Self-Deception: The Enemy of Contribution

Self-deception, insecurity

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.

Insecurity and self-deception
Insecurity and self-deception can derail the noblest purpose. But it’s possible to find the light. Photo by Angelo Pantazis on Unsplash

You turn: Do you have a Sally? What do you use to help find kindness and perspective again?

Photo by Oleg Sergeichik on Unsplash




Author: Angela Noel

On a quest to become a better human, I write about parenting, leadership, and personal development. I tell my stories so you can find your own.

19 thoughts on “Self-Deception: The Enemy of Contribution”

  1. Hi, I’m sat here working and my tablet just buzzed me..(thankyou) and now i read this, I think it was meant to be.. I have a Sally who is constantly chipping away at my confidence.. in everything I say and do.. I get the moments of clarity where actually everything is ok.. and then she starts again.. I also have a fear of maybes, the what it’s, I know I waste time worrying. This was good to read, thanks.

    1. I’m glad it arrived at a good time! I’m not sure why, but giving that little beast a name helps. I know it’s all in my mind, but it’s eaiser to get distance, and therefore clarity that way. Thanks so much for reading!

  2. Blah, that inner voice! “You don’t measure up!” “You haven’t achieved enough in life” “Everyone else has their act together, more friends, a better job, smarter kids, more savings, a newer car, etc” . I hate it. Those of us prone to blogging are an introspective lot, and I’m guessing that we all have an internal dialogue going 24/7. The trick is to keep it positive and productive (something I struggle with),

    1. Yes. Positive and productive is key. in a strange way, I do find that giving this “shade of myself’ a name seems to help. It’s a level of abstraction that makes it easier to see when I’m not seeing the “real” situation. I find laughing at myself helps too! I had a good chuckle recently when I found an old potato chip in my shirt from earlier in the day–and i seriously considered eating it. But I didn’t. Little wins. 🙂

  3. I definitely have a “Sally.” I’ve learned to regard “her” as a teacher because some bad and scary things HAVE happened to me and sometimes her protection has made sense (I fight her pretty hard). Now when I confront her standing guard I ask myself, “What’s going on? Is it real or not?” That’s become perhaps the most important quesiton of my life. Sometimes I say, “Yeah, this could hurt me, but I’m cool with it. I’ll take the pain.”

    1. Perfect, Martha. That’s a great point. Sometimes these voices are there for good reason and point to something we need to take action on. I don’t want someone who truly has bad intentions to get the best of me–but I also know I’ve learned to set boundaries on what I’ll allow and what is too much. Now, it’s been awhile since those boundaries have been severely tested, so we’ll see what the future brings. But, I think you’re making an excellent point–tuning our awareness on what the real message is and what we want to do about it is key.

  4. Angela, you describe Sally so eloquently. Every single person has Sally inside of him or her. It’s how she is dealt with that really matters. You are a master of your thoughts – it shows in every single one of your posts – and you continue to teach others how to think and act positively through your writing. Beautiful post!

    1. I’m glad you can relate to my little frenemy–Sally. She wants to be be good, but just can’t quite see past her own nose sometimes!
      Thank you for reading and for caring about my little words. 🙂

  5. I have a Sally, too. And I know your struggle. It’s really hard to change the lens we see the world through, but it’s important for our growth. 🙂 You’re on the right path. Keep up the good work!

    1. Thanks, Lisa. A mentor of mine once talked about self-awareness as a fish leaping out of the water. Most of the time, we’re swimming and don’t even know we’re in water, but then we leap out! And in that moment things seem clear. But then, we’re back down again, swimming away. I like that idea. My goal is to stay above water as much as possible, while not feeling too bad when I slide back under from time to time.
      Thanks so much for reading!

  6. I think we all have a Sally, don’t we? Lurking round the corner. Ready to infiltrate our thoughts. The annoying twat. Reading this post of yours reminded me of a book I read recently (part of my book club) called The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck. I thoroughly recommend it. It’s not about not caring so much. It’s about limiting the amount of fucks you give. Interestingly, it also talks about entitlement and taking responsibility and how you choose to react to situations and people. Everything is your choice. I try to remind myself of that often, but still Sally pop ups from time to time.

    1. I did read that one! It was good. (Though the amount of times the author used women-as-sex-objects to illustrate his stories was a off-putting.) My friend Angie (the one who wrote the piece on the lady who told her family to speak English in America) talks about how many F’s she’s willing to give all the time. It’s a really helpful idea.
      I also really liked that he said it’s not about avoiding pain and trouble–it’s about CHOOSING our pain and trouble. You’re going to have it, so what kind seems the best to you? That was a major insight to me.

  7. I know Sally. What a pain she is. She makes my work and life so much harder than it needs to be, but she grabs my attention over and over again. She even appears in my dreams. Thanks for describing this complex so beautifully. I’ll call her by name the next time she shows up.

    1. It’s nice to know I’m not alone in having this disruptive little voice whispering in my ear! I’m glad you found the post useful. Here’s to Sally showing up less and less for us both!

  8. I spent years with a real life “Sally” – and once I stuck up to her, I had little trouble ignoring the inner Sally – or simply telling her to sit down and shut up. That doesn’t mean I never question or doubt but I believe asking myself why this question or doubt pops up helps me to dig deeper into how I am being called to grow. Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

    1. That’s an excellent strategy. Even in our bodies, physical pain is a sign that something is wrong–we need it to point out problems. Sally may have her uses in this case, if we know how to use her messages for insight. Great point, Janet.

      1. Angela – I so totally agree that our bodies also give signs when something is wrong. I believe our bodies often point to emotional pain as well. We just need to take the time to listen.

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