I can’t think of one single time in my life, truly, in 51 years where I stood up to another person. Really stood my ground, without falling back into my act…the pleaser, the agreeable one, the nice one, the good girl. This weekend, I stood up to 100 people, ALL BY MYSELF, and today I am a new person.
I just completed the Landmark Forum Advanced Course, a program designed to help you live an EXTRAordinary life. We spent three full days looking at our “act”, our default persona that has helps us get through life the way we do. It’s our way of being, especially when confronted, or provoked. Or in my case, disagreed with. I’m not even going to bore you with the crazy childhood story that led to the development of my act, just believe me when I say that it’s quite ridiculous, and it has been in charge of my life for a long damn time.
My act is to be good, to look good, to do whatever I need to do to make you like me and approve of my decisions. Sounds like a pretty great person to hang out with, doesn’t it? The problem is, it isn’t one bit authentic. I have spent my life asking your opinion, everyone’s opinion. And being paralyzed by decisions. Seriously…I stood in a department store for two full hours once, trying to decide on a color of towels. I didn’t want to subject myself to my husbands criticism if I got it wrong. My solution is always to say yes. Yes to everything. And inevitably, that leads to double scheduling, over committing, crazy town. It’s cool, because then I get to tell you how busy I am, and we all know that busy means important and of course that’s validation. So what happened this weekend?
When I registered for this course, my husband and I had already made plans to go away together over fall break. I knew this would result in me missing the last night of Landmark, but I signed up anyway. During the course, the subject of Integrity came up. Do what you say you will do. Be where you say you will be. Quite a dilemma for the person who is always supposed to be two (or more) places at once. So the Forum Leader called me up on stage to explain to my group why I wouldn’t be there for the full time. I explained the situation, blaming the person at registration who let it happen, blaming my husband for suggesting it, blaming anyone I could think of. With 200 eyeballs on me, I caved in, said yes, and agreed to change my travel plans. The applause in the room was everything I feed on. Approval, agreement, admiration.
I called Michael and of course he was upset, but told me to do what I needed to do. I got off the phone and heard several comments that were pivotal for me. “He’ll get over it.” “It’s just 24 Hours.” “Tell him he should support you.” And there it was. My whole life and my whole way of being right there in the parking lot. I got it. I ALWAYS DO THIS! I commit to everything, and then cancel on the person or people who will put up the least resistance. The people who will love me no matter what. I got in that moment, what integrity really meant.
So here’s the brave part. I went back in after the break, walked up onto the stage and told my peers the following words, with my legs shaking like never before. “What happened up here before was all my act. I said yes to you because I wanted your approval and I didn’t have the guts to say no. I am up here again to tell you all that I will not be here on Tuesday night. I’m standing for integrity in my marriage right now, and I’m going to do what I said I would do in the first place. I’ll be on a plane on Tuesday morning with my husband.”
I fully expected a flogging from the leader, but instead got her approval and praise for having the courage to step out of my act and do what I knew was the right thing. The rest of the day was fascinating. 50% of my peers supported my decision. And I could tell that 50% resented me. Some were brave enough to ask how I felt my plans were more important than them, or than their plans. I answered them honestly and lovingly. The breakthrough for me was that I could hear it all, feel it all, and I was fine. I didn’t need to change one thing. I was standing inside of a bigger YES, so no was easy.
So there it is. And here’s the take-away. The thing that happened to you when you were 5 or 9 or 13, no doubt really sucked. And it made you who you are. When it happened, you created an act. A way of being that helped you navigate the rest of life. But here you are, here I am. Our past prepared us, it doesn’t have to define us. Stand up. Be a yes. And know that sometimes, NO makes a bigger YES possible.