When I was a junior in college, I secretly pursued a HUGE GOAL for myself. I wanted to be a National Champion in the 200 yard butterfly at the Division II NCAA’s.
I told no one. Because I could not risk failure and losing “face” if it did not come true.
But that’s another discussion. Today I’d like to talk about achieving your goal … and the reaction that other people have when that happens.
Fast forward to March of my junior year, 7 months into my season after establishing my goal. I returned to my college as a National Champion. Yay! I achieved a goal and overcame a huge limiting belief that good things can’t happen to me.
A week earlier, prior to leaving for the national championships, the guy I was spending time with, and I had made plans to have dinner upon my return. Back in the early 1990s we did not have cell phones, texts, + emails. And remember, phone calls were too expensive for college students to make when one was halfway across the country.
On returning to my apartment, I called him to let him know I was back in town. He was a bit cold, but said he’d call back soon.
I waited, tummy rumbling.
I waited, tummy rumbling, and anger welling up inside me.
He never called that night. In fact it took over three weeks to get connected again. That’s a long time to wait for dinner.
You see, he too was an athlete, but in a different sport. He wanted to be a National Champion. Now, I’d become one, and his teammate/roommate had achieved this accomplishment the year before. Two people he knew were National Champions … but he was not.
He was stuck in “compare and despair.” Instead of being inspired by our achievements, he built up walls of jealousy and bitterness between us.
I’d taken his lack of action to mean that there was something wrong with me. He didn’t like me anymore, I was too much.
This only reinforced the messages I’d received throughout my life as a female … don’t be too much. Stay small (as a 5’11’ female w/broad swimming shoulders), don’t create problems, don’t make others feel less than, don’t stand out for others to take me down.
For those three weeks, I hurt. Yes I did finally eat dinner late that evening by myself, but it was not the celebration I had expected. I had believed once I achieved my success all good things would flow my way. Instead I found myself more alone than I’d ever been in college.
And it grew worse, because in the space of silence and no connection, I was alone with my mind. And each day my mind became meaner and nastier to me.
So, as a 20-year-old young woman, what did I learn from this situation?
- Others may stop liking me if I become successful
- I am not allowed to celebrate my success
- Don’t be seen
- I am taking up too much space in this world
- If I succeed, he’ll feel bad about himself
If you had asked me a year earlier, if that would be the outcome of my life after accomplishing a huge life goal, I would not have believed it. I thought once I achieved success, I’d be “popular” and finally be good enough to be liked by others.
Instead? I was even more alone.
I buried all of it deep in my heart. I didn’t talk about it with anyone else in my life, as I blamed myself for being too much and not enough … his reaction proved it! I was just filled with too much shame to share my own personal struggle with anyone.
Somehow, I found the strength to meet up with him one last time, use my voice and discuss how that night was not okay. Back then, the only thing I knew how to do was end our relationship. I did not know how to work through the mess, the shit storm.
In addition to ending it, I subconsciously made a decision to become very small in my life. I allowed a certain level of success in, but was careful about how much. I did not repeat my national title win in my senior year … instead I placed 3rd.
I called myself 80% successful.
I spent the next chapter of my life, waiting for permission to be successful, approval whoring from others that I had the right to gain access, and carefully guarded myself to not be too much.
On the outside, I looked successful, however I was not too successful.
On the inside, I had a deep hunger for more. I was frustrated with what I had achieved. I wanted more of a challenge, but was afraid my circle of people would get even smaller. I filled my hunger with food and more food.
Then I decided I had to be brave.
I started taking small steps in the direction of pursuing what I wanted.
I started making new goals, after stopping for so many years.
I stopped waiting for permission from others.
I stopped seeking approval from others.
I started pursuing my goals.
I showed up in my life.
I let myself be seen.
I let people love me.
I let people hate me.
I focused on me.
Yes, still scary. But the cost of not showing up in my life was huge and numbing. Now I feel all those same feelings – fear, vulnerability, shame along with self-love, joy, self-compassion.
And I no longer tolerate those who don’t want to share in my successes, as well as my messes. I am no longer willing to be small in my life.
What about you? Are you ready to be seen?