody special. Maybe the sun really does shine out of my a… a… armpit. But when those trips are over, I come home to unwind and relax. I usually take at least a week of chilling. That’s the time, after working, and traveling hard, and giving all I have to give, mixed in with a little jet lag, that the voice kicks in. Then it becomes impossible to even begin to remember. Why did those people come to the weekend, or the training? Who am I to teach them anything? I’m just a regular Joe. I have my challenges, my limitations, my areas of unconsciousness. As the days go by, it becomes more and more irrefutably true. I’m nothing. I’m nobody. Just another weary traveler. It’s actually absurd and preposterous that anyone would listen, or take the time to read a blog post like this one.
This voice is sometimes referred to as low self-esteem, and the most commonly accepted remedy is to do everything you can to get it to shut the f**k up. You can give yourself a pep talk, repeat your favorite affirmations: I’m a good and intelligent person with great gifts to give, and I returned deserve to be richly rewarded… blah blah blah. You can call up other people to reassure you that you really are as super cool as you’d like to believe you are.
But I want to suggest to you a different solution today. I have come to deeply value this voice, when it comes to visit. I welcome it now. It has a powerful reminder to deliver. I’ve come to see that it is one of my most loyal friends.
Here’s the thing, you see. If you stayed always in full-on gift giving mode, only and always on the high of helping people, you easily fall into the mistaken trance of believing that you, personally, are the source. You can get inflated and puffed up. it’s not too much further down the slippery slope before you become arrogant, immune to feedback, and then before you burn out on the addiction to the myth of your own greatness.
The voice that reminds us that we are indeed frauds, all of us, we have nothing to give on our own, our small personal lives can never succeed in any real or convincing way, has truth to it. It’s not The Truth, it’s not the only truth, it’s not the ultimate truth, but it is a truth. Because then you realize that it was never about you anyway. You were, at very best, the custodian of the gifts, their steward. The true source remains delightfully mysterious, and beyond the grasp of our conceptual understanding. When you are called upon by that greatness to assume your position, to take up your instrument and play, then you are also played. And it is good and great. You can be as grateful for the performance as those who come to hear you.
It is smart, and good, and wise, sometimes to remember that it was never about you at all, as a separate contracted entity. It was always, it is always, and it will be always about the Great One who gives us breath. Only in forgetting that do we become frauds, do we find our selves devoid of any offering, and do we despair on the emptiness of our personal achievements.
I have a song on my iphone by one of my favorite people on the whole earth: Leonard Cohen. I play it often in the car, on my way to some event. It reminds me of the terms of the real deal.
I make my plans
Like I always do
But when I look back
I was there for you
I walk the streets
Like I used to do
And I freeze with fear
But I’m there for you
I see my life
In full review
It was never me
It was always you
You sent me here
You sent me there
I can’t repair
Out of thoughts
By thinking not