Not so long ago, I had one of those experiences when I knew I was being taught a very important lesson by life. But that knowledge did not stop the pain from being excruciating. It all began when my husband and I took our youngest son to an appointment with a college counselor. In two short years I will be sending my second and last child off to college, which is sure to bring out a whole host of other life lessons.
Life lessons can be painful
What was supposed to be a first step in the long road to college acceptance triggered something in me that I had no idea was hiding out. Our conversation centered around who my son was and what he was looking for in a college. We discussed his academic credentials and his desire to play soccer. We talked about the size of the school he would like to attend, the geographic locations he preferred, and what he thought he’d like to study.
Then the counselor asked my son about his extracurricular activities. She told him that he would need to begin creating his activity list and printed out a copy of one that a former client had prepared. The implication was that without an impeccable activity list, his chance of getting into an elite institution was questionable, despite his stellar academic record and the fact that he just happens to be a terrific kid. (Yes, that’s his mother talking, but it’s true, dammit!) We finished our discussion and parted ways.
On the car ride home, I began pondering the fact that the playing field is not level. It’s not fair that every child can’t afford to hire a college counselor whose job it is to do everything they can to get that child into the best possible school. It’s not fair that every child can’t hire a writer to edit their college essays. It’s not fair that every child can’t afford to hire a tutor to help them prepare for their college entrance exams or get a better grade in their litany of AP classes that, apparently, they shouldn’t be in anyway if they need a tutor! Is it just me or is that insanity? Life’s not fair! But we already knew that.
Life’s not fair but we knew that
Then I glanced at the activity list the counselor had printed out and gasped. This so-called teenager had accomplished more in his four years of high school than most people accomplish in a lifetime of careers. Before turning eighteen, this prodigy was the vice president of one of the top math teams in the state. He was the president of his school’s physics, engineering, and technology club, which was working on remotely operated vehicles. He was a math tutor. He had taken a college course at Northwestern, a summer camp on number theory at Stanford, and studied black holes and quantum mechanics at Brown. I wondered why the hell he was going to college because it seemed to me that he already had the equivalent of a college education.
My first thought was that someone had permitted this young boy to miss his childhood. They had encouraged him to do everything “right” so he could get into the best educational institution in the country. They thought that would make him happy and successful in life, so they had pushed him to grow up quickly, thus providing him an edge in a race to nowhere. And, sadly, he had obeyed.
Mind you, I did not know that any of these things were true. It could be said that they were the hallucinations rumbling around in my head in response to that activity sheet.
But it’s what happened next that led to my awakening. I started to question myself and continued with that questioning for days. Why hadn’t I encouraged my son to stick with math club, even though he found it boring? Why hadn’t I signed him up for engineering camp instead of a leadership conference? Might he have done research with a professor some summer instead of playing soccer? In fact, why had I let him play soccer or anything else outdoors when he was little instead of studying advanced science and math indoors?
But it didn’t stop there. No, I went on to question every decision I had ever made about my older son who was already at the “wrong” college. Why did I not force my brilliant, rebellious son to get the grades he was capable of in high school even though he was bored and loathed studying? Why didn’t I insist that he fully annotate the novel Cat’s Eye even though it’s a book that only women in midlife would enjoy? Why didn’t I let him continue to participate in Model UN, despite the fact that the weekend conferences were “supervised” by college students and the kids were drinking and smoking pot? Why on earth did I think that a college focused on growing the mind, body, spirit, and emotions would serve him well in life?
And what about earlier in his life? Why hadn’t I insisted that he stay in Boy Scouts so he could achieve the coveted Eagle Scout badge even though the only activity he enjoyed was spelunking? Why hadn’t I breast fed longer? Why hadn’t I played more classical music to my growing fetus? Why hadn’t I gotten pregnant when I was younger and my cells were more robust? Why, why, why?
Why? Why? Why?
Not long after that visit with the college counselor, I began having back pain. Being very in tune with the mind-body connection, I knew my body was sending me a message. I just wasn’t sure what it was.
As fate would have it, the spirituality center near my home was holding a retreat on the Sedona Method, which teaches that a sense of lack and our desire for control, security, and approval give rise to our emotions. Those desires make us feel insecure because we believe we are lacking something we need to feel complete. The balm that heals is loving, unconditional presence. Was it possible that my endless self-questioning following that meeting stemmed from a sense of lack? Did I feel I lacked the ability to control what was happening with my sons? Did I feel insecure about my children’s futures and my ability to make decisions that would impact their futures in a positive way? Was I seeking the approval of my peers and the larger world based on what college my boys attended?
Yes! Yes! Yes! It was a breakthrough. I eased up on myself and the back pain lessened.
But three days later, I was writhing in pain on my family room floor. Perhaps I didn’t have it all figured out after all. Three Advil capsules later, along with some heat and stretching, and I was able to sit upright enough to try working through the emotions. What was I resisting? What wall was blocking my ability to move forward? As I thought more about it, I realized that it was not a wall but a ceiling—my inner glass ceiling. That ceiling had been hanging over my head for a long time, and there were words etched in the glass: You’re not good enough.
Do you have an inner glass ceiling?
It was a stunning realization. I had not seen myself as a person who thought she wasn’t good enough, and I could not imagine anyone ever telling me that when I was growing up. But then I began thinking about it. One time in elementary school, I wasn’t invited to a party. In seventh grade, I was cut from the cheerleading squad, and in eighth grade, my friends decided to room with someone else during a trip to Washington, DC. I ran for class secretary once and lost, and more than once, I liked a boy who didn’t like me back. I got a D on an assignment. A boyfriend broke up with me. I dropped a college class because I was failing it. I applied for a job I didn’t get and started a business that didn’t get off the ground. The mistakes I feared I’d made parenting had plenty of company for what I might have subconsciously thought were my failures in life.
Were these all examples of not being good enough? At some level within me, they apparently were. They were just normal, everyday experiences of growing up and growing out into the world, but at some level, they had stung badly enough that I had internalized them as evidence I wasn’t good enough. Buried deep within my psyche, that feeling had created a glass ceiling.
I knew I wasn’t alone in this. Those interior thoughts and feelings create walls, ceilings, and entire houses that keep us trapped. By our own making, we are kept in our place—our nice, safe place. There is, of course, a problem with it. It may feel comfortable some of the time, but it is actually a small, tight space. It’s hard to breathe in there. It’s hard to move freely.
That cramped space restrains us until we have had enough and refuse to let it contain us anymore. When the life force inside us that has always been there begins to bubble, churn, and push its way out of the depths of the soul, the truth of who we are emerges.
Sometimes that happens in a fit of unbearable back pain; sometimes it happens in even more uncomfortable ways.
Eventually the truth must emerge
Now here’s the truth: You are good enough. You always have been good enough. You always will be good enough. You don’t have to change. You don’t have to do or be anything to be good enough. You already are.
Not only are you good enough, you are magnificent! You are brilliant, beautiful, gifted, talented, and beloved. You are a daughter of the king, which makes you a princess.
And so am I.
How do I know these things? I know them because when we explore ourselves at depth, when we peel away everything that is not authentically us, what is left is the true, authentic self. And that is not only good enough, it is a wondrous thing.
Your authentic self is a wondrous thing!
When we don’t know that we’re good enough, right down to the level of our DNA, we play small. And we don’t think we could possibly be enough to have something to give to others. If we actually do make little forays into the world of sharing our gifts, we don’t show up fully. We don’t take the risks necessary to make lasting change. We don’t shine our light.
But we are good enough. And together we just might light the world on fire.
Anyone have a match?