By Angela Noel Lawson
November 5, 2018
About a year ago I started a new job and penned an essay entitled, What Does it Mean to be a Contribution? In it, I chronicled how ego and selfishness led me down unproductive paths until awareness dawned. I eventually realized two things. First, I had only one chance to live a life of purpose and to make my unique contribution to the world. And second, I had the power to act.
In general, I’m proud to say I’ve heeded every one of the lessons I explained. Specifically, I’ve given my best and honored the best in others. Although I’ve kept these promises I made to myself, I’m not claiming victory. I’m writing now to report on my progress. To say yes, I’ve contributed, but also to share that I’m still fighting an occasional battle with a terrible beast. She’s ugly, mean, and smells like sweaty feet. I’ll call her Sally.
Sally shows up at infrequent, but unexpected times. She might arrive after I’ve read an email. Or maybe she peeks her head in just as I hang up from a conference call. Sometimes, she waits for me in my car, attacking me as I drive home. You’re not good enough, she’ll say. You’re going to fail, she whines. They don’t appreciate you, she simpers. Indeed, her weapon is fear. Her shield is doubt.
Tragically, Sally believes she’s the hero–that she fights for a righteous cause. You see, she wants to protect me. That’s her job. She’s my bodyguard and my jailer. She’s the wall I cannot see around; the blinders set before my eyes to shield me.
Sally is my self-deception, my insecurity. I am she and she is me.
When Sally’s at Work
When Sally has hold of me, it’s as if I’m in a hall of mirrors. Every step I take, I see only myself reflected. When my ego’s been bruised by some off-hand comment, miscommunication, or mistake, Sally tries to comfort me. She finds all the reasons why someone else is to blame. She assures me I’ve been wronged. With Sally’s help I feel better in a sugar high kind of way.
But wait. A voice always whispers. A faint one, but a voice nonetheless. Stop, it says. Wait.
Sally has no patience for this little voice. She fires her fear-cannon and promises me danger awaits. You’ve been wronged, she reminds me. You’re a fool if you don’t see that. Protect yourself! Defend yourself!
My friends, their numbers on my speed dial, listen as Sally, using my voice, speaks rapidly, convincingly, of all the wounds we’ve endured.
But wait, the quiet one says, let the clouds pass as they always do.
And those good friends, at first in thrall to Sally’s will, begin to change. Instead of reflecting me back to me they shift. First a probing question, then another. Refraction replaces reflection. They help change the path of my thoughts–Sally’s thoughts. Finally, Sally has no words left to say. Her arsenal is spent.
When the Light Returns
The clouds part. The quiet voice gets louder. There now, it says, now do you see?
And I do. Clearly, the imagined slight, the charged moment, the harsh word . . . whatever it may be was nothing. As Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander recommend in The Art of Possibility, I have only to give back the “A” to the person who seemed to sin against me. I return to him or her full credit for good intentions. With the help of the quiet voice, I think back on how the words and their message may not have been how they seemed at the time. That tone Sally reacted to? Maybe it wasn’t there.
Even the fear of things unsaid . . . if it’s real I’ll deal with what may come. If it’s not, life’s too short to dwell on maybes. These dangerous assumptions, this spotlight effect, dims my shine. In fact, it’s that shine that lights the path of contribution. I need it. To achieve my life’s purpose–to give all I’ve got to give–Sally must give way.
Realizing neither weapon nor shield is working against the dawning of the light, Sally steps aside. The bulk of her–the heavy mass obscuring my vision–was never more than shadow. Consequently, in the wake of her recession, illumination, even joy, follows.
Once again, I’m listening. I’m ready for tomorrow.
You turn: Do you have a Sally? What do you use to help find kindness and perspective again?