Have you ever told yourself a story about yourself that holds you back? Are there self-narratives that negatively impact your life? My fear of heights is one of the self-narratives I’ve had for years. Whenever I think about it, I can never really pin down the point in my life when the self-narrative began, but I know it’s been hindering certain activities for most of my life. I wasn’t born with the self-narrative of being scared of heights, but I’ve been living with it for as long as I can remember. I don’t know the impetus for it. If I encountered something traumatic, I don’t recall what it was. I most certainly don’t recall ever falling from any height. If I ask my sister about the fear, she could probably read my past lives and reveal their origin. However, the catalyst of the fear is far less concerning than my desire to conquer the fear.
What does this have to do with diversity, equity, and inclusion? Everything. People tell themselves many stories about what we believe and why we believe it, but most importantly, we don’t take the time to re-examine our beliefs about ourselves. Even if you don’t think so, more than likely, there is a self-narrative holding you back. We simply take these stories and self-narratives as a given, and we don’t analyze or challenge them.
My trip to Turkey was what finally prompted me to confront my fear of heights. I discovered that the way to overcome a self-narrative of fear is to develop a new self-narrative. My husband and I had planned a trip to Turkey, which included an optional hot air balloon excursion over the fairytale region of Cappadocia. I immediately knew I would not be participating in the optional tour, and of course, by extension, neither would my husband! Not only did my fear of heights limit me from experiencing that hot air balloon ride, but it also limited my husband. Although my husband is not afraid of heights, he still decided not to leave me on the ground while he soared among the clouds. My fear was limiting not only me but those connected to me. Isn’t that often the case? Our beliefs impact us and those around us.
At that moment, I knew I didn’t want to be that person–the person who limits their life experiences because of some self-imposed belief and fear. So I started to examine my fear.
I knew I would not be able to enjoy the hot air balloon ride because I would be in a panic and experiencing the physical manifestations of my fear: sweaty palms, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and an intense urge to flee. But these physical manifestations don’t happen simply because I’m high up. The height itself is not the cause of the symptoms. So what is? What were the stories I was telling myself about the hot air balloon ride that was causing my palms to sweat, my heart to race, my shortness of breath, and the need to flee a basket hovering hundreds of feet in the air? Those things don’t just happen automatically; they happen because of a story I’m telling myself.
In the case of hot air ballooning, the list is long, but I’ll give you the top four reasons for my panic:
- The bottom of the basket will fall out.
- The balloon will pop.
- We will run out of fuel for the fire and plummet to the ground.
- The fuel will explode in midair.
Seriously, I didn’t even realize these were the thoughts going through my head until I paused to self-examine. This realization armed me with a clear understanding of the story I was telling myself and the awareness that the sense of panic resulted from that story. With this knowledge I was able to tell myself a new, far more logical story. None of those horrible things are going to happen. Nicole, you are perfectly safe. Nicole, the bottom is not going to fall out. Nicole, the balloon is not going to pop. You are safe.
By changing the story I was telling myself, I was able to take a hot air balloon ride. While it wasn’t all that glorious to me, I was more focused on simply being okay with being up there than I was on enjoying the ride. I was uncomfortable but fully present. I wasn’t afraid while stepping outside of my comfort zone and having a brand-new experience.
This was a significant turning point for me that made clear the power of our self-narrative. They are either a positive or negative force in our lives, and yet we possess the ability to change our self-narrative based on who we want to be.
You have to challenge your own beliefs, especially when it comes to being an inclusive and equitable leader. It’s essential to determine who you want to be and then examine self-narratives that are getting in the way of being that person. Sometimes you have to explore those close by whose self-narratives prevent you from being the person you want to be. My husband would not have hesitated to take that hot air balloon ride, but he held back for me. I wasn’t even aware that my fear was hindering him.
Just like my first hot air balloon ride was uncomfortable and uneasy, you will likely feel uncomfortable and anxious as you begin this journey of self-discovery and realignment. But that is to be expected. It is part of having new experiences, challenging yourself, relearning things about yourself, expanding your comfort zone. It will become less uncomfortable.
That self-narrative that I was afraid of heights reinforced my learned fear and prevented me from engaging in related activities. My new self-narrative is that heights don’t bother me. When people say, “aren’t you afraid of heights?” my response is “not anymore.” I changed the story I was telling myself about myself, expanded my comfort zone, and now have a new self-narrative that is more aligned with who I want to be.