I’ve been re-reading one of my favourite books – Oprah’s The Path Made Clear – and it’s funny how completely new passages jump out at me this time through compared to when I first read it last June. It’s really about what lessons I’m ready to learn, like that Lao Tzu quote, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” Anyways, this time, one of my favourite passages is from Debbie Ford, who was a self-help author and speaker. In it, she talks about something called shadow beliefs, which are unconscious limiting beliefs that tell us what we can and cannot do and who we are and who we are not, therefore exerting a controlling influence over our entire lives. The most important thing to understand about these shadow beliefs is that they are always fear-based.
There are three main shadow-beliefs that people can have such as I’m unlovable, I’m unworthy, and I’m not good enough. Those I understand as being umbrella shadow beliefs, with all others clustering underneath them. Pretty quickly, I knew that my shadow belief is I’m not good enough, and looking back, I’m now able to pinpoint where that belief started. When I was in grade two, my school started an accelerated enrichment program called ACE. My teacher must have been tasked with selecting the students she found to be most intelligent, capable, and in need of more challenge than the regular grade two curriculum could provide. Most of my friends were chosen to participate, and I was not (and yes, I know this sounds kind of silly, but bear with me). When they were pulled out of class once or twice a week to head off to the ACE meeting, but I was not, something significant shifted inside of me. I can, even today, remember the awful feeling in my stomach and the burning shame in my cheeks. Looking back, I now understand that was a defining moment because not getting selected for that program as a seven-year-old was the first time in my life where someone had made the judgement that I was not good enough. Even though I’m sure it is not what the teacher intended, to me, the message was clear. And in that moment, as an impressionable child, that belief became imprinted on my heart, completely changing the way I saw myself.
I didn’t even question it.
Ever since, I have had a deep need to show the world, over-and-over again, that I’m intelligent and capable. On some subconscious level, it seems that I’ve always reasoned that if I can show that I am good enough – the good can vary: a good student, a good athlete, a good teammate, a good leader, a good writer, a good teacher, a good mom – enough times by winning top student, by winning athlete of the year, by making honour roll, by playing AAA, by graduating with distinction and on and on, then maybe one day, all of that outer success could change what I believed in my own heart.
As a teenager, that limiting belief often manifested in an all encompassing desire to avoid embarrassment. I used to be too embarrassed to go golfing with anyone except my closest friends because I was severely afraid that my lack of skill would make people laugh at me, and I didn’t want to look “not good enough” in front of people. I’d even avoid talking to someone because hiding behind a display in the mall was considerably easier than having to worry if I’d presented myself in a way that was good enough. Similarly, I used to be unable to go bowling for fun because I’d end up having a little personal pity party, pouting because I threw gutter balls and wasn’t very good. I was also unable to say “no” to anything, becoming a people pleaser who could always take on one more thing. The reason being that if I said “no, I don’t have time for that” or “no, I’m already completely overwhelmed by my responsibilities” then I’d be showing that I wasn’t capable. Saying “yes” was more important than my stress level or mental well-being. This is also probably why I couldn’t paint or write in non-academic contexts for years: I was scared to create anything that wouldn’t be considered “good enough.”
For me, the real revelation in The Path Made Clear came when I read this line: “It’s not about resisting these beliefs, it’s about embracing. . . if you can’t allow the dark to exist, then you can’t allow the light.” Wow. In a way, my drive to show the world that I am good enough has helped to create many of the parts of myself that I love best, especially my organizational skills and work ethic. What I’m trying to say is I’ve realized it’s good to embrace the dark, the parts of myself that have been created by my shadow beliefs, because by doing that I can make room for the light. I understand the patterns my fear created, and some of them may always be there, but because I now understand how the fear works, I have kicked a lot of those specific fears in the butt! I make room for writing every Monday, no matter what, and sharing it, even if sometimes I still don’t think it’s “good enough.” I make room for playing a horrible game of golf without anxiety. I make room for going to a paint nite and being ok with however my painting turns out. I make room for creating just because it feels good, not because the finished product needs to look a certain way. I make room to say “no” to jobs or requests or expectations that will throw me off balance.
I make room for being good enough, just as I am.