AM I OK?
By Matt Cesaro
I’m sitting on a rock, on top of a hill, overlooking the city.
I’m trying to take in a beautiful view, through tears, while asking myself, over and over, “what the fuck is wrong with me?”
A few weeks ago, I found myself in a hole, and I kept digging.
I was questioning my worth, my ‘enoughness’ in all parts of my life. As a fiancé, a father, uncle, son, friend, brother, business partner, coach.
Every part of my identity was in question and I was finding solid evidence in every place I looked that reinforced a belief that I wasn’t enough; not being enough, not doing enough, not good enough. That I was ‘falling well short of the mark’.
I dug myself deeper and deeper into the hole. While sitting on a rock.
I swore. I cried.
The funny thing is, I knew exactly what I was doing to myself. Or, rather, what my thinking was doing to me.
Now, I know that emotions are simply vibrations in my body, that they don’t last long without the stories that I “tell myself” to prolong them. And that day, I was feeding myself some epic stories of inadequacy. A whole library’s worth in fact.
This is why I dug myself into a hole. I didn’t fall into it. I created it.
I didn’t try to climb straight out of that hole either. As uncomfortable, dark, and scary as it was in there, it’s where I needed to be for a while. And I’ll explain why later.
Eventually I spoke to someone, and they asked me the question; “when did you decide that you always had to be the one that has his shit together?” Interesting, I thought. Because I don’t ever recall actually deciding that. Not consciously anyway.
From a young age I developed the ability to compartmentalise my thoughts and emotions. Basically, to hide and park the difficult stuff and go about my business. Into adulthood, I’ve recognised how I’ve worn this as a badge of honour. My ability to be high-functioning and high-performing, regardless of whatever is happening on the inside. As others around me ‘fall apart’, I hold it together. I hold them together.
I’ve been validated and rewarded for my ‘coolness’. For being the cool guy. Cool. Calm. Collected.
But being cool avoids weakness and being weak is the number one trigger of shame in men. So, it’s no surprise we’ve found so many ways to be cool. Being stoic, keeping emotions in check, hiding pain with humour, not being afraid, not losing control, not asking for help.
Being cool also comes at a cost. Being cool is an emotional straight jacket.
We men are tearing ourselves apart. We are leading ourselves into depression, anxiety and low self-esteem by our avoidance and our fear of weakness and vulnerability. As a 43-year-old male, statistically I’m more likely to die from suicide than any other cause.
Of course, tomorrow, the 10th of September is R U OK? day which makes it a well-timed way of asking this important question by sharing my own story. But you may be wondering why I’ve chosen to share such a personal piece as a LeadersHP blog?
Quite simply, this is at the heart of our purpose and our work with leaders – to develop conscious leaders who are self-aware, vulnerable, resilient and impactful. The leaders that the world needs, right now.
At LeadersHP we also hold a pretty strong value about walking our talk.
This isn’t always easy to do because it requires us to regularly turn ourselves “inside out”.
When there is strong emotional charge, a pattern of reactivity or discomfort about something in our lives, it’s easy to link our struggles to those people, things, and circumstances outside of us.
However these struggles are actually sign posts to something unresolved within us that needs attention and work. Something lying in our shadow.
This is significant in leadership because, as Carl Jung said,
“To confront a person with his shadow is to show him his own light”.
And, as leaders, we can’t light the way for others until we’ve shone a light on the parts of our identity that we’re not keen to admit, or perhaps we don’t even know exist, even though they influence our behaviour. This essentially comprises an identity that we have and hold onto tightly, and it affected the way we see and judge ourselves and others without realising it.
For me, there’s a guy in the shadow who thinks he needs to always keep his shit together, always get it right, always succeed and never let anyone down.
These aren’t expectations I would place on anyone else in my life, yet I place them on myself.
I’m here to say that I’m working on it, I’m a work in progress.
So, how do we do this work of turning ourselves inside out?
Be Curious – ask questions
When triggered or feeling a charge, ask yourself what you are feeling and give your emotions a name, a label. Naming them helps to “tame” them (see our blog on ‘Degriefing’ and the importance of emotional literacy).
Consider if there is a pattern and if you are reacting in this way consistently.
Ask yourself the question: “what is the story I am telling myself, about me, right now?”. If we can notice the story we’re making up, we can question how true it actually is.
Be Courageous – go there
Have the courage to go where it feels uncomfortable, and stay there long enough to feel and understand what might be going on for you and then, to clarify what you need in those moments so that you can ask for it. This is vital, not selfish.
Accept responsibility and take ownership for where you find yourself, in this moment. This isn’t about self-blame, it’s the first step to gaining some control.
Seek to connect with others. Get support, guidance, and other perspectives.
Be Compassionate – get real
Reality check the expectations you have of yourself. Ask if you’d set these same expectations of others, especially those close to you.
Acknowledge your strengths, your resilience and your resourcefulness.
Remind yourself that, like everyone on the planet, you are a work in progress.
This is my work to do. It’s ongoing. It’s hard. It’s also necessary and rewarding.
So, if this is ringing true for you, perhaps go sit on a rock. Then, after giving yourself some space and time, reach out.
In doing this for myself, did I figure out what was wrong with me?
Nothing actually. Nothing at all.
AM I OK? I’m just fine. I’m cool, even when I’m not.
Our inside out leadership tip: shine a light on your shadow - be curious, be courageous, be compassionate.