I don’t know exactly when it happened. When I became afraid.
My whole life I had an outspoken, bubbly personality, with an inquisitive and adventurous attitude, and an inexplicable sense of confidence even at a very young age. My mother tells me often of how I would talk to strangers and get them to divulge their secrets to me in confidence as if I was a grown adult capable of truly conceptualizing what these people were talking about. While most people were being told not to talk to strangers I made practice and sport of it. I had always had the gift for gab.
In school, I usually excelled, especially in the creative arts. Expression had always been my thing. Writing, speaking, literature, theatre, oration and spoken word—all the hearty breads to my artistic butter. I went to performing arts schools for middle and high school. I was a successful actress in my program, did national oratory, acting and spoken word competitions for the NCAAP ACTSO, I got into and interest from several colleges for Theatre and acting programs. By the time I was 18 I had several stage shows and speaking engagements under my belt.
In college, I was a big mouth on the radio at my college station. I worked and majored in Radio and Television production. On campus, I was a regular busy body student council, community service mentor, ambassador, you name it—I was it. I even started an entertainment news blog while I was on campus.
This sounds like a pretty outspoken and confident gal right? Well that’s the thing..
I noticed as my stage (the platforms from which I leveraged influence) got larger and my audience grew, the criticism that came from viewers and supporters began to get to me. Suddenly, I wasn’t doing for myself, but with the consideration of what others would think of what I was doing. This ranged from taking certain jobs/positions in my career in attempts to fit the mold of a successful professional in my field of study—Communications. Even though I hadn't yet taken the time out to see what true success and happiness meant for me—a unique person, uniquely gifted for a unique career.
Though I loved acting I didn't only want to be an actress. I loved radio but I didn't want to solely be a radio on-air talent, I love putting things together and telling stories but did not merely want to be a producer or a journalist. I love graphic design, video production, and marketing but I was not content with being a designer, videographer or marketer. While I tried to make sense of this Hodgepodge of skills and talents, I seemingly exceled at each of these things, (I think many of you multi-talented folks reading right now can relate.) I felt as though I didn't fit anywhere. In TV news rooms, I wasn't able to use my business acumen, behind the camera I was not able to use my oratory or presentation skills, in marketing gigs I longed for the thrill of production, and in all these I still yearned to share my acting gifts on the stage.
Despite my mixed bag of proficiencies, I needed to excel and feel like I was making progress in my career. So I plugged along, doing whatever I could to excel. In a few short years I had worked as an actress, entrepreneur, social media consultant, field producer, executive director of a non-profit organization, a videographer, a web developer, a graphic designer, and business strategy consultant. I even sold Mary Kay for a stint.
After a while, I noticed I was more worried about doing things for the satisfaction of those who would critique me—friends, family, mentors, bosses and even followers. Compound this with an abnormal fear of the occasional rejection and it is safe to say, I had become a people pleaser. I was an approval addict. A prisoner of mind made, self-inflicted fear of what others thought and said about me.
The fear was real. I could feel it in the pit of my stomach. The fear of criticism and rejection would pang at my side as a spoke to potential clients or networked at industry events. I would often be thinking ten steps ahead of the conversation I was having, in anticipation of what the person I was speaking to was thinking of me. There was this heightened sense of having to win everyone over. Even as I sought to post a simple status update on Facebook, the fear of others’ opinions and perceptions often made its way to the forefront of my mind— “What will my network think of this status? Is this thought too personal? Too political? Too emotional? Not personal enough? Is this relevant? Will anyone like this?” I was constantly editing myself in real life and online—always attempting to manage the perception others had of me. I called it “maintaining my brand.” A better title would have been, “losing my sanity.”
So what happened? How did you go from being this outspoken person to a prisoner of fear?
In school, we learn to follow systems. You read a syllabus, follow the instructions laid out, study, pass and you move on to the next course until you complete your requirements for your diploma or degree. That was the single-most subliminal social training received in school—follow the rules, do as you’re told and you will win—you will be successful! *Cue the applause, big fat novelty check, and confetti* The problem with this conditioning is you begin looking for pattern within which to fit yourself. Then, You begin seeking instructions and guidance on what you should aspire to be from someone other than yourself. And third, probably most damaging, is that you begin an unconscious pattern of seeking acceptance from others for personal validation. Those three things I believe are what happened to me.
Undoing the Damage:
Don Ruiz explains this phenomenon, the domestication of humans, in his New York Times Best-Seller The Four Agreements. By domestication he means the process by which we learn to live and how to perceive our culture, our standards, our language, our traditions, our lives and everything in it. We are taught through domestication what thoughts, ideas, actions, behaviors, and aspirations are “good,” and which are “bad.” We are domesticated through the enforcement of a system of punishment and reward. When we go against the standards set before us we are punished, when we go along with the rules we are rewarded. The reward is attention and kudos from others—friends, family, employers, teachers, etc.
“The reward feels good, and we keep doing what others want us to do in order to get the reward. With the fear of being punished and that fear of not getting the reward, we start pretending to be what we are not, just to please others, just to be good enough for someone else. We try to please Mom and Dad, we try to please teachers at school, we try to please the church, and so we start acting. We pretend to be what we are not because we are afraid of being rejected. The fear of begin rejected becomes the fear of not being good enough, Eventually we become a copy of the beliefs of our parents, schools, societies beliefs and religion’s beliefs.”
Essentially, I had been trained to enter a system, follow the rules, and get the reward. However, my instincts opposed that training. My instincts are to educate myself, build my skills, play by my own rules, build my own system and my own rewards. My instincts are to observe, analyze the best course of action for myself, and take the course my own will and intuition points me to--not the direction of the outer force. That internal instinct and external training were in direct opposition. But the desire for acceptance and validation within the system are so strong, so covert, we do not recognize its puppet strings mechanizing our behavior, actions, and attitudes.
I am by no means saying anything is wrong with the concept of school, jobs, institutions and other tools of domestication. They are all necessary forms of organization in society needed to bring order and social norms. Where the trouble lies is lo
sing ourselves--our true nature, desires, passions and abilities in domestication. Many of our normal tendencies are lost in the "domestication" process. We become afraid after a while, because we know that every time we do something wrong, or outside the norm, we are going to be punished, or jeopardize our social acceptance—the reward. Add to this that we are left drained by the angst caused by attempting to reconcile our natural tendencies and instincts to the ones impressed on us from birth.
The pattern, the regimented nature of success, I had been privy to didn’t fit my own ideas of what I could achieve. But I was afraid to leave the matrix-- the status quo path populated by the footprints of several millions before me. And the constant doubt was (and in all honestly still is) my greatest hurdle. It’s an everyday, on going initiative to keep those doubts and fears in check.
I’m writing this as a declaration to spark freedom from this thing, "fear." I'm writing this to share my experience to incite awareness of the "system" of domestication and the identity crisis brought on my the pressure of trying to reconcile who you truly are to who society says you should be.
As for me, I'm out of the box, self-ejected from the matrix. I'm an entrepreneur. I am a digital media producer.I run a video production company, and a telecommunications business. I’m a voice over artist, on-camera talent. I’m a self-taught student of Internet Marketing and am markedly obsessed with brand development. Instead of picking one path or another, I chose to follow my gut and do my own thing.
I am natural born artist, thinker, and leader. I am jack of many trades and a master of the sum of these gifts and skills. I am destined to engineer the sum of their utility to add value to the world.
And so are you.