We want others to see us as smart, capable and positive so we ‘look good’ and look like we ‘have it all together’. This strong and polished ‘exterior’ version of ourselves is far from how we actually experience ourselves in our inner world.
In addition, we look at ‘successful’ people and assume they have it all together because they’ve got something intangible we don’t have. This isn’t true.
No one has it together all the time. Everyone is coping and struggling in some way.
I was reminded of this while chatting with Andrew Coull (ex-Executive Director, Telstra) via Skype this week. Andrew is a phenomenal leader. I interviewed him a few years ago while he was at Telstra and he’s now a partner in a London based Change Management and Business Transformation Consultancy.
In quizzing Andrew about his transition from ‘corporate senior executive’ to ‘consultancy partner’, I envisaged Andrew saying something like “…. having the courage to follow my passion”.
I was wrong.
Instead, Andrew relayed that a series of stuff-ups, breakdowns and realisations that were messy and hard led him to where he is now, post leaving Telstra. At an emotional low point, Andrew told me he decided to stand on the balcony (metaphorically), look down at himself and ask himself “What is all of this telling me?” “What is here for me to see?” “What are the consequences of this?” “What is this going to mean for me?”.
“So, it wasn’t courage Toni” he told me, “It was curiosity”.
For Andrew, the curiosity in his self-enquiry about where he was at that point in his life led him to the path he’s now on. “But it was more than that Toni”, he went on to say, “there was no judgement in how I looked at myself and where I was at”.
It takes courage to be vulnerable enough to look at ourselves accurately and have no judgement or ego in the feedback we give ourselves.
Courage needs curiosity. And curiosity takes courage.
Our real thoughts and feelings are messy and raw; far from the polished version of ourselves we want others to see. Our self-judgement gives us certainty, but it kills our curiosity for seeing what is possible.
When we acknowledge our fears, insecurities and flaws through a lens of curiosity and compassion, we give ourselves the opportunity to see ourselves as we really are.
Life will always throw us curve balls; things won’t always work out the way we’d like. The human experience is to be happy and joyful and as well as angry and sad. We have every trait we need within us to experience every possible emotion.
Becoming who you really are and owning your own truth takes curiosity and courage. Curiosity and courage help build inner strength so we can be our whole selves and see new possibility. It’s this inner strength that counts. Not the strength that comes from having to ‘look good’ to others – that’s exhausting.
Living life as a self-enquiry is a powerful choice for continual learning and growth. What other sides of yourself – and others – could you see through a lens of non-judgemental curiosity? I’d love to know.