I started a group coaching program last week. During the session our couch asked us a question.
“What are you extraordinary at? World class?”
We were invited to share our answer with everyone.
I’m English. We don’t like to talk about such things. It’s not polite.
But I jumped in. And found myself saying that I am an extraordinary writer. It was uncomfortable to say. I hadn’t said it out loud before.
I remember a couple of summers ago sitting around in the garden one evening drinking wine with a group of close friends. We were with our sifu – our kung fu teacher – and he and I spontaneously invented a game for us all to play.
We each had to stand up, and tell each other what we were truly great at – what we were better at than any other person we’d ever met.
I have never seen a group of smart, conscious people get so twitchy. We were literally squirming in our chairs and laughing weirdly. We all felt extraordinarily awkward.
What is it about speaking of our own extraordinariness that can feel so nauseating?
I’m not the only one suffering from the affliction. I see it in my friends, my coaching clients, my facebook feed.
We’re suffering from a virus of equality
It’s an epidemic. The symptoms?
Chronic modesty. Cold sweats at the thought of boasting. Severe aversion to the prospect of arrogance. Unremitting reserve.
It was a wonderful thing when it first infected the populous. It changed people’s minds. It had them see the inherent value and beauty in every single human being, regardless of gender, race, social status or sexual persuasion.
But somewhere along the way, we lost our right to boast. Or maybe the rules just changed.
I feel my own aversion when I see someone proclaim their greatness while their heart is closed. Instead of their greatness, I simply see their insecurity, propped up by a proclamation they don’t really feel.
I feel my own fear, when faced with the prospect of claiming my own extraordinary qualities.
My friends at school used to call me ‘Mr. Modest’. I wasn’t actually modest, I was just scared of claiming a standard I could fall beneath.
We like to cut down great people. Find their faults. Condemