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The Lump in Your Throat

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“Was there a brown van that used to come by the cottage to sell us Chelsea rolls on Sunday mornings?” my cousin asked, hoping that I’d be able to settle a friendly wager she was having with her husband.

I couldn’t recall, but I said I’d ask my Dad who I was planning on seeing that coming Saturday.

Earlier that day, I had interviewed my friend Vanessa Mentor in Haiti whose final advice to our listeners was, “Tell your stories out loud. Even if only for yourself. And your kids.”

So I was planning on asking him to share all.

Because, truly, how many more months, weeks, days would I have for him to tell me about brown vans and Chelsea rolls?

How many more months, weeks, days would I have to invite him to tell me about the time his brother wrapped an inner tub around his midsection and threw him into the Rhone River? Or to hear him talking about skiing hungover with the Austrian Olympic team? Or why he believed (and I swear these were his words) “of all the pugilistic art forms, greco-roman wrestling is the finest."

Two months, one week, and three days, it turned out. 72 days. And I never got to hear the stories.

So yeah.
Ask the questions.
Get the stories.
And tell yours.

But what’s that?
There. Right there.
That lump in your throat.
The one that makes it hard to swallow.

What’s in there? What is that energy?

Sometimes it’s hard to tell if it’s grief or rage or a beautiful orchid of a desire.

But it’s something and it needs you to release it. Only you can do it. The ideas you long to communicate. The questions you long to ask. The injustice you MUST call out. The wishes you dream of bringing to reality. The radical change you want to effect. The thing you’ve needed to say for too long that it seems that is has long since calcified. It hasn’t.

Ask the questions. Get the stories. And tell yours.

TWEET IT

Practice saying it. Hum it. Sing it. Whisper it.

Truth is, my friends: sometimes it IS the Impostor Complex that keeps us from asking what wants to be asked and from saying what needs to be said.

But sometimes, we just simply run out of time.

Ask the questions.
Get the stories.
And tell yours.

It may be hard.
Releasing grief, rage, and even beautiful orchids often is.
But you’ve done harder than this.
You’ve asked questions that didn’t have answers.
You’ve told truths when it was neither welcome nor convenient nor appreciated.
You’ve told your stories into the dull din of ambivalence.

And I promise you this. With all that I have and all that I know:
It all matters.
And it’s what we have.
Bridging, connecting, becoming more real.

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Happy Anniversary, Impostor Phenomenon!

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It occurred to me in the last speaking gig I did a couple of weeks back that it’s been FORTY YEARS, since clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline Clance and Dr. Suzanne Imes coined the term “Impostor Phenomenon” back in ‘78. FORTY YEARS.

Yikes.

So, I figured this was a great time to set the record straight about its name.

You mostly hear it referred to as the “Impostor Syndrome." But see... Clance and Imes never called it that. They called it “Impostor Phenomenon." Amy Cuddy calls it “Impostor Experience." I call it “Impostor Complex” - though it’s possible Jung may have different thoughts on that.

I mention this, because (a) naming is important and because (b) in calling it a syndrome (which it has become most colloquially known, largely from Sheryl Sandberg’s 2013 blockbuster “Lean In”) is simply incorrect. It is not a clinical diagnosis of a mental health condition. So even though it sucks for my SEO to call it a “complex," I stand by it because it feels like calling it a syndrome is distracting us from the issue, especially as I see more than my share of “stop whining about your so-called syndrome” pieces of late.

Let’s take a moment to talk about what it IS and what it ISN’T.

Drs Clance and Imes started their research at Oberlin College and were working with high-functioning, high-achieving female students and noticed a curious through-line in these women. They felt that they got into the college by fluke and that some day, any day now, they would be found out as the frauds they are.

Across the board, they seemed to be incapable of internalizing their successes. Their failures on the other hand, they were MORE than happy to own. This to say, if numbers didn’t add up, they made a mistake. But if their numbers DID add up, then they just assumed they got lucky, it was a fluke or they had somehow inadvertently managed to hack the system. That factors beyond their control (and skills and talents) were at play.

The Impostor Complex isn't straight up self-doubt. And it's not simply fear.

TWEET IT

It’s not straight up self-doubt. And it’s not simply fear. Sure, those two experiences play a part in the overall experience, but they are not the same. Self-doubt and fear show up on the precipice of doing something new, exactly when the Impostor Complex does, but this is more a function of conscious incompetence. Knowing all that we don’t yet know. Always a tricky place. (Exciting too.)

Impostor Complex, though, is more like self-doubt on steroids. You experience massive stress despite your proven track record and consistent validation of your capabilities... that’s when we’re in the land of the Impostor Complex.

So I’m a big fan of attributing my teachers, but the experience of feeling like a fraud most certainly predates the naming of it. Biologists have pointed to it being an instrument of evolution, set up to ensure mutation doesn’t happen too quickly.

