Once again the tabloid media has taken to plastering their covers with a celebrity who, at the height of her career, has been taken down by a personal tragedy in the form of betrayal by her husband. My heart goes out to Sandra Bullock as she navigates the complicated waters of a broken marriage while having her personal life splayed out for all to see. I can only imagine the hell she's living in.
Each time I see a public person knocked off the proverbial pedestal either by his or her own undoing or by someone else, I see the writing on the collective subconscious wall: "You better not get too big for your britches or we'll take you down." While it seems some need to come down in order to stop hurting people, others become the poster child for our collective fear of success.
As I watched Sandra Bullock's public embarrassment after winning the Oscar, I thought, "Great, here's another chance to reinforce the belief that it's not safe to step into the light and own our gifts." It makes me crazy because it doesn't serve anyone. Each of us has a boogieman (or woman) who keeps us in line by reminding us to tone down our brightness, to take one step back and stay with the pack, or to keep our flaws handy in case we need to pull one out to prove that we're a card-carrying member of the "fit in" club.
For some, the voice of the boogieman is loud, constant, and demanding in its request to stay small enough to keep others comfortable. For others - most people actually - the voice is subtle and sneaky, and equally pervasive and debilitating. We end up playing by its rules to keep ourselves safe and, as a result, miss out on fully living our lives. You get close to want you really want, for example, and sabotage your efforts because it feels too risky. You find an excuse to avoid making the phone call that just might land you a great job. You eat one more candy bar to stay comfortably numb so you don't have to confront the brazen friend who made fun of your latest creative idea. Or, you tow the line with family members by putting yourself down and leveling the playing field so you don't ignite the sarcastic comments or guilt-inducing statements that warn: "Don't you dare leave the tribe by being more successful than us."
If I were a betting woman, I'd put money on the fact that Sandra Bullock probably started worrying about a bomb dropping on her life when the first award nomination was announced. You know the drill. Things are going a little too well and immediately you start waiting for the next shoe to drop. You pull back, shrink inward, and maybe even start slipping up just enough to steer clear of being too successful.
Here's the thing: Eventually the other shoe will drop. That's the way life works here on planet earth. In a world of duality there will always be an eventual downside to every up. Someone you love will get sick right after you receive an offer to start a great new business. A friend might betray you just before your wedding day. Or, you'll be pulled from a promotion because someone more qualified showed up at the last minute.
The real issue is what you do with what happens, not the drama around the details. After all, our safety net (and the ability to maintain our power) comes from the investment we make in our own healing journey. How will you grow from the downside? What character traits will you develop? What old wounds will you finally face and heal? The answers to these questions (and the work you do to address them) are the insurance you purchase with your hard work. This insurance gives you the courage to express your greatness in spite of what happens or what others think.
So this week, I challenge you to do something to support humanity's goodness instead of the drama. First, send love to Sandra Bullock and anyone else who's struggling with the pain of an unexpected blow. I don't know about you, but when I saw The Blind Side, both Bullock, and the woman she portrayed, left me inspired to be an even better human being. That's what full-on greatness does.
Next, challenge the legacy of smallness that hurts us all by keeping your money away from the magazine issues that profit from someone's pain. Then, start owning your power. Toot your own horn. Speak confidently and skillfully about your accomplishments at your next job interview. Set a firm boundary the next time someone tries to keep you in line with his or her own fear and insecurity. Be brave, bold, and willing to risk getting knocked around a bit (metaphorically speaking) to stay true to your strengths and talents. I don't know about you, but I'm willing to piss a few people off or to weather a few storms to insure that I'm honoring my soul. I may go out with a few chipped teeth, but you can be sure I'll go out smiling ☺.
Cheryl Richardson is the New York Times best-selling author of Take Time for Your Life, Life Makeovers, Stand Up for Your Life, and The Unmistakable Touch of Grace. She leads a large Web community at www.cherylrichardson.com, which is dedicated to helping people around the world improve their quality of life.