We all live in a Bubble. The outer-most layer of our Bubble is our mask—the façade we want others to think is real. At the center of the Bubble is our Authentic Self, our True Nature, our Essence. If there is an inherent purpose to our lives, it’s to make the journey from the outside of this Bubble to its center. At the center is our aliveness, spontaneity, authenticity, joy, and potential. When we live at the center of the Bubble, we’re at home, we feel fulfilled. Yet it feels like every cell in our body wants to move to the outside of the Bubble, to the successful front we believe everyone wants to see.
The Leader’s Façade
The journey to fulfillment begins with observing and taking off our masks. What mask do you wear? The Successful One, the Proud One, the Teacher, The Doer, The Strong Independent One, The Spiritual One, The Victim, The Aggressor, The Controller, The Nice One, The Seducer, The Pleaser?
For me it used to be the Strong Independent One, aka, Superman. My mantra was, “I can do this alone. No challenge is too great. I’m fine.” I believed that this was how strong and effective leaders behaved. I combined this mask with the mask of the Seducer. I was charming and could easily sell employees and investors in order to motivate or manipulate them. Often I donned the mask of the Aggressor, the tough guy that could easily turn into a bully. When I became a coach and retreat leader, I put on the mask of the Teacher or Spiritual One. My subtle message was, “I have it all together because I have done so much inner work. I am so self-aware.”
Discovering Your Blind Spot
Behind our masks we suffer. We’re locked in a prison of reactivity—our anger, impatience, numbness, withholding, superiority, criticism, impulses, judgments, and fantasies. These often suppressed thoughts and behaviors are the exact opposite of what we show others via our masks. For example, instead of the Pleaser, we actually feel very selfish and are resentful of having to make others happy. Our suppressed behaviors and thoughts create “blind spots,” behaviors that, in spite of people pointing them out to us, we continue doing. In fact, we have little control over our reactivity because it’s driven by unconscious thinking and, as a result, it controls us.
The Shadow: What Every Leader Needs to Know About Himself or Herself
Your reactivity and blind spot behavior are fueled by the Shadow layer of your Bubble. Your Shadow contains the parts of yourself you hide, repress, and deny. In an attempt to conceal your Shadow you convince yourself and others how great your life is: “I’m healthy. I make a lot of money. It’s all good.” Or how great you are: “Look at my title, power, and ‘trophies.’ ” Or you get cynical: “Self-reflection brings me down. I want to think positive thoughts. What good does introspection do anyway?” Or you blame other people or factors for your lack of fulfillment: “If my board knew what they were talking about, we could make some progress around here. If my wife wasn’t so . . .”
Your beliefs are shaped by your past experiences. You may have watched your parents deal with a difficult relationship or addictions or place unreasonable demands for achievement on you or themselves. As a result you formed beliefs about conflict, emotions and achievement. You unconsciously filed away beliefs about your adequacy and the aspects of your personality you felt were unacceptable—these went into your Shadow. You avoid looking at these unpleasant “truths” about who you are (or who you have come to believe you are) and as a result, these beliefs have enormous power over your life.
Your beliefs serve as a lens in the Bubble that distorts everything you see. You may believe you have to perform to be loved, that you are unworthy or not good enough for love, that you have to do or be more, and even in spite of your faith in a higher power, you may believe that you will never experience unconditional love. Perhaps you believe that money will make you free and independent. Maybe you believe that the only way to get ahead is to work hard. Not only are these beliefs powerful motivators, they’re not true.
Strong Leaders Know When to Embrace Pain
Beneath your Shadow is your unresolved pain and its related stories—your traumas, shocks, and disappointments. Unless you somehow skipped infancy and childhood, you have pain and vulnerability.
Self-deception and the limitations of your beliefs will go away when you are willing to examine your pain. If you are like most people, you’ve either lost track of or consciously or unconsciously chosen to ignore your pain. A desire to avoid pain is natural. Your brain is wired to pull you away from your pain. There is a strong part of your psyche called your Protector, who takes on the job of keeping you from experiencing (or re-experiencing) your pain and vulnerability.
With your Protector leading the charge, you rationalize, put on your mask, and focus externally. You ignore your deeper hungers and pursue ill-fated strategies to feel happy. These strategies are DOA (Dead-On-Arrival) and become soft-addictions. You acquire more creature comforts, accomplish more, build more security, get more active, or add more complexity to your life—all to distract you from your pain.
The problem is your pain will never go away on its own—it needs to be addressed in order to get yourself out of your prison. And you can’t address pain without being vulnerable. And you can’t realize deep connection and aliveness without being vulnerable. Your Protector needs to be held in check while you do the counter-intuitive: move toward your pain.
Accessing the Authentic Leader
Bursting our Bubble gets us out of prison. I developed what I call the Q7 Process which I guide people through on my retreats, and I have outlined the seven steps in my book, The Business of Wanting More: Why Some Executives Move from Success to Fulfillment and Others Don’t.
Short of reading the book or attending a training session, there are two things you can do right now to begin your Bubble Bursting process.
First, see your Bubble as your lens. Your fulfillment is a function of your Bubble, not a function of how someone treats you or how successful you are. Stop waiting for something outside your Bubble to make you happy.
Second, with radical honesty, answer the question, “What’s In My Bubble?” This starts with an honest self-assessment of what is in each layer: Mask, Reactivity, Soft-Addictions, Shadow Beliefs, Pain, True Self. Create a map of your inner landscape. Create a conscious map to get out of prison.
So what’s really in your Bubble? I think what’s beneath the outer layers is who you really are. Contrary to your Bubble Thinking, at your center is a complete person who doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone or try to become someone or achieve anything. Who you are is not what you do, have, or accomplish. There is nothing you need to do to become who you already are.
When I’m not distracted by my Bubble, I see your heart and your magnificence, no matter what you show me. All I want for both of us is to reveal more of who we already are.
Namaste, a common greeting used in India, reminds a person to look for the divine spark in the other—to look beyond the outer layers of the Bubble. More than a greeting, Namaste can become our way of being once we Burst Our Bubbles and become mindful enough to see the divine spark that lives inside ourselves.
Namaste and Happy Bubble Bursting!