I walked into the meeting like I've walked into several these past several months of exploring the world of business networking: eager, interested, shy, reserved, and insecure…not necessarily in that order. I'm learning and growing in my ability to reach out and meet new people, and I've been pleasantly surprised by the connections I've made, especially with women I never would have otherwise met.
I've also been practicing self-awareness and observing what happens when I feel uncomfortable when I'm presented with an unfamiliar experience in a room full of strangers. And this meeting provided an excellent snapshot of insecurities and self-protective mechanisms partnering together to keep me "safe."
What would I need to be safe from? I was at a coffee shop, with several beautiful women, coming together for networking and encouragement. Nothing potentially dangerous there.
But insecurity had triggered, and deep in my subconscious mind, I felt unsafe and a strong need to protect myself.
This event was hosted by my friend Janet of Savvy Girl Entrepreneur Coaching as a part of National Association of Professional Women. And right there you have my first trigger to insecurity: "Professional Women."
I'm going to be real right now. Is that ok?
Here's what those two words conjure up in my mind: women who are in the workforce, who have it "together" professionally, who know how to do business and are experts, and finally (and this is the worst but I'm being real here) who will look down on me because I've been a homeschooling, stay-at-home mom for the past 20+ years and who privately don't think I really belong here.
[I know, I know…but this is me practicing vulnerability in case it helps someone else out. In Brene Brown's words, "this is the story I'm telling myself," and it's time to get it out in the open where light and air can breathe life and truth…]
Anyway, because I have been at this for a few months and because I know Janet and because my other friend Lori was going to be there, I was able to set aside most of my insecurities for this event.
When I arrived, I greeted Janet and Lori and then turned to find a place to sit.
This is where my next big insecurity gets triggered, where I'm afraid to introduce myself to anyone because deep down I don't think they really want to get to know me. [Again, this is me practicing vulnerability, and in my rational mind, I realize that this is a lie.]
I was tempted to stay comfortable hanging with those I knew, but that wasn't the point of the event and, besides, I'm getting better at meeting other people and engaging them in meaningful conversation in a business networking setting in spite of my insecurity.
I recognized several ladies in the room from previous events and chose a seat next to a lovely lady named Bev (who, incidentally, later told me she had seen me enter the room and had hoped I'd sit next to her thereby thoroughly debunking that 2nd insecurity and attached lie). I was definitely not the extrovert at the table but I wasn't entirely withdrawn into my shell as an introvert due to the growth that's been occurring these last several months.
This particular meeting, Janet and Lori publicly shared very kind and flattering testimonies about me and my impact on them personally. I mean, they went on for several minutes. What's interesting is that words of affirmation are high on my list of things that make me feel loved. So while those words should have been filling my tank and I should have been feeling strong and courageous, the longer they talked, something else was happening inside.
My walls went up.
I began to feel small and afraid and had this sinking feeling that maybe coming was a bad idea and maybe I shouldn't be doing this business venture and maybe I needed to go ahead and dedicate all of my time back at home to keeping my house clean and organized while homeschooling my kids.
In essence, just get back inside my box where it was "safe," back inside my walls, literally.
If you could have heard the words Janet and Lori said, things like "You really need to meet Heather. She is amazing. She has all of these talents and gifts to share" you would be looking at me wondering what the heck is wrong with me!
Or maybe you can relate? I think we women tend to compare ourselves to other women and make up stories all of the time (or filter what's going on) that reinforce the erroneous message that says "you don't really belong here" or "if they really get to know you, you will be rejected."
That night, I allowed the subconscious story I was telling myself to run unchecked, and while I did feel and receive a measure of the love poured out for me, my walls were up and "protecting" me from the very love language that speaks love to me. Crazy, right?!?
Thankfully, because I've been cultivating awareness and paying attention to my body, I was clued into the irrational undercurrents, but I didn't yet know how to disarm them so I could fully enter into the moment with this amazing group of women.
In spite of my walls I did the best I could and met a couple of people afterwards, but I could feel myself withdrawn and reserved.
When I got in the car, I had a conversation with myself because I knew that these walls are no longer serving me well. I wanted to see what the messages were and begin the process of letting go. I asked these two questions:
- What is the perceived benefit I'm receiving from this wall?
- What am I missing out on by continuing to use the wall?
Here's what I discovered:
1- The walls kept me small inside. Small means little to no risk. Which also means, little to no reward.
2 - The walls held my "sparkle" in (or tried to). This means I don't get noticed, which can keep me out of trouble. It also means I'm not being the fully bright light God has created me to be.
3 - The walls kept me "safe" from love in order to shield me from disappointment. It also kept me from responding to the love in a way that opened up my heart fully to the avenues of opportunity to connect with others in the room in meaningful ways.
4 - The walls kept me "shielded" from the possibility of rejection. They also kept me from the possibility of cultivating friendships that are mutually beneficial.
Notice my use of the word "perceived." The truth is that these walls only offer an illusion of protection. I experience all of the painful things I'm avoiding whether or not I have walls in place. The walls keep me disconnected, however, from Truth and Light, and I don't find one single, actual benefit of hanging on to these walls. Do you?
When I messaged with Janet later, she adamantly encouraged me: " You MUST share your gifts and step outside your comfort zone or you are depriving the world of something gorgeous."
And that is true of all of us. We each have something gorgeous that the world is waiting for us to offer. Did you know that all of creation is actually groaning in anticipation for God's children to shine?
Shining brightly is generally a journey of stepping outside of my walls which feels very, very uncomfortable most of the time.
My body reacts with feelings of distress that I'm learning to respond to with love and gentleness (as opposed to shame and condemnation which only drives the walls up higher), reminding myself that I'm actually not in imminent danger because uncomfortable does not equal unsafe.
In the midst of the distress, I'm inviting Truth to come take the place of my defenses. I'm realizing that, while I may… no… WILL experience the pain of loss, rejection, abandonment, and betrayal on this journey, I'd rather learn to walk through it to the other side where extraordinary gifts are waiting to be received rather than pretending I can somehow be protected from pain by staying behind the walls.
I left that meeting not getting the full benefit of the love that was in the room. Thankfully, I'll get plenty of opportunities to do it over and make a different choice. I'm sure I'll be taking baby steps, but I think the journey through discomfort and even pain is way worth the value gained by showing up free of walls of self-protection.
By the way, I did go home and set up meetings via email with three of the ladies from that meeting. I'd say that's a step in the right direction, and with Truth standing in the place my walls once were, I'm anticipating some really beautiful interactions now and on into the future.
What about you? What wall of self-protection is no longer serving you well? Can you let it go?
I am passionate about helping people to become all they are created to be, leaving behind old patterns of thinking, of eating, of feeling, to embrace the life they are meant to live. If you’d like me to walk with you on this journey, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s discuss a plan that works best for you.