On Voices

People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

Maya Angelou

Last Thursday night, I watched Toy Story 4. It was the eve before heading to the House of Mouse for a Run Disney race weekend; what better way to kickstart the trip than with Woody and Buzz? I won’t spoil the plot in case you haven’t seen it, but since then I was struck by one of the themes: the voices in your head (or for Woody and Buzz, the voice box inside them.). Woody tells Buzz that when he’s unsure, listen to your inner voice and you’ll figure out what to do. Hilarity ensues when Buzz follows this advice. But I’m not thinking of the humor, I am thinking of the metaphor. Your inner voice.

When I think of an inner voice, usually I think of your conscience, the one that tells you what’s right and wrong, and let’s you know when you do something outside of your personal moral compass. But there’s other types of inner voices: the gut instinct, the one that echoes of past experiences, the one that analyzes the now, the one that projects future outcomes, and the one that may whisper things like: “you’re stupid,””you’re not good enough,” or “you’re a fool.” The last example, coupled with mulling how our inner voice treats the past, present, and future, are the ones that I’ve been thinking about since I saw Toy Story 4. I know that there are many times I repeat in my mind past conversations and events and think “I should’ve said or done that” and create elaborate dialogue or scenes in my head (and some find their way into my writings). Then there’s the tool I use a lot when I’m facing a new challenge or stressful situation: I envision myself after the event, where everything went swimmingly. It could be nailing that presentation in front of the executive team, a successful meeting with my boss, or even a fun night out alone in a strange place where I know no one when I’m traveling. I find these useful attributes of my inner voice, although at times they may be tinged with regret. It’s the inner voice that’s the critic, sower of doubts—that’s the one that’s the hardest to listen to and some days impossible to silence.

These past few days my best friend I’ve known for 3 decades has been visiting me here in paradise. We don’t see each other often in person. Life and physical distance (I’m an East coast gal and she’s a West coast gal, and neither of us will move from our respective places) can get in the way. It’s been almost 1.5 years since our last meeting in San Francisco, and it’s been a blessing that we have these few days together in person. Though technology makes it easy to stay in touch, and in many cases is the only way to keep in touch, there’s no substitute for a hug. On the car ride from paradise to the happiest place on earth for my race, we caught up on the trials and tribulations in our lives. My bestie is truly a beautiful, strong warrior who has overcome many physical, mental, and spiritual challenges in life. She is an inspiration to myself and so many others. Some people exude warmth and positivity, and that is her. Of course, you can also imagine she’s strong willed, and when she heard me refer to myself negatively as I was talking about an event in my life, she angrily told me to stop. Taken aback, I must admit I was a bit hurt. Because I truly saw the event and myself in that light, but here she was seemingly telling me that not only was I not interpreting things the right way, but also that I shouldn’t feel so poorly about myself. That my feelings of ineptitude and self doubt were false. She then proceeded to tell me all the good things about me (as she sees them), and reinforced that she didn’t want to hear negativity from me in regards to myself anymore.

Well. I paused, ready to reply what I was thinking. And then she took my hand, and that said more than any words. As I sat there and her positive energy spread to me, I realized this. Often we create images of ourselves that are falsely painted. Ironically in some cases we do this intentionally, perhaps to soften a disappointment (“I didn’t really want that promotion, thank goodness I was passed over”), shift feelings of fear, remorse, or blame (“I just wasn’t ready to help out; someone else would do it better, so good thing I didn’t.”), or perhaps indulge in things we shouldn’t (“I’m unattractive anyways: why not eat all the chocolate? Who cares about my health? I’m going to die anyways.”). And in this case, she was right. The way I was portraying myself was a cop out; a reason why I didn’t think I could do something. And when I thought about it, I realized it’s because I was afraid to do it. Fearful of the outcome, so instead delaying decisions and actions because, let’s face it, it’s easier to stand still some times than jump into the unknown. To live in a comfort zone where, because of internalized shortcomings, I didn’t need to do certain things, because I wasn’t good enough, right? Taking away all the negativity, to be left only with the positive “I can do this” which then means “I should do this” to the daunting “why the hell aren’t I doing this?” can be tough to admit, much less swallow. At the end of Toy Story 4, Woody’s inner voice is silenced (okay spoiler, but I won’t say how), and that sets him free. As I sat there, thinking about what my best friend had told me, I realized that my inner voice, the one telling me all the bad about me, was also keeping me where I was. Standing still. And until I silenced it, I wasn’t going to be free. Because the truth was, I am good enough. And that in itself can be a pretty scary thing to embrace.

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