Through these awfully bizarre times, I’ve tried on a number of ideas for my future self. Writer. Peacekeeper. Bridge builder. Homeschool teacher. Thought leader. Artist.
Some of these literal and some of them figurative. Some realistic and some to be attained at a future date unknown to me.
All of them were accompanied by a familiar voice that whispers, “Are you sure? You sure you can do that? How do you know you can do that? What makes you so sure?” I know this voice well – she’s been with me for as long as I can remember. Her successes include anything I ever wanted to try but never saw through to the end. Her victories are my dreams unraveled. Her wins are my shame.
She is also the reason I used to rarely speak up at meetings in boardrooms. She convinced me that if my thought was so original or so full of insight, then why had no one else already pointed it out? She’d flip the script sometimes and urge me to keep quiet for fear of embarrassing myself. “Don’t say that out loud, there’s no way what you have to say is going to shine a light on anything meaningful” and then sure enough, someone else at the table would say what I was thinking and would be greeted by lots of nodding heads and scribbling pencils indicating an eagerness not to forget what was just said. I’d snap back at her silently. I’d resent her for keeping me quiet, but she was the louder one, so I’d recoil and give her back the reigns. She kept me safe and in so doing, she kept me small. She whispered often and powerfully. Relentlessly, even.
But during this pandemic when the world got quiet and our lives were turned down to a slow simmer for having all of our extracurriculars forsaken, the argument between my head and my heart got more heated.
Because, you see, that voice I had been used to cowing to was the voice in my head. The one who was leading with fear. The voice that thought she was protecting me. And I kind of liked being protected so I let her keep me small…why not? What’s the harm in living smaller if it means avoiding embarrassment or failure? It became my default position. I learned to defer to that voice before reaching down into my heart for an answer. I’d give her first say.
But my heart wasn’t having any of this old routine during the last year. With a blank calendar and lots of time to think, my heart grew more confident in her instincts. She began to realize that fear is a terrible backseat driver. Through more ways than I can count, I lived the lessons of what could happen when my heart led the pack. And while my heart was busy racking up points for her successes, my head was rethinking her strategy…finetuning new ways to get me to listen to her.
My heart, as I learned, spoke a much kinder language. She’d softly suggest things like, “but maybe you do know the answers. What would be so bad if you didn’t? Maybe you’re supposed to fail at this so that you can learn something. What if your kids are looking to you for courage and if nothing else, you model that for them?” These sweet urgings felt like the warmest hug. They felt like a fall day when the leaves are gorgeous, before you realize their beauty lies in the fact that they are undergoing a radical change that will soon leave their host completely stripped down to its core.
Fall is the awakening. Winter is the season of gathering all of our love to sustain us through the long time without beauty to keep us company. Spring is the rising. My heart was in its Fall season. The voice which had always played second fiddle was undergoing a change that would soon feel radical. And that change was beginning to give off the colors of a blazing fire, just like the fall leaves do before they go to sleep forever on top of the soil that once birthed them.
My head would make desperate pleas with outlandish assertions, but my heart was starting to spot these falsehoods mid-hurl. She’d kindly respond to such moments with the kindest language I’d ever heard, “thank you for trying to protect me, but I don’t need protecting right now. You can sit this one out but thank you for thinking of me.” And there I sat watching this duel…the fight of my life. It was the pivot point on which the rest of my future would rely. Was I going to continue to be kept small by the protective fear that had guided so many of my formative experiences, or was I going to allow the possibility of falling into the equation so that I could learn and expand in ways I’d never previously known?
Spoiler alert: It didn’t need to be an either/or, it could be a soup pot where everyone was invited to marinate. And in that marination, I would begin to view my fear as my beloved. Fear was there to teach me, to encourage me, to remind me when I was being begged to show up for myself. This single shift in perspective allowed a cascade of revelations to take place.
I began a relationship where my head and my heart could dance in more healthy ways. They could hold each other. No one needed to be the bad guy. Everyone could have their time in the sun. They could take a break from their dueling and instead, sit together on a meadow taking in the vista of possibilities that avail themselves when there is peace within me.
So maybe you call your head voice “the ego,” or maybe you call it your “old tapes.” All of these are the same. It’s the notion that within us there are versions of ourselves fighting their own cause. Supporting their own agenda. Fighting for their own job security. The forces within us that are scared and worried and never forget all the times we were hurt. They don’t know how to let fall their burdens and imagine a life without that weight. They need us to introduce them to our hearts.
And maybe you refer to your heart voice as your “dreams,” “your secret self,” or your “fantasy world.” Maybe this voice represents all that you aspire to and envision for yourself, regardless of how you’ll get there. At its core, it’s the idea that deep within you there is a calling toward the version of yourself that you know to be the truest. Your dreams may change over time but your brand of loving and your wish to be seen will always remain. It’s the voice that when you hear her, you feel like she’s twirling your hair and cradling you in her lap. She knows everything about you, and she loves you anyway…endlessly…she always has.
What would happen if you introduced these two voices and allowed them to swirl and swim with each other? To form new colors never before seen, and never to be seen again. Colors that are yours and yours only. Like the fiery fall leaves who belong only to that tree and only to that one, beautiful season. Never to be repeated or preceded. Could it be possible that your biggest life, the one you are meant to live, awaits you only when you bring all of yourself to the table? All your fears, all your love, all your hopes, and all your hurt. This is the truest version of you – the one that encapsulates the full experience of life in all of its shapes and forms. It’s your emotional DNA and, inherent within, the certification that you and only you were here living this one life of yours.
I wonder how tall you’d stand if you walked through life with all of your memories and experiences stacked on top of one another, discarding nothing, and using everything to inform your wisdom. Using that wisdom as your rudder. Because that’s what we fear, right? That something we do will embarrass us, expose us or reveal our inferiority. But what if we discard nothing from our experiences, take all of it with us, and give it over to our heart to make sense of everything. She’ll, no doubt, make use of every ingredient…she’s the best kind of chef. She’ll bundle it all up and give us an assuring nod that none of it happened in vain.
Let’s not begrudge our ebbs. Let’s make way for the flows by allowing space for our fullness to be welcome, in all of its imperfect beauty. Let’s invite all of ourselves to the table, to eat the fruits of the wisdom native to each and every one of us. Let’s greet our Fall, Winter, and Spring seasons to show us what they have up their sleeves.
Let’s allow our hearts to lead the way while encouraging our heads to enjoy the show.