Stories We Tell Ourselves

For the last year or so, I’ve heard myself repeat the phrase “I’m not good under pressure.” It sort of started as a joke with my boyfriend. We’d play mini golf or scrabble or anything; I’d start off super strong, taking names and kicking butt, and then once he caught up and it was a close game, I’d crack. Or...he’d get lucky and win, but it always seemed like I cracked, because I went from being so far ahead to losing. I guess as this was happening, it felt more like this was true at work. I’d be awesome with my time and with my direct boss: key participant in the meeting, asking the good questions, providing good advice, etc. Then, when I went to meet with more senior leaders it felt like I wasn’t as good. It’s not that I was awful, I just wasn’t hitting it out of the park, which I had done, and which I was doing in other places.

A couple of weeks ago we were visiting friends and playing a game and I heard myself say it. For whatever reason, perhaps because we were with other people or in a different environment or none of these, sometimes it takes you awhile to pay attention to yourself, I noticed it. It kind of made me pause, honestly. I’m thinking of doing this HUGE thing in life, leaving the safety and security of corporate life, to go off on my own and see what else is out there. If I’m not good under pressure, how the heck am I going to do that? What am I thinking?

If you’ve been following my blog or you know, you are not surprised at all---it kept me up thinking about it. I started looking for evidence where I’m not good under pressure, or vice versa. I went pretty far back...you know...since I had all night!

What did I find? Well, I LOVED the phrase “No pressure, no diamonds.” That was my motto for so much of my life. I’m the woman who passed all four CPA exams on her first try. I’m the woman who studied for her CPA exam and trained for the New York Marathon, while I also had to travel internationally (only for a week, but still!). I’m the woman who did her MBA at night while working full time, performing so well at work that she earned a serious promotion(from Sr. Analyst to Manager). I’m the woman who successfully moved to a different country, where she knew two other people moving there for work as well, on the day of her birthday and the day after her last CPA exam. I moved to another country and successfully set up a brand new team at work, met and hung out with friends and even had a boyfriend for a period of time. I’m the woman who got on stage in front of 50-100 people, with two of her not-so-closest colleagues, to present; I received notice about a week in advance but didn’t receive my “script” until less than 48 hours beforehand. I wasn’t Obama but I also wasn’t the worst thing people had ever seen. I’m the woman who went to a presentation training for three days, didn’t seem to be getting the material during the class and then knocked the final presentation so far out of the park, multiple co-workers said I was definitely VP material.

I don’t say this to brag. Many of these things may even be small things to you. You may have life altering pressures or you may be higher up the ranks where these performances or home runs seem like base hits to you. That isn’t the point of me bringing them up.

What is the point? The story I was telling myself was wrong. It was an itty bitty joke that I let grow arms and legs, a pretty solid body and a tail. And I don’t think I’m alone in telling myself an untrue or jaded story. I think there are others out there doing the same thing. Some may tell themselves they can’t run or they can’t manage people or they’re not smart enough to go back to college. Millions of people tell ourselves a variety of jaded stories. Why? Well…no surprise….Many are rooted in fear. ::Gasp!:: It’s really no surprise that something we do that’s not good for us, or said differently, does not help propel us forward, is done out of fear. Natural human reaction.

Some stories may be rooted in fear due to experiences. These are often tied up in that “all or nothing” belief: we are either a runner or we’re not, if we tried to run once and couldn’t, then we are not a runner; if we couldn’t get into college or get through college once, then still, at a different date, we must not be able to get into college or through it. Other stories are rooted in fear but without a direct experience causing the fear: we’ve never been told we couldn’t manage people, but we’ve worked for so many bad bosses, we’re afraid we’ll be like them; we’ve never been told we can’t do a triathlon but we’ve never tried to swim, so there’s no way we could do one. My jaded story was my survival mechanism because of my fear: if I say I’m awful under pressure, no one, especially me, will expect me to do well under pressure. I was giving myself a “get out of jail free” card. Even though this story was holding me back from new experiences, experiences I wouldn’t sign myself up for because I was “bad under pressure,” it was taking the edge off my existing experiences. It was only when I started to realize that if that story were ACTUALLY true, I was up the creek so to speak, that I made myself think deeply about the story.

What story do you notice that you tell yourself? Or, what story about yourself do you say out loud to others, often, that isn’t the most complimentary story? Do you even notice what you say about yourself? Either to yourself or to others? If you stopped to think about how you would describe yourself, would you find a similar story? Would you find others? How can you tell? Write down the things that you would say about yourself if you were talking with colleagues or friends. Then, write down the evidence in your history that supports each story. Hopefully you don’t come up with a similar story. If you do, however, hopefully your search for evidence will also highlight for you, that you have been living a lie and that you are better than you give yourself credit for.


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