“The irony is that we disown our difficult stories to appear more whole or more acceptable, but our wholeness—even our wholeheartedness—actually depends on the integrations of all our experiences, including the falls.” —Brene Brown
Experiencing, in totality, and accepting all of ourselves, —yup, the good, the bad, and the ugly: this is the toughest, and the most important, work of all.
I was denied Early Decision from Trinity College in December of 1984. The envelope, although of nice card stock, brought the devastating news dashing my hopes of attending my dream college. My hands trembled as I read and reread and reread the denial. I was not to be part of the Class of 1989. My insides twisted, and I knew, on a visceral, can still feel in my innards way, why I had been denied. As I type this, it is fair to say, the memory of that moment is still there, albeit not as powerful, but there.
I had excellent grades, leadership roles, varsity letters, and solid SAT scores, and I came from a reputable college preparatory school. Those factors weren’t the problem; my fear of authenticity was. In fact, I know the precise moment when I blew my chances of getting in. It was during my interview. We sat in traditionally beautifully appointed room with oriental rugs and antiques… and an admissions officer asking a 17-year-old girl questions about her future.
The question that still causes me to shudder is the following: If you could meet one person from history, who would you choose and why?
My head spun a little, and I was certain he could see perspiration gather on my upper lip not to mention my armpits.
When emotions are distilled to the very essence, they either hold the DNA of Love or Fear.
I remember thinking, Well, I could say Jesus, but I’m not baptized, so I don’t have a right, do I? to talk about the Lord or how curious I was about the whole debate on who really gets to go to heaven, and are heaven and hell other places or do we create those existences in the here and now? And then, I could say Ben Franklin. Inventor, writer, rebel. But I’m not sure I’m headed in any of those directions myself, so why? What can I say to let this admissions officer know that I am worthy of being here? What can I say?
I should mention that at that time in my life, I saw myself shattering glass ceilings, heading straight for the boardroom. I have no idea why; that is not a space where authentic self, young girl or adult, would put me. But fear, shame, and insecurity can be incredibly clever and are sure to convince you that what you need to do is put up some armor. What you need to do is be something, be somebody, that you think the other person would value. Say something, be something you’re not in the hopes you will get away with it, and convincingly. So convincingly, that you could even believe it yourself.
So I said, “I’d like to meet the founder of one of our great American corporations.” I’m certain I expanded, awkwardly, on this odd and shallow answer. If I had had a genuine interest in a particular figure of industry, as there are many that have led exemplary, extraordinary lives, this answer would have rung true. But, for me, it was a ruse, and my fear being myself, of bringing myself authentically into the conversation? That killed the deal.
I went on to be accepted to many wonderful schools and attended a fabulous institution. I am grateful, too, for having had that interview; even it took me a few years (or decades—who’s counting?) to come to that realization. Many lessons came from that experience, the least of which was not this: When we pose to be something we are not, we are making choices from a place of Fear. And what each of us desperately needs to shift into more joyful, authentic experiences is the ability to own the emotional origins of our choices.