Many years ago, I was sitting in my living room, on my furry regal purple rug. I plugged my neon green earphones into my iPhone, took out a white sheet of paper and a teal pen and dialled my coach. I was in my first year of building my coaching business and drowning under punishing anxiety, caused by fear of uncertainty, and worn down by the "marketing grind", with a looming (but illusionary) threat of going back to a 9-to-5 jail cell.
I was always able to achieve anything I set my mind to. So far. So why was I "failing" and why couldn't I cash flow my business like the "Millionaire Mindset" and "Make $90k in 90 days" people said? I felt (even though it wasn't true) that my business was tanking, and tanking fast! "I could lose everything! This condo, this purple rug, these Bose earphones, everything!" I thought.
I started the call with a long deep inhale... then exhaled, “I’m not where I want to be.”
Then everything went pitch black and deathly silent. Wait, what? Did I faint? No... I'm still sitting vertically on my rug. Time passed. Not sure how much. Then I heard big clumpy tears fall on my white sheet of paper, splat, splat, splat. Followed by “I hate where I am... I hate being here... I hate being... me.”
When my coach articulated that we had 5min left, meaning I cried for a straight 45min on our hour-long session, I thought to myself, "Great use of time and money, you dipshit!" I would NEVER say that to anyone else, but I said it to myself. Years later, upon reflecting on this journal entry, I recognized, "Is this what self-hatred sounds like?"
And then in an instant, this conversation between my dad and I flashed before my eyes.
Me: I got my highest grade ever! 99%!!!
Dad:Where did the 1% go?
Me: I got my highest class average ever! 100%!!!
Dad: Were there no bonus points you could earn?
Me: I got 109% on my programming project!
Dad: Where did the 1% go?
Me: I got 150% on my graphic simulation project.
Dad: Doctors make more money.
Me: I'm starting my web design company.
Dad: Shouldn't you be studying harder to become a doctor?
Me: I'm going to study International Development so I can save the world.
Dad:Doctors save more lives.
Me: I completed a Bachelor of Engineering with honors on full scholarship fur you!
Dad: Doctors make twice more money than engineers?
Me: I put $10,000 of my own money to buy you guys a car that has heating.
Dad: Why did you buy a Japanese car? Damn Japan.
Me: I'm expanding my digital consultancy.
Dad: When will you get a real job?
Me: I'm using my technical expertise to help Action Contre la Faim (ACF) end world hunger.
Dad: Did you know YouTube sold for $1.65 billion?
Me: I put $20,000 of my own money to buy you guys a townhouse so you can retire comfortably in Vancouver.
Dad: How come there's no garage?
Me: I'm using my technical skills to help Doctors Without Borders (MSF) save lives worldwide. Look, dad, real doctors!
Dad: Did you know Microsoft offered Yahoo $44.6 billion?
Me: I bought my first home on my own dime!!! No trust fund, no inheritance, no loan from you and mom.
Dad: Why are you getting a mortgage and paying the bank interest?
Me: I'm leading a profitable coaching business to help entrepreneurs self-actualize!
Dad: But what about a pension? What happened to the real doctors?
This is how self-hatred is sown, how it grows roots, and how it invades and rots every fiber of self-esteem a child has. Not his fault. As Jung says,
The greatest burden a child must bear is the unlived life of its parents.
When I returned from that flash, I heard my coach say, “I’m right here beside you. And you are exactly where you need to be.”
I had no idea that it would be another 6 years before I was able to purge all that self-hatred out. At the time, I didn't even know it was self-hatred!!! I fought this truth "that you are exactly where you need to be" for 6 years with raging questions such as, "I did EVERYTHING right: I got straight A’s, bought my parents a car and a townhouse, I had a brilliant career with the United Nations and and and! What else could you POSSIBLY want from me? When would it EVER be enough? When would *I* ever be enough?
Even though self-hatred has left my body, the answer to that last question can still sometimes be "Never." And that's ok. We are not our feelings. We are not our thoughts.
Can you relate? Tell me your version of this conversation. Was it with your mom, perhaps?
What do you do when you've never lived up (never could and never will live up) to the standards expected of you?
You give up. You surrender. And then... along comes Brené Brown. You watch her TED Talk:
"Shame is universal. It’s the fear of not being worthy. The less you talk about it, the more you have it."
– Brené Brown
The Other Voice in the Repartee
At first, the other voice in the repartee was my dad. Like any typical Asian immigrant parent, he often asked where the 1% shortcoming went.
Along the road, it became this collective societal voice, telling me who I should be, what I should do. How come you don't have a boyfriend? Why aren't you married? When will you have kids? Blah. Blah. Blah.
Eventually, the voice became... my own voice. No matter what I did, I kept hearing, "Not good enough. Nope. Still not good enough. Nope. Never, ever good enough."
I started resenting my parents for putting so much pressure on me to secure their retirement and my siblings' tuition, on top of my own financial well-being. I resented the whole world for pressuring me to fit the school / 9-5 / mortgage / marriage / kids / death mold.
Above all, I blamed myself for not being able to secure my parents retirement, nor my siblings' full tuition, nor my family's hopes and dreams for their eldest son, aka me.
Blame and Connection
I found Brené Brown's work with tears of gratitude. Her research had finally helped me understand why and how we numb vulnerability: we numb it with blame. Blame is a way to discharge pain and discomfort.
The problem is: when we numb vulnerability with blame, we numb all our emotions. We numb our sense of worthiness; we numb love, we numb joy, and we numb creativity. Numbing creates a vicious spiral of feeling even more shame and disconnection.
Connection is why we're here. It's what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.
– Brené Brown
What Brené Brown's research taught me
What my parents / culture / society taught me
You must have the courage to be imperfect.
I must be perfect in everything that I do.
You must have the compassion to be kind to yourself first.
I must always sacrifice myself to please others, always.
You must connect with authenticity (be who you are, not who you should be).
I must hide who I truly want to be and conform to what others expect.
You must pursue passions even though there are no guarantees.
I must not rock the boat and make other people uncomfortable.
You must practice gratitude and joy in moments of vulnerability.
I must fulfill my duty, obligations, no questions asked.
Most importantly, you must believe that you are enough.
I must do whatever it takes to outperform everyone else because I'll never be good enough.
THE SHADOW & THE LIGHT
Even though I've had this "You are not enough" fire burning under my ass for the last 20 years, there is a bright side: it has driven me to pursue incredible experiences like live in NYC, setting baby turtles free in Nicaragua, paragliding in Nepal, and visiting 40+ countries.
Through years of counseling and coaching, I've finally found a place of gratitude for how my parents raised me. I mean, I can strip and renovate a kitchen, change a flat tire, rewire electricity and reposition plumbing pies. Yeah, super handy for attracing a husband :P
I wonder if I'll ever feel like I am enough...