Owning Our Stories: Overcoming The Fears That Make Us Play Small

Oh So Free

“I now see how owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.” ~Brené Brown

It’s taken me a long time to figure out my story.

I kept thinking, “Nothing particularly dramatic has happened to me, so how can I have a story?”

Yet recently, after years of personal growth work, that’s shifted. I see the golden thread that weaves through my story and what that means for how I show up and what I bring to the world.

I now see that this whole thing about owning your story isn’t about drama. It’s not about having a story that you feel is significant and worthy enough to share. 

In many ways, it’s a metaphor. If I own my story, then I put my name to it. I become the author and with that I take the role of protagonist.

It also makes me ask the question, “If I’m not owning my story and authoring it, then who is?”

My story is one of learning to accept that I am enough, just as I am, and that what’s in my heart matters.

For most of my life I’ve strived to be enough without consciously being aware of it. It seemed to be what everyone did in the corporate world to get along. Reach. Stretch. Push. Always seeking more. 

I can’t say it felt exhausting, because with every new goal I’d have a ton of energy to push through. I would think, “If I get that promotion, then I’ll feel happy.” Or, “If I get that Masters Degree, then I’ll be credible and heard.”

No, it didn’t feel exhausting. It did feel relentlessly unfulfilling.

It was as if I kept promising myself it would all be better when—even though I knew on some deep level it wouldn’t.

I felt so stuck. I knew I had all this powerful energy, but it was locked inside me. It would show up in bursts, but so often I would hold it back.

I was blaming others for my circumstances. I was arguing for how I had no choice; I had a mortgage to pay and kids to support. I was angrily frustrated and I found it hard to contain. 

I would start my day at work believing “I can change things and make a meaningful contribution,” yet, I’d keep being met by the story of the organizational culture: “It’s not the right time,” or, “it’s not the way we do things around here,” or, “we just care about the numbers.”

I was so frustrated that I would come home and complain to my husband about how awful it was and how I should be doing something different but I couldn’t because we needed the money.

I blamed him on some level. I also blamed myself for not having enough courage to really change my circumstances.

People kept telling me how lucky I was to work part time while the kids were little, but it felt like such a trade off. Almost as if I could have part-time work but I couldn’t expect it to be meaningful.

For me to really look inside and discover what I wanted to do, it took a coach to point out that I was being a victim in my current story. 

I remember when he said it I cried, and, truth be known, I felt embarrassed that I was crying on the phone to a guy when I was supposed to be professional!

Yet it was a painful release of the truth of how I felt. It was as if in some way he had just lanced a boil. I was being a victim. I had given my power away because I was scared.

I had lost touch with who I was, what was in my heart, and what I wanted.

From that moment on, I made a commitment to myself to get to the heart of who I was and what I bring to the world. 

I wanted to become the protagonist in my story. I made the decision to quit my job and follow my heart.

It felt completely counterintuitive. My head was going wild with sabotaging thoughts, but somewhere deep inside me I trusted that I could handle what showed up.

I talked to my boss about what was happening in the organization and how the role wasn’t turning out as we had anticipated. We talked openly about this and I asked for what I wanted. We agreed to negotiate a severance package.

From there I started to notice opportunities and invest in myself so I could pursue my dream of running my own business.

I decided I had to manage my fears and made a conscious choice to let courage trump them.  I would say things to myself like, “Seriously, what’s the worst that can happen?” The answer would be “I go and get another job.” More often than not I would say, “You’ve got this. You can do this.”

I clarified my minimum-squeak-by and dream income amounts and worked out a simple business plan based on these.

Most importantly, I kept going. I had a mantra that was based on how we learn to walk as babies. I would say to myself when it was tough, “Just one foot in front of the other, Vanessa.” And I would do the next small thing, even though I had a tendency to focus on the big vision.

That was nearly four years ago now and I’ve been on such a rollercoaster ride of adventure.  Of course it has had ups and downs, and I wouldn’t change it for anything, because I have grown so much and I now know what it means to be fully responsible and at choice.

I have discovered the golden thread in my story: that my deepest fear is that I am not enough and I need to be more than I am to thrive.

That thread sabotages me when I believe it, because it makes me try really hard to perfect myself, procrastinate, and play small. It also has me seek approval and validation and hold back my truth.

Being aware of it helps me consciously work the muscle of radical self-acceptance and self-empowerment. It enables me to learn to practice compassion, kindness, self-love, and enough-ness.

It helps me to let go of old defensive ways of playing small like people pleasing, avoidance, and perfection.

It also helps me create connection. When I stand in the story of I am enough, just as I am, I’m great at helping people grow and find their soul truth. I’m perfect at showing up just as I am and every time I fail or show up trying to be something other than who I am, it serves as a wonderful opportunity to help me grow.

I had two fears when I started to own this story: 

  1. What would people think about me? How could I openly stand up and say, “I practice radical self-acceptance,” because my wound is that I fear I am not enough as I am?
  2. I would come across as egotistical if I fully owned what I’m good at.

Interestingly, they form a double bind, with being not enough at one end and at the other, being too much. Underneath them is a fear of your opinion of me.

The key to unlocking my ability to stand in my story and fully own it has been learning to make my opinion the one that counts (at least where I’m concerned).

Making my opinion count is a practice for me. It requires me to ground my energy and often to slow down, take a step back, and quiet my inner critic.

In this place, I can connect to my inner wise woman and hear her truth. Then my only job is to trust it. It’s why my word for the year is trust.

Trust that I know what I know and that I am enough.

Trust that my heart can lead.

Trust that I am the protagonist in my story and it’s a worthy story.

Trust that the fear inside that you might judge my story is part of the old story of not being enough as I am.

Trust that when you and I stand fully in the center of our stories, we come from love.

Photo by ByLaauraa

About Vanessa Anstee

Vanessa coaches women to live their courageous life now gently and with a kick.  She’s an executive and personal life coach with a passion and commitment to living fully. Visit her at VanessaAnstee.com.

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