On the surface, everything was just fine. I loved school. I loved learning, although it would be years before I felt it was OK to show how smart I was. I had a nice teacher and equally nice friends. Things were good at home, even though that was the year my Only Child Status was revoked. I was even able to bring my baby sister in to “show and tell” in the spring.
What I was afraid of was different, deeper. At the time, far too different or deep to articulate or address in my young mind.
On the most basic level, I did know that the source of my fear was the group circle. Good old Circle Time. I’m sure you know the drill: Mrs. Gale would announce it was time to stop what we were doing, clean up and start to move toward the center of the room to gather together in a circle-ish formation.
Simple. Or, so one would think.
I don’t recall how or when the problem started, but I know that once it started, I didn’t know how to fix or stop it. Here’s what would happen: One kid or maybe several decided that they wanted to sit next to me in the circle. Me! Then more kids decided that they, too, just had to sit next to me as well. (At the time, I was “Allie,” by the way. Not with the cool “i” ending, but with the mid-70s practical “ie” ending.)
It became a little nuts each time we’d run to the circle area. I felt I was trying to mind my own business, find my spot, keep my mouth shut and wait for what was next. But the others didn’t want the same, apparently. The dash to sit next to me was loud and unruly. There was pushing and shoving. Only two could “make it,” and so inevitably there was some disappointment. I felt I was letting some of my friends down, unable to give them what they wanted. Of course, Mrs. Gale was unhappy with the chaos as well. She focused on me as the source of the disruption, and warned me that it needed to stop.
I didn’t want any of my friends to be upset. I didn’t want to let anyone down. And I certainly didn’t want my teacher to be angry at me. I was a rule follower, you didn’t have to tell me twice what to do (or not do). Each time we’d get the “Circle Time” announcement, my internal dialogue would go something like this: “Please don’t let anyone notice me, please don’t let anyone notice me, please don’t let anyone notice me.”
It didn’t work. I was unable to please everyone. I couldn’t win.
Now you may be thinking, “Poor Allie. Everyone likes her and wants to sit next to her, and she doesn’t know what to do. Waaaahhhhhh. Try being disliked and shunned. Then you’ll know the true meaning of pain.”
I understand that opinion, and for years it caused me to ignore the very real pain and confusion that my story caused me. I pushed away the belief that told me, “Don’t bring attention to yourself because being noticed means being bad and getting in trouble.” Attention was bad. People being drawn to me was bad. Being seen was bad. And I was, somehow, perhaps, bad.
Of course, as is the case with limiting beliefs, I found myself as an adult, over and over, in situations and in relationships that served to reinforce what I felt I already knew: Don’t show people how funny you are. Don’t reveal your strengths or talents. Act dumber than the other person. Don’t let on that you know more about what they are talking about than they do. Your ability to connect with others is a curse. People will hate you if you use the word “fuck.” Don’t let them know how could help them or serve them. Stay away. Keep your distance. Do not intimidate or show off. Do not get into trouble.
And so on….
I don’t believe I spoke this story out loud or even acknowledged it internally until recent years. One of the first and only people I told it to was the lovely Amy Oscar, a gifted writer and guide, whose feedback at the time helped me enormously to put it into perspective, to embrace it, to love it. Ultimately, this led to me embracing and loving myself all the more. But, well, it didn’t happen overnight. And that kind of stuff can stay with you forever, so reminding myself of the truth is a daily practice. Some days I am not entirely up to the task.
So, really, my story is not all that different from the “nobody likes me” story. My fear of being liked, my fear of causing waves, my fear of pissing people off all held me back. Thankfully, I have been able to unpeel many of those layers and start to understand myself at a more core level. And one of the things I have learned is that while we could make ourselves nuts trying to figure out who likes us, who is annoyed with us, who we have pissed off and why this person or that thinks this or that about us, the truth is that IT DOES NOT MATTER. If you are doing your best every single day to be the very best person you can be, if you are engaged in your great work that does in some way serve the world (and by the way, you CAN do that from a cubicle, from the White House or on a street corner for that matter) it does not matter what “they” think of you or how you could possibly be upsetting or disappointing “them.”
Here’s the thing: If you have read this far, chances are that you already know what you are afraid of and why you are hiding from it. You may even know the exact moment or incident that started you on the path of that belief. I’m not here to force you to deal with all of that right here and now. I will, however, thank you in advance for considering a different approach to that thing. That consideration may lead to a new decision that could in turn lead to something that would lead to something else that maybe would in some way change the freakin world.
No big deal.
If you feel comfortable, I’d love you to share your equivalent of the “Circle Time” Story. I know you have one. xoxo