Life throws us curve balls.
And sometimes, it throws us Mack trucks.
This week, the lesson of what those Mack trucks can do FOR our lives tapped me on the shoulder at least three times.
In a Facebook chat he’d challenged me to leave both ego and humility at the door, and strut my stuff like a peacock. It was a great exercise, he said, and one that women in particular seem reluctant to even attempt. The TED Talk he forwarded to me, by social psychologist Amy Cuddy, bears that out. The talk is about the effect that our body language has, not only on how OTHER people feel about us, but on how we feel about ourselves! (Here’s a hint, clinical tests show a direct correlation between body postures and levels of testosterone and cortisol!)
As an almost casual aside, as though it is such a commonly accepted stereotype that it doesn’t need to be discussed, Ms. Cuddy makes a comment that illustrates the point that Frank and I were discussing; women are conditioned not to display their personal power. (More about that in my next post - I’m going to share my thoughts with my newsletter community and get some feedback before I share here.)
The second was a video that came to my attention through another dear friend and mentor, even though he doesn’t yet know his role in the story. It was posted by one of the members of the group I established on Facebook for friends and family of Richard Bach. Titled You Are Not Your Body, this TEDxKC talk by Janine Shepherd chronicles her experience from Olympic hopeful cyclist to paraplegic to… I’m not going to spoil the story for you, just watch the video and be amazed.
The third tap was a fireside conversation last night with two men I admire and whose insights I treasure. The three of us sat in the crisp air, holding our hands (and sometimes our feet) to the flames for warmth, chatting about whatever came to mind, and the conversation turned to energy healing and massage. One of my friends mentioned that he had seen a massage therapist during a period in his life when he was going through a divorce. And that the therapist made the observation to him that he was grieving the end of his marriage. At the time, he said, he thought she could not be more wrong. He had accepted that the marriage needed to end, and he was more than ready to move on. Only later did he realize that she was right, he was “grieving the end of the dream.”
Those three themes may seem to have nothing in common, a social psychologist talking about using power poses to build confidence and affect hormone levels, a former (okay, I’ll give THAT much away) paraplegic, sharing her story of rebuilding her life, and a man reflecting years after the fact on his emotions about his divorce.
But all of these individuals shared one powerful lesson; the lesson of self-identity.
You see, Amy Cuddy isn’t just teaching how to succeed in life and business by learning how to stand tall. She’s teaching how to “Fake it Until You Become it.” And after she shares the theories and the results of the studies, she tells her story. A story of being in a terrible car accident. Of having a head injury. And being told that her IQ had dropped by two standard deviations. She would, they said, never finish college. “That’s all right,” they assured her, “there are other things for you to do.”
It wasn’t all right with her. Not at all. Because she had self-identified as being smart. Gifted even. And the idea that she would struggle to finish college, let alone not be able to complete the course work, was like telling her she was no longer who she had been before the accident. “Having your identity taken from you,” she says, “your core identity; and for me it was being smart, having that taken from you, there is nothing that leaves you feeling more powerless than that.”
She did finish college, of course. And her story of how a mentor helped her “fake it until she became it,” and how she then passed that wisdom on to another student, is where the real power of her message hits home.
But I missed the reference to self-identity. Until I saw the second video.
Janine Shepherd identified as an athlete. An elite athlete. Her strength was her body, and her body was her strength. “Janine the Machine” they called her. Until she was finishing a ride, only 10 minutes left to go. And that body was nearly destroyed. I won’t tell the story here, because I can’t do it justice. And you can watch the video and cry, just like did. And CHEER at the end, just like I did.
It clicked for me then, watching the second video just hours after watching the first one. How we invest our view of our SELF, not only what we identify with, but what we identify AS, in things that aren’t really who we are.
Which may be why, last night talking with my friends, I understood the reference to grief. Not an irrational grief for something he had already released. But the grief of losing a part of who he believed he was. I went through a similar experience over three years ago, some days it still grieves me. Because for more than 20 years of my life, almost all of my adult life, that’s who I was.
I was a partner, a mate. I was a happily married woman, half of what my friends often referred to as “the cutest couple ever.” And then I wasn’t. And even though I knew it was the right change for both of us, I grieved. Because there was a lot about that identity I liked. And it was hard to give it up.
I’d never understood before, why moving on can be so challenging. Even when we aren’t moving on from a life-altering accident. Every change in our life has the potential to change who we believe ourselves to be.
Each of these three people, one a researcher I have never communicated with, one a speaker and author with whom I now share a community on Facebook, and another a friend of several years, has learned what I am just putting into practice today: If your identity is based on anything that can be taken away from you, you haven’t really met the person in the mirror yet.