When I was five years old, I attended my first wedding.
I remember standing in the middle of a wooden dance floor, rocking gently. I was wearing a pretty purple dress, and a giant bow in my hair. All around me, friends and family members were smiling, laughing and talking. The beat of the music filled the air. It was just like at home, where dad would play his records in our living room – but everybody I loved was there!
I looked down at my feet, then up at the giant people surrounding me on all sides. The sensation in my tiny body was electric. I couldn’t have been happier. At that moment, a single thought floated through my mind. “If I can just keep on dancing… everyone will be happy.”
Looking back as an adult I can imagine just as easily having thought to myself, “This is what it feels like to be alive!”
I tell this story because I believe we come into this world as a much wiser version of ourselves. Naïve yes. And uneducated. But wise in the ways of the soul… and the body.
As the ups and downs of life take their toll on our courage, we learn to protect ourselves. We put up walls, build fortresses, and don suits of armor in order to keep the tender and more knowing parts of ourselves free from any future assault. We look strong. And it works. We are able “make it” in the world. Even make it BIG.
But there is also a cost. As we look at our armor in the mirror every day, we soon struggle to remember what got buried underneath. Our knowing parts get quieter, and harder to hear. We forget the important truths that we still knew without question at five years old. Many of us unconsciously commit to defend that fortress at all costs.
Over time the world begins to ask more of us. Yet we hang on to that armor in spite of the nagging feeling that something isn’t quite right in there anymore…
If you are a woman, a leader, or simply a human being in a human body, I want to share a secret with you…
You know how when a person begins a career in the corporate, government or even non-profit world, she starts out starry eyed and passionate about her future work? You know how she’s excited about the impact that she’ll eventually have as she makes her mark, and oh so eager to get started?
If you’ve ever been through this experience, you probably remember what it felt like to begin.
And you may also remember what happened next. Remember how, not too long after that starry-eyed beginning, you started to realize that the very things you most loved about yourself – your boldness, your vision, your wit, your compassion, your charm, your fairness, your creativity – could look like liabilities in the eyes of your boss, who just wanted you to hurry up and get the job at hand done?
Along the way up the ladder to success, many of us end up giving away pieces of ourselves in order to “do a good job.”
We stop following our own intuition, and start leading more like the people who are (apparently) in charge of writing the rules of the game. We might do this even when it doesn’t feel good. Even when it doesn’t really work all that well in the end.
This leads to an unfortunate self-fulfilling prophecy. The seeds of greatness that we already had inside us from the beginning get buried SO deep that we struggle to find them again when the moment to step forward and shine is upon us.
While everyone around us (from our bosses and mentors, to the media, to many “thought leaders” who teach about how to lead well) claim to know what we SHOULD to in order to be more successful…
The TRUTH is that THEY don’t know.
They cannot know. As long as the REAL answers are STILL buried deep inside us, every piece of advice we garner from the outside will always fall short.
So here’s the secret:
It’s impossible to crack through a “glass ceiling” by trying to be more like the people around you (including you) who helped to build it. It just won’t work. There is no doorway there.
Instead, I challenge you this week to go on a scavenger hunt… inside.
Do the sleuthing, digging and yes, remembering. Do what it takes to find your own solutions. Call back the pieces that got lost along the way because, whatever they are my friend, you will need them for the next leg on your journey.
I can promise you that.
In your movement practice,
Pay exquisite attention to what is. Track your sensations. How ever you choose to move, make the extra effort to listen for the nagging voice of your body and give it some airtime. Go where it asks you to go. Perhaps it reveals an emotion that you’ve been stuffing for far too long. Or maybe it points you toward an ache that should no longer be ignored. It may even offer up the most pleasurable, ecstatic sensation – the kind you have only dreamed of feeling.
And when you find that thread… follow it all the way to the end. If you can bear the suspense, don’t question it. Just follow.
Trust that by listening even more deeply, you will find yourself on the right track.
Dare to carve doorways in the armor that surrounds you. Why? Because inside its walls lie the parts you have forgotten – yes the bad… but also the good. Inside its walls lies the even truer strength of your own human spirit.
If you don’t find what you’re looking for at first, keep looking. It’s there. If you have to, don’t hesitate to follow the trapdoor down, down, down into the basement and find out just what – or who – has been hiding there.
And when you arrive, great yourself with curiosity and with love.
In love with it all today,
PS – If you’re local to NYC and would like to explore some of these questions in a LIVE facilitated embodiment workshop, check out my June 10th event at the Eileen Fisher Learning Lab.
So true LeeAnn! Thanks for this beautiful post. It was exactly what I needed to read today.
With love from Amsterdam.