Here is a story I heard several times from our pastor, Brother T. (I grew up in North Texas which is part of the Bible Belt. Brother T. played quite a big role in my young life!)
“Once upon a time there were two children. Each were given a golden key and asked to make a wish. Then, they were led down a hallway and told to choose a door that led to what they believed would grant their wish. When the children opened their doors, they discovered that each room was filled six feet high with crap. The first child threw down the key, slammed the door, and stomped back down the hall. The second dove right in and began digging away, hand over hand. ‘With all this poop’, she said, ‘my pony must be in here somewhere’.”
Well, I have to admit that I have been in a crappy mindset lately. Yep, me—the highly trained coach, the wife of a brilliant, supportive and loving man and the mother of great kids. Despite my many blessings, I was feeling like an impostor in my own life.
It really hit me when a friend texted me and said why she was thankful for me—for my parenting, the work that I do and the person that I am through and through. I thought, “Wow, she must have sent this to me by mistake. Maybe she meant to send it to someone else.” I texted her back, but yep, she meant that text for me. I have to admit, I sat there more than humbled at my desk…actually doubtful.
You see, I’ve had the sinking feeling for decades that I’m not quite good enough. These are the main ruses I’ve tried to keep everyone (including myself) believing and in the dark about how I really felt on the inside:
1. Being perfect. Trying to be the ultimate college student actually put me in the hospital with exhaustion my freshman year. Trying to be the perfect coach made me feel like I had to have all the answers, when really, my clients have all the answers; I am just really good at asking the questions that unpack and dust off the insight and wisdom that was right there the whole time. It also caused me to not tell people when I was struggling, even my best friend, who I talked to about it recently. (That led to all kinds of deep conversations and a beautifully wrapped gift that you will see at the end of this article.) Being perfect is poop. Being real, genuine and imperfect deepens the relationships that truly matter, which is important when you are having what I call, ‘a bad hair day’ and need the support of a friend. Friends that can be around you when you are ankle deep in your poop are truly the “ponies” of the world.
2. Blending in. This is a really funny one. If you have met me, seen me speak, or bumped into me at a conference, you know that I don’t blend in. I am almost six feet tall with about a million freckles. My favorite color is red, I laugh really loudly, and I change my hair color like some people change socks. Trying to be invisible was like trying to stick a round peg into a square hole. Blending in was poop, it hurt. Being me, all of me, is really what I am called to do and what I coach and teach about day after day. If you are truly yourself, you have no competition….Personal brands and strategies are big ponies!
3. Blaming others. I have blamed a long list of people, events, organizations, and companies for the way my life, career and relationships have been at different times in my life. Blaming others was a great way to stay inactive, comfortable and small. I noticed that when I am in blame mode, I was also squishing my emotions way down inside. They are bound to pop out at some time, kind of like a beach ball you hold under water. The further down you hold it, the higher it will pop up when it is finally released. I have popped a number of times; doing that around the people you love or an unsuspecting stranger is poop. Learning your triggers, managing your weaknesses and finding a way through the rough spots with a sense of responsibility and dedication is a pony, not always an easy one to ride, but one that can take you very far in life.
4. Belittling myself. This is an easy trap for women to get sucked into: the kids come first, or the job, or the husband, or the parents. At some point I had to take a clear-eyed look at what I was tolerating. Then I had to choose my non-negotiables and stick with them. I thought, “I can tough it out, wait until things are calmer/better/richer until I do what I truly want to do.” I followed other people’s advice and put my big girl panties on and muscled through situations and did hard sells on people to convince them that I was “just fine”. I told myself that if I listened to the experts, then surely I would start to feel better about myself, but all I really did was get blinded by their tail lights. The light I was looking for was within the whole time. I know it sounds woo-woo, but it’s clear now that my gift is helping people find their own inner light. I don’t always understand where this gift comes from or even how it works, but I’ve seen it work too many times to hide it or run from it any more. Following so-called experts too closely got me in a lot of poop, but I dug myself out and found a way to take steps on my own at my own pace. I learned that it behooved me to listen to that inner voice….LOL, I couldn’t resist that pony pun!
5. Being busy. I have spent lots of dollars on programs, coaches, clothing, hairstylists, personal trainers and such, all so I could feel like I had made it. I have to admit, I love certificates, awards, ribbons and such. All the homework from all the programs kept me busy and were things that I could check off a list, but that kept me buried, safe and small. I finally clued in to the fact that all those times I got published or received sincere thank-you’s from clients weren’t a fluke. I really do have what it takes to do the work I do, be the person I am and create the life I want. But that clarity came from inside me, not from a certificate. Galloping is okay, but you should limit it to when it is needed or you find yourself running amuck in a dizzy, busy state, not a productive deliberate direction.
6. Being in control. OK, this tactic only made me look like, act like, and really become a bossy “B” at times. Have you ever seen someone who needs to control everyone around them, every minute of the day, trying to set everything up to be perfect, then falling apart when the outcome is not what they wanted? Yep, that was me. I have badgered others to be a certain way and act a certain way. I thank my kids for helping me break this awful habit – bossing people around really doesn’t work when you have middle-schoolers! In coaching we often say that control is an illusion. Truly you can set goals, prepare and work really hard to get something, go somewhere or achieve something, and then you can be stuck at the airport for 12 hours like I was recently and miss the gig entirely. Ultimately, complete total control is a pile of poop and doing your best and letting go of the rest is the pony.
(BTW, I still struggle with being bossy in the kitchen…and that is okay.)
Here’s what I know now: you don’t have to be perfect to have a great life. My struggles are important to get through because they make me better able to serve and support others. Besides, going through is the only direction possible. As my wise friend Madeline Eno says, “Your poop is very fertile ground.” (Which is a more colorful way of saying, “Your mess is your message.”)
Now, about that exquisitely wrapped gift my friend game me after sharing with her how I was feeling….what was it? It was a toilet bowl brush. Not just any old toilet bowl brush, but the fanciest, most expensive version money can buy. And the card said, “Keep looking for the pony!” It was a lovely, funny reminder to be gentle with myself as I continue my journey to finding the ponies. Thank you, Laura Morales, I feel fancy and imperfectly loved!
If you are struggling with figuring out how to get through the poop and find the pony,
maybe it is time to hire a coach….