Ancient sages of India apparently referred to the experience of spiritual evolution, or the threshold of greatness as “chala” - the sensation of being a fraud.

Okay. I have more, much MUCH more to say about this. A whole book’s worth, in fact. So keep your eye on this space. And in the meantime, why don’t you check out which Impostor Complex coping mechanism is tripping YOU up?

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Enduring grief, enduring joy. Different, but still.

 

I wrote and shared this piece with my writing group back in October 2016. I shelved it, not seeing a “purpose," then remembered it when I went through the arrivals section with my husband and daughter upon our return from France recently.

I had written it before my father died, so this piece is mostly about grieving my mother.

Now it feels like the time to share it with you.


I forgot... until I remembered.

Again.

Time and time again, I do this.

I forget... until I remember.

I pass through customs of my airport and push through the double doors that swing open to the non-secured area. And then I hit the wall of people; limo drivers holding signs; young families expectantly searching for the appearance of their elderly parents; lovers reuniting; friends reconnecting. Hugs shared, and tales of travels and sights seen spilling from mouths. I forget about this joy. Until I remember.

And then I hit another wall.

I am punched in the gut by grief. Tears sting the corners of my eyes with such sudden ferocity that I need to pause to catch my breath. And I can’t ever seem to get enough breath. I am overcome. Wrought. And lost in the memory.

Like it was yesterday, rather than fifteen years ago.

I can HEAR her like it was yesterday, rather than fifteen years ago. First the shriek then the “TANYA." Like I’d come back from the dead.

I hadn’t of course.

We had just come back from Europe.

I abandoned my suitcase with him to run over to them, squeezing them both with a happiness I didn’t expect to feel. My mother beside herself with joy and tears that we had returned home safely to her arms. Both of us.

My father happy too. But in his own, quieter way. Mostly happy that we went. My mother happy that we came back.

We linked arms and chattered like we’d been apart for a lifetime, rather than three scant weeks all the way to the car, and didn’t stop talking the whole drive home.

Once home, drinks were poured and she could barely contain herself while we opened our suitcases to share the souvenirs we brought back for them.

Every item, a story.

The J LeBlanc et Fils pine nut oil from Paris and the ancient oil vendor who told us about each pressing. The Mariage Frères tea purchased at KadeWe in Berlin. The foie gras from Beaune. The poire William from Tours. The gag gifts of cheap lighters from every city. The silk scarf from the boutique near the Louvre.

Each gift made her exclaim with delight. Each gift made me wish I had ten more to give her. Each story made him counter with a story of his own. Each story made me wish I had ten more to tell him.

We’ll all go together one day, we promised.

I shake myself back from this memory, only to find myself, once again at the airport with my tears and my luggage and a fervent desire to tell the huggers to never ever ever let go. To never ever ever miss the opportunity to share time, stories, love with each other.

But I don’t, because I know it won’t save them from the stings and punches that are coming. In time. They will come in time. That’s just how love works.

They go, we stay, holding the memories, the broken promises and the silk scarves. And the grief.


This Sunday when we passed through the double doors, I tasted the familiar joy-grief cocktail. But this time, with tears stinging my eyes, I reached for my daughter and husband’s hands and felt good. Felt strong.

You see, we had just returned from a family trip to France precipitated by my father’s dying wish to have some of their ashes scattered there. So we did.

Turns out, we did all go together. Just like we’d promised. Different, and still.

Enduring grief, enduring joy. Different, and still.

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Why Comparison Matters - and How You Can Transform It

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Since launching Beyond Compare, Lauren and I have been talking to a lot of people about comparison – why it matters, and how we go about transforming it.

Maybe all this comparison talk resonates immediately with you, or maybe it all seems a little abstract. So today, we want to share a little more about why we think compulsive comparison is a stumbling block for so many – as well as the framework we’ve developed for considering how comparison works.


Why Comparison Matters

In our extensive (professional AND – ahem – personal) research, we have come to understand that comparison tops pretty much any other Big Bad Beastie that gets in the way of our progress (again... professional AND personal).

Google “quotes about comparison” the next time you have a spare hour to kill to see just how ubiquitous it is.

When we are invited to do interviews about comparison, the invites are typically framed as “the #1 issue my listeners are grappling with.” It affects SO MANY OF US. (And while it affects each of us differently, if we’re being honest, most of us have been brought to our knees by its force on occasion.)

If you allow it to, Beyond Compare will help you to see where comparison may be...

  • stopping you from creating what you want
  • preventing you from activating your calling
  • making you feel (and play) small for fear of projections
  • keeping you from expressing yourself fully
  • causing you to disown your power (and hand it over to others).

It matters. Oh, how it matters. Only YOU can say for yourself just how much it matters –  personally and professionally.

How You Can Transform It

In our research, we have also come to understand comparison as a three-dimensional structure. On the one plane, we compare up (looking up to others in a way that “others” us from them) and we compare down (judging and disdaining others in a way that, you guessed it, “others” us from them).

On the other plane, we compare ourselves to others AND we experience others comparing themselves to us. Up or down. Whether we’ve been put on a pedestal or are judged harshly, the impact of “othering” once again endures.

So that’s the framework. It looks like this:

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The big idea behind the work we’ve poured into the program is to offer real and substantive tools that move us from Disdain to Evaluation and from Hero-Worship to Celebration.


Here’s a nibble to whet your appetite for the delicious feast that is Beyond Compare:

Moving From Disdain to Evaluation

Evaluation emerges when we choose to engage critically with someone’s work or behaviour without making them, as a person, wrong. Respectful debate, thoughtful performance assessments, engaging a beloved friend in a difficult conversation: all of these exist in evaluation territory.

If you catch yourself stuck in Disdain territory, try this reflection to shift you into Evaluation:

  • Who do I judge for doing what I’m embarrassed to admit I do too? What’s the behaviour I’m ashamed of?
  • Who do I judge for behaving in ways I secretly wish I could “get away with?" What do I fear would happen if I behaved that way, too?
  • Where are the qualities that I disdain holding me back?
  • What could I do if I gave myself permission to embody those qualities?

Of course, this work has many more layers, but this is a place to start.

Moving from Hero-Worship to Celebration

To understand Celebration, think of a beloved teacher, close ally, or dear friend – anyone who inspires us to say, “I am better because of you.” They help us face and overcome challenges, by showing us our own strengths.

The energy here is a kind of curious equanimity: We notice difference and similarity, and make the most of both. We don’t value a person more or less because they possess a particular trait; we simply appreciate it, and ask how we can celebrate it, while also celebrating our selves.

To shift from Hero-Worship to Celebration, consider the following questions:

  • Who do I admire?
  • What do I admire about them?
  • When I consider these people, do I notice any common threads? If so, what are they?
  • Now, experiment with looking at those strengths and gifts, and telling yourself that you have the full potential to embody them. What would it look like if you allowed those parts of yourself more room?

What did you discover through these two exercises?

You may have noticed that the “fix,” in each case, is to quit focusing your energy on the other person and direct it squarely towards yourself. While it may feel like it’s the other person evoking a response in you, the reality is that your response is entirely within your control. You can choose Hero-Worship or Celebration, Disdain or Evaluation.

The freedom that comes from choice is the reason we created Beyond Compare. The freedom to create. The freedom to follow your own calling. The freedom to own your authority and succeed on your own terms.

Because we can taste that freedom. And we want it for you.

You too? Grab your copy of Beyond Compare here.

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The Arrogance of the Impostor Complex

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:

Know why you experience the Impostor Complex?

Because you are high-functioning person with strong values of mastery, integrity, and excellence.

Awesome. 

But know why else you experience it?

Ready for the realtalktruth?

Your standards and expectations of yourself are realllllllly high. And though you won’t admit it to many people, you want to be THE BEST at everything you do.

(Do you know that still, after all this work, when I take the stage at a speaking gig, I still actually EXPECT - and assume I'm a failure if I don't receive - standing ovations. Every.single.time. THAT is the stunning arrogance of my Impostor Complex. It’s lie #3… “you are all or nothing.” Oy.)

And, like me, I believe that you want to be THE MOST qualified person on the planet to be doing the work you are wanting to do. (Because if you are not the MOST qualified, then surely you are the LEAST qualified. Mmmhmm.)

And the shitty fact of the matter is this: it is exceptionally likely that you are NOT the absolutely most qualified person on the planet to be doing the work that you are wanting to do. 

The odds are highly stacked against you that you are THE BEST Parent on the planet. 

The BEST Developer.
The BEST Writer.
The BEST Speaker.
The BEST Artist.
The BEST Actor.
The BEST Activist.
The BEST Leader.
The BEST Business Owner. 

HIGHLY stacked against you, my friend.

And even more improbable is that you are THE BEST PARENT ANNNNNND SPEAKER on the planet. (Though it would be awesome if you were, of course.)

Truth is, you know more than you think and you’ll never know it all.

Can you feel the grief and the relief in that? 

Me too.

Now, I’m not saying that the road to mastery and excellence isn’t worth the commute.

It TOTALLY is.

I’m just wondering why you never include grace in your backpack for your travels?

Grace... you remember that, right?

  • It’s the same stuff you dole out in great swaths to others when they stumble on video or on stage. In fact, you find their humility refreshing and it does nothing to erode your confidence in what they are saying.

  • It's when you forgive others for not knowing EVERYTHING, but instead find their earnestness charming.

  • When you give people on your team generous extensions on their deadlines because they are dealing with grief, but can barely allow yourself an extra nap.

Why do you hold yourself to such a different standard? Are you not also deserving and worthy of such grace? Or another way to ask: what makes you think that you are the only one who has such grace to offer?


And while we’re talking about offerings…  

Why do you CONSISTENTLY choose to discount the praise others offer you?

I’m thinking it's one of a couple of reasons:

You don’t trust their standards.

I mean, sure. I get it. As we’ve already established, you have strong values of mastery, integrity, and excellence, AND you don’t know EVERYTHING, right?

You know more than you think and you’ll never know it all.

So, maybe the person offering you the acknowledgment, the compliment, the praise is offering you reflection on what you DO KNOW. What you DO exceptionally well. What you DID exceptionally well. 

But because of your impeccably (impossibly?) high standards of yourself, you are out of sorts when someone compliments your work that is below your watermark. THEY mustn’t have very high standards, and as such, you don’t need to do the hard work of allowing the compliment to land.

Who was it that said that he wouldn’t want to be part of a club that would have him as a member? Ouch.

You think “they’re just being nice." 

I’ve covered this off puh-lenty of times, and yet, for chronic people-pleasers, it still stings as it sticks.

Making the assumption that everyone is just being nice is as impossible as it is dismissive of their intelligence and free will. 

I mean, seriously: Who has the time to sit around blowing smoke up people’s nether-regions? Certainly not the people you respect and admire. 

Imagine lining up every last person who has ever lifted you, advocated on your behalf, complimented your work, allowed you past the velvet rope of academia, gave you a great mark, review, reference, testimonial, tweet, bit of kindness.

Go ahead. Line ‘em up against that wall over there. Ran out of wall? Imagine a bigger wall.

Got them all there? See them looking at you with the kindness and admiration and respect that they feel for you?

I will repeat: MAYBE, JUST MAYBE you ought to dare to believe someone when they tell you how truly remarkable you really are.

The university admissions committee didn’t make a mistake. Your clients didn’t make a mistake. Your boss didn’t make a mistake. You earned this. Stop assuming everyone makes such massive (and SPECIFIC) mistakes. 

When you diminish the value of another's opinion, you may ALSO be missing out on the honey that is their constructive critique.

TWEET IT

(Side bar: While we’re at it, when people thank you for your gifts, stop deflecting. It’s insulting to them. Just say “thank you.")

And let’s take it even further. When you diminish the value of another's opinion, you may ALSO be missing out on the honey that is their constructive critique.

Listen to them. You’ve done your due diligence. THIS is a person you say you respect and admire, so listen to them. If they didn’t care about you and your work, they wouldn’t take the time and energy to offer you conscious critique. It just doesn’t work like that. To assume anything else is straight up arrogance.

And, as ever, you get to choose what to integrate... but it starts with listening.


What do you think you accomplish by holding your talents back?

I see a bunch of reasons for this. And they all come with no small amount of arrogance.

Avoidance of disappointment

I think you’re a big-hearted person. And I already KNOW you have super high values of integrity. This leads me to believe that you don’t want to raise the hopes of others and disappoint them, right? So maybe you hang back from offering your (well-researched) opinion. I mean, you don’t want to send them down a dangerous path of repercussions from following your shitty counsel. (Which it MUST be because it’s not PERFECT, right?)

Hmpf.

Can you see where this once again presumes another’s lack of Sovereignty? LET THEM CHOOSE. Give them your absolute best and know that THEY TOO can listen then choose to integrate.

You’re not avoiding disappointment. You’re hoarding your best, and that is not just arrogant, but also selfish.

(Like we say in The Starring Role Academy #stophoardingyourgoodshit)

On some level, you may not think people can handle the fullness of who you are.

I cover a LOT of the reasons you may choose to diminish over here.

It can be scary.

But if you’ve read this far, I think you feel like you ARE in a position to make a choice.

Stay behind the curtains or answer the call that keeps you awake at night. The one that knows that you NOT standing up for what you believe in helps NO ONE.

Your powers are blindingly brilliant, but they are not capable of hurting anyone. I, for one, am not afraid of them.

I’m just afraid of them burning out if not used and shared generously and expansively.

So. Let’s make a deal, you and I.

Let’s ease up on our expectations of ourselves. If your expectations exceed what you would ask another of themselves, you may be asking too much of yourself.

Let’s ease up on our arrogance and give ourselves the big swaths of grace we offer others.

And let’s rise up and meet our desire to activate on the best work possible, and serve the world with generosity and joy. Parent. Developer. Writer. Speaker. Artist. Actor. Activist Leader. Business Owner.

Will it be the BEST WORK IN THE ENTIRE WORLD? Likely not. But that doesn’t make it any less valuable.


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