What stories do you tell yourself about yourself that hold you back? What are the self-narratives that negatively impact your life? One of the self-narratives I’ve had for years is that I am afraid of heights. I don’t know when the self-narrative began, but I know it’s been hindering certain activities for most of my life. I wasn’t born with this self-narrative but I’ve been living with it for as long as I can remember. I don’t know the impetus for it. If I encountered something traumatic, I don’t recall what it was. I most certainly don’t recall ever falling from any height. If I ask my sister about the fear, she could probably read my past lives and reveal its origin. However, I am less concerned with the catalyst of the fear than I am with conquering the fear.
What does this have to do with diversity, equity, and inclusion? Everything. What stories are you telling yourself about yourself? We tell ourselves a lot of stories about what we believe and why we believe it, but most importantly, we don’t take the time to re-examine our beliefs about ourselves or others. We simply take them as a given, and we don’t analyze or challenge them.
It was a trip to Turkey that finally prompted me to address my fear of heights. I discovered that the way to overcome a self-narrative of fear is to develop a new self-narrative. My husband and I had planned a trip to Turkey, which included an optional hot air balloon excursion over the fairytale region of Cappadocia. I immediately knew I would not be participating in the optional excursion, and by extension, neither would my husband! My fear of heights would not allow me to take that hot air balloon ride, and it also limited my husband, who, although not afraid of heights, decided he would not leave me on the ground while he soared among the clouds. My fear was limiting not only me but those connected to me. Isn’t that often the case? Our beliefs impact us and those around us.
I didn’t want to be that person. I didn’t want to stop myself from fully experiencing life because of some self-imposed belief and fear. So I started to examine my fear.
I knew I would not be able to enjoy the hot air balloon ride because I would be in a panic and experiencing the physical manifestations of my fear: sweaty palms, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and an intense urge to flee. But these physical manifestations don’t happen simply because I’m high up. The height itself is not the cause of the symptoms. So what is? What were the stories I was telling myself about the hot air balloon ride that was causing my palms to sweat, my heart to race, my shortness of breath, and the need to flee a basket hovering hundreds of feet in the air? Those things don’t just happen automatically; they happen because of a story I’m telling myself.
In the case of hot air ballooning, the list is long, but I’ll give you the top four reasons for my panic:
- The bottom of the basket will fall out.
- The balloon will pop.
- We will run out of fuel for the fire and plummet to the ground.
- The fuel will explode in midair.
Seriously, I didn’t even realize these were the thoughts going through my head until I paused to actually self-examine. Armed with a clear understanding of the story I was telling myself and the awareness that my sense of panic resulted from that story, I was able to tell myself a new, far more logical story. None of those horrible things are going to happen. Nicole, you are perfectly safe. Nicole, the bottom is not going to fall out. Nicole, the balloon is not going to pop. You are safe.
I changed the story I was telling myself and was able to take a hot air balloon ride. I will not say it was glorious. I was more focused on simply being OK with being up there than I was on enjoying the ride. I was uncomfortable but fully present. I wasn’t afraid while stepping outside of my comfort zone and having a brand-new experience.
That significant turning point for me made clear the power of our self-narrative. They are either a positive or negative force in our life, and yet we possess the ability to change our self-narrative based on who we want to be.
When it comes to being an inclusive and equitable leader, you have to challenge your own beliefs. You have to determine who you want to be and then examine self-narratives that are getting in the way of being that person. Sometimes you have to examine those close to you whose self-narratives are preventing you from being the person you want to be. My husband would not have hesitated to take that hot air balloon ride, but he held back for me. I wasn’t even aware that my fear was hindering him.
Just like my first hot air balloon ride was uncomfortable and uneasy, you will likely feel uncomfortable and uneasy as you begin this journey of self-discovery and realignment. But that is to be expected. It is part of having new experiences, challenging yourself, relearning things about yourself, expanding your comfort zone. It will become less uncomfortable.
That self-narrative that I was afraid of heights reinforced my learned fear and prevented me from engaging in related activities. My new self-narrative is that heights don’t bother me. When people say, “aren’t you afraid of heights?,” my response is “not anymore.” I changed the story I was telling myself about myself, expanded my comfort zone, and now have a new self-narrative that is more aligned with who I want to be.