We say things like this all the time… to other people.
“You’ve got it all together.”
“I could never handle all the things that you do – and you don’t even seem to think about it. You just do it.”
You can turn anything into something intimidating.
If you’ve read my posts for a while, you know I like to tell stories. So here’s one for you.
Several years ago, I was generously offered inclusion in a Masters class in musical theatre by the instructor, Amy Herzberg, who’d directed me in a musical a few months before. My classmates were young people studying for their MFA, Masters of Fine Arts. All had a bunch of experience on the stage.
Me? I didn’t have much. I hadn’t taken acting since high school. And, to make matters more complicated (in my own mind..), they were more than twenty years my junior.
I went to the class, met everyone, and was immediately intimidated. It wasn’t that they weren’t friendly. They were great, and included me instantly as they chatted about this show and that show, this acting workshop and that try-out. When I was asked what shows I’d been in, I mentioned college productions from long ago (while actually wishing I could melt into the floor like the Wicked Witch of the West) and the more recent one where Amy was the director. Class was then full on with more introductions; we got our acting assignments for the next two weeks and talked about scheduling. I hightailed it out of there, thinking, “I’m not so sure about this.” I went to one more class, where I did my best to put in a word here or there. But my gut was telling me I simply wasn’t cut out of the same cloth these kids were, and I called Amy the following Monday morning.
Our conversation went something like this…
I laughed but explained: “I don’t think this is for me. I’m really intimidated by the other students…my gosh, they’re so experienced. I don’t belong.”
It was her turn then. And she started giggling. Guffawing actually.
“Do you know what I do on Sunday nights?” she asked.
“I have all the graduate students over to my house for dinner. Do you know what they were talking about last night?”
I waited, knowing there was some kind of punch line.
“They were talking about how in-ti-mi-da-ting you are!!!”
“What! Me??? Why???”
She went on, laughing. I had a Ph.D. blah blah blah. I couldn’t miss the irony. So I took the class, learned a bunch, met some great people, and had a marvelous time.
Sometimes your gut is wrong. Because sometimes you’re simply afraid to risk.
Making the mistake of idealizing others and shaming yourself..
Idealization. It’s a crazy thing. And we do it all the time to one another. We see things in someone else that we admire, and immediately project our own fantasies about what it must be like to be that person.
So, how do you realize when you’re idealizing someone else? Or you’re allowing yourself to be intimidated? Let’s take social media for example. How do you recognize when you’re allowing perfect-looking posts get to you, or make you believe that your own life doesn’t cut the mustard?
It’s when you become aware that as you observe, as you watch, as you read or hear what others are doing, your own inner critical voice starts shaming you.
“You’ll never do anything that special.”
“You would mess that up if that were you.”
“You don’t work hard enough to earn that kind of attention.”
Please remember my story. You have no idea how others are perceiving you. Michael Yapko, an international expert on depression, reminds us that none of us has the right to believe you “know” what others think of you. It’s shame, maybe even clinical depression, that’s whispering constant negative things about yourself in your ear.
But there is one thing that “intimidating” people do..
Let’s go back to my story. When I stopped to think rationally, all of my classmates had already taken huge risks, coming into a Masters program in order to be critically evaluated as they were striving to learn more about acting, directing, and writing. But I wasn’t thinking about that at the time. No, of course not. I was busy comparing myself to them.
They saw me as taking a risk as well. I was getting out of my safe world of being a therapist, and coming back into another world where I was far less secure.
It was, in reality, a mutual admiration kind of thing. No one needed to be intimidated.
Risking feels scary but also like you’re truly alive…
You can learn to risk. It simply takes practice. Try small risks at first but do something differently than normal. You could get out your paints from when you painted years before, set up your easel, and start. You could reach out to that college friend you haven’t spoken to in years and reconnect with them on Zoom. You could walk through the door of that gym you’ve belonged to for over a year, and ask for a training session.
All you have to do is take that first small risk.
Those very risks add up, giving you increasing confidence as you realize you’re capable of more than you’d once thought. And you’ll feel more alive.
Sadly however, someone might now be watching you, and thinking, “I could never do that.”
Maybe you remember to turn to them and encourage the risk by saying — “Yes you can.”
You can hear more about mental health and many other topics by listening to my podcast, SelfWork with Dr. Margaret Rutherford. Subscribe to my website and receive one weekly newsletter including my weekly blog post and podcast! If you’d like to join my FaceBook closed group, then click here and answer the membership questions! Welcome!
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Originally published on December 9, 2017; updated and republished on June 14, 2020.