The F Word

In Resilience by Karen Daw

Yes, I am the F word…fraud, fake, phony (OK, the last one only begins with the “F” sound, but you get the picture). For years, I had crafted a brand of being upbeat and charismatic while discussing the very serious topic of OSHA and Infection Control compliance. After all, you had to make sure the audience stays awake if they are to learn anything! However, what many people didn’t know was that I was quite down. For 10 of my 18 years of marriage, I was taking care of a spouse with a chronic medical illness and mental health issues and who was self-medicating with drugs and alcohol. From thousands of miles away I was also trying to assist an anxiety-ridden mother showing the initial signs of memory loss while locally supporting a sister recently diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer.

Consulting and speaking in the field of safety inherently includes an expectation that I am perfect and that my lifestyle was idyllic. Whether I had just wrapped a training for a private practice or presented to an audience of 3,000, there was always someone who would approach me and tell me, “I want to be you.” What they saw on stage was a carefully crafted persona and execution of a well-rehearsed presentation. I must be doing something right if people thought it was easy. I would think, “Of course I’m not perfect, but thank you for thinking that.” I would plaster on a smile and politely share resources with them on how I got started, while deep down inside I thought they would cringe if they were to truly walk a mile in my shoes.

Women wear many hats, sometimes all at once. For me it was mother, daughter, sister, aunt, boss, colleague, employee, entrepreneur, caregiver, wife, friend…you name it. Somewhere along the way, I bought into the narrative that I wasn’t allowed to show anyone I was suffering while juggling so much. We strive to be perfect, yet that type of expectation is depressive. Over time, friends and family stopped reaching out. I blamed them for not providing the support you would offer someone you loved, oblivious to the fact they had been offering it all along. I was simply shutting them out. I was convinced if I accepted help, it meant I was a failure (another F-word). I didn’t want to be a failure, and I was terrified of the act of failing. When you live in this thought bubble long enough, you eventually get mired in the muck. You’re just getting by, not thriving.

Another F word that Mel Robbins, author, attorney, television host, and motivational speaker, tells us not to be is “Fine.” It’s dismissive. We go into autopilot just to avoid confrontation or change. And it makes sense: it takes less energy to coast than it does to make new neural pathways associated with change. She reminds us that we need to force a break in our routine and shares her “5-second” rule for action. In other words, if you have a thought and do not act on it immediately, whether it’s to make a note or send yourself a text, then it’s like pulling the emergency brake, and once again, you possibly short-change yourself on something that could be a new experience, or a new way of thinking. The enemy of being great is saying that you’re fine. We get into the habit of putting on a mask of our fake selves, rather than asking for what we need. It’s OK to be vulnerable. To move forward in life and get the support we need, we MUST be vulnerable.

On one particularly bad day spent trying to book consults for my business, I packed my soon-to-be-ex-husband’s personal belongings after discovering he was seeing someone else and navigated mold remediation and demolition of my mother’s condo. I felt unsupported, unloved, and so alone. Defeated was an understatement. It was at that moment the universe must have felt my pain too, for it presented me with the following quote from Marianne Williamson, author, political activist, and spiritual leader. This saying appeared not once, not twice, but three times in the same day and in random locations. I am a big fan of patterns, and the third one was like being doused with water in the middle of a nap. It was too obvious to ignore, so I took action. Here is that quote:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

OMG! A higher power was telling me (nay, smacking me in the head with a 2×4 wooden board) that I had to stop expecting myself to be some sort of super woman. That to live authentically is exactly what I was missing in my life. I always educated the students at the College of Dentistry that they should not be afraid to ask for help if they needed anything, and here I had forgotten my own lessons. Often, we think we need to be a certain person, when in reality, it’s hard work to be someone else. It truly is so much easier to just be yourself! I’m not saying a simple quote changed my life overnight. But what it did do was help me to reframe the question. Instead of asking, “Why isn’t anybody helping?” it became, “How can I let my awesomeness shine so I can see the opportunities, love, and care that surrounds me?” And when I did that, a small, dim bulb inside me began to glow brighter.

The law of attraction states that “like attracts like.” In other words, if I’m vibrating at a low frequency, I’ll pull into my orbit other people who feel hopeless, down and abandoned. On the other side, people operating at a high frequency will attract others functioning at an elevated level. In using this philosophy to drive my interactions, I seek out people who love and value themselves and do not consider asking for help as a sign of weakness. Asking for help shows strength in a person’s core belief system. The ability to show the world your genuine self and not portray a false identity is the strength we need to avoid failure.

An authentic presentation which shows my genuine self and speaks from my core strength is the gift I seek to give, whether I’m writing or speaking. My ability to stand in front of other women and let them know it’s OK to acknowledge that I have fears instead of trying to hide those fears makes me stronger. By addressing them and sharing that experience with others only helps to serve the message that we are perfection, even if we feel things are not going our way. How empowering to know an entire cosmic army has our back!

I’m learning each day with the support of other amazing women who have walked a mile in similar shoes and now share their stories to uplift and support each other. Living an authentic life is something I strive for in all that I do, and part of that means accepting some new F-words. For it is in realizing our strength and our potential that we all become fierce, fabulous, and fearless!