I recently wrote in a Facebook group: “I have come to the sad conclusion that I’m a tiny bit scared of what will happen if I let myself believe that I’m awesome…but I kind of want to try it anyway.”
Why is it so hard for me to access my self-confidence?
Why can’t I believe that I am capable and competent? Why do I struggle to trust in myself and my abilities? Why do I cling to my smallness and not-enoughness?
I have so many good qualities. I’ve been doing this small-business thing for three years and I’m steadily improving. And yet, I still tend to deflect when someone compliments me or when it would be beneficial for me to promote myself.
The real question: What am I afraid might happen if I believe in my awesomeness?
My small, scaredy-cat self believes deep down that…
- I might miss something important or make a mistake if I’m not worrying all the time, letting down other people in the process.
- I might become arrogant, unlikeable, and inflexible.
- I might stop striving to grow and learn if I think I’m good enough the way I am.
I know I’m not the only one who carries around these kinds of beliefs. I see them in my clients all the time.
Most of the time, I would start my self-coaching by questioning these assumptions. Are they really true? Can I find evidence to the contrary? But in this case, something else wanted to happen.
As I was writing this, the fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty came to mind.
I imagined my self-confidence hidden deep inside a castle. I’ve cultivated an enormous tangle of thorns and a dragon or two to make sure it stays safe, but they’ve done their jobs a little too well and now I’m finding it difficult to access.
I know how effective metaphors can be, and the image was so compelling that I couldn’t ignore it in favor of simple thought inquiry. I decided to go with my instincts and ended up writing a fairy tale instead. I hope you enjoy it! Maybe you’ll even be inspired to go rescue some part of yourself as well.
I approach the dark, forbidding castle on foot.
It’s barely visible under a thick layer of thorns, some of them as long as my forearm and intimidatingly sharp. Rope-like vines twist and weave around each other, forming an impenetrable barrier.
I can’t see a way in.
I speak to the brambles, feeling a little foolish. “Please, let me through.”
The answer comes immediately in the sound of the wind hissing through the vines. “No! We must keep everything out. Not safe.”
“Please,” I say, “you’re choking her. She’s dying, can’t you tell? She’s meant to be out in the sunshine, not covered in dust.”
“Keep her safe. Go away, you’re not wanted.”
“I can’t. She’s calling me.”
“She doesn’t know what she wants. She doesn’t know what it’s like out there.”
“What is it like?”
“Nasty. Mean. Unpredictable. Messy. Painful. Cruel. Better to stay in here.”
I can see we are at an impasse. The vines’ version of reality is absolute and nonnegotiable. The beauty of the world outside will never be worth exposing the pure sleeper within to the pain and suffering that comes with it.
In the absence of a better idea, I decide to just let the thorns be for the moment.
I sit down on the dusty ground, my back against a sun-warmed rock. I close my eyes and lift my face up to the sky. The day is bright but overcast.
“What? What are you doing?” the vines hiss at me.
“I’m not going to attack you. That would prove that you’re right about the world. I won’t fight you and I won’t abandon myself. So I’ll just sit here instead.”
Minutes pass. I can hear a bird singing somewhere far away.
It happens slowly at first, so slowly that I think I’m imagining it (which I am, of course). The thorns are shrinking, the branches slithering back from the surface of the castle. It has the unreal quality of a mirage, wavering back and forth: the image of a dark tangled mess overlapping with a few overgrown rosebushes.
I understand as I watch that I encompass both realities, both possibilities. The clouds break overhead and the sun spills through to illuminate the freshly exposed castle walls.
“Where are you going?” I ask.
“We are here for protection. There is nothing to protect against. You are here because you love her.”
When the transformation seems to be complete, I approach with caution.
I pass through the main gate and enter a sunny courtyard with a sparkling fountain in the middle and roses lining the walls.
The sounds of splashing water commingle with the sleepy buzz of bees and hummingbirds. I see little lizards sprawled here and there, warming themselves on the paving stones. They must be the remains of the fearsome dragons, I realize. My eyes prickle with happiness and gratitude.
I enter the cool darkness of the castle and start climbing a long spiral staircase. Stained-glass windows illuminate the central column of the staircase in a riot of color. It’s like being inside a kaleidescope. My eyes are dazzled and the inside of my eyelids dance with bright blobs of pattern when I close them.
I am near the top now and the door is in view: plain, wooden, sturdy. It is locked with an large black iron padlock. I feel a hint of unease – have I come all this way just to be stopped here?
I hold the lock in my hand and feel the cold metal leeching the warmth from my skin. Like I did in front of the thorny castle, I simply wait to see what will happen. After a few long moments the lock eases open with a sound like a sigh. I push through the door to the room beyond.
The princess in Sleeping Beauty was a teenager, but this girl is an infant.
She’s sleeping peacefully in the middle of the room, even though a shaft of light has slanted through the window to illuminate her face. Dust motes dance above her like benevolent fairies.
When I look closely, I can see that she herself is emitting a quiet golden glow. She is so perfect, so peaceful, so complete. Who am I to take her out into the heartbreaking mess of the world outside? Who am I to expose her to disappointment and loss and the casual cruelty of life?
For the first time, I doubt the rightness of my quest.
As I stand there, looking down at her, the room itself begins to speak to me.
“She is complete, the way a seed is complete. You have kept her safe all these years. But now it is time for her to be planted, to be nourished by the sun and soil and water of the larger world.
“She is always complete, but it is in her nature to grow and change. Just like you. Complete and in flux, always and forever.
“To keep her here is to deny her true nature.”
“You will have to rescue her over and over again. Thorns grow back and dragons awake in the blink of an eye. To a tiny princess, a cramped bassinet in a dusty tower surrounded by darkness and dragons may still seem safer than a world of unknown dangers.
“But you know better. This is your mission: to rescue her as often as she needs until she is firmly rooted in the world outside and capable of weathering whatever storms come her way. Show her that you will not abandon or give up on her. Are you willing?”
As an answer, I bend to pick her up. She is so light in my arms. I kiss her forehead and her eyelids flutter open. As we look at each other, I can see the future ahead:
I will do whatever it takes to keep her safe AND in the world, for as long as she needs it.
And someday, when she is rooted, sprouted, and strong, it will be my turn to rest in her arms. I carry her through the door and together we begin our descent towards whatever adventures await us in the world beyond.
If you enjoyed this post, you can sign up for my newsletter to get future posts delivered directly to your inbox. And if you want more dragons and/or elaborate metaphors in your life, you might enjoy the story I wrote about student loans (alternate title: How to Pay Your Dragon).
Castle: freeimages.com/Steve White