I grew up in the kind of southern town where you’re defined by who your parents are. An adult’s first question to a youngster was always “Who’s your mama and daddy?” Because the town was small and the majority of people had similar economic situations, we were cubby holed not so much by our socioeconomic status as by the history of our family. My legacy was the reputation of integrity, intelligence, generosity and conscientiousness that my parents had built over the decades. I worked hard to live up to this and earn my place in that lineage, and these qualities have been a part of my identity since before I even understood the words.
Only in the last few years, though, have I begun to fully understand all of the implications of this identity that was gifted to me and which I proudly donned with my very first choices. See, despite all of my parents’ gifts and hard work, our lives were modest, and ends didn’t always meet. Humility was another virtue they taught me, and somehow– maybe through reading the surprise in others’ faces and voices when they heard of the progress of my accomplishments–that humility, I think, transformed to a belief that I was in some way lesser, that I didn’t belong in the circles of accomplishment where I found myself as an adult. I left my comfortable spot of honor in a small town to study on full scholarship at an elite private university. 80% of the other students’ parents paid the hefty price tag themselves. The culture shock was real, and my defense was emphasizing my differences from that mainstream. I made not belonging my thing to be proud of. I think these years are where my feelings of being an imposter began. Those feelings never really went away. I have a hard time telling people about what I do. I don’t say, “I’m a jiujitsu player.” I say, “I take jiujitsu classes.” I don’t say “I’m an artist…or a writer…or an athlete.” Always the phrasing is “I paint. I write. I work out.” I only truly feel like I am where I deserve to be when I am in my home and when I am by my hunny’s side. Until yesterday, I didn’t realize that other people have their own way of feeling that way, too.
I listen to podcasts when I travel (if you haven’t discovered podcasts, please go now and explore them on iTunes), and yesterday’s entertainment was the “Spoken and Unspoken” episode of the TED Radio Hour. The last talk they discussed was Amy Cuddy’s “How Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are.” Listening to her, I felt like she had crawled into my brain and rummaged around for a while in my thoughts. She almost quit grad school because she felt like she shouldn’t be there. Since then, though, she’s done what’s turned out to be life changing research for some people. It turns out that how we stand can determine how we feel about ourselves from a cellular level. All those times that I tried to shrink into the wood work because I felt like I didn’t deserve to be somewhere, I was perpetuating my own fallacy. When we take up space by striking what she calls a “power pose,” we actually change our hormones in such a way as to make ourselves more like the high power successes that we don’t feel we are. Think Superman or Wonder Woman, and you’ll see one of the poses she talks about. Just this stance causes our testosterone to go up, and our cortisone, one of the stress hormones, to go down. Two minutes of acting like a superhero apparently bestows a wee bit of super power and helps us become comfortable in the skin we want to be in.
So next time I sit down at my desk (which turns out to be the kitchen table), stand in front of my easel, gear up for a roll on the mats, or otherwise face the foe of my own self-doubt, maybe I’ll pause a couple of minutes, stand proud with my feet wide, my fists on my hips, and my head high, and make space for the successful spot in which I belong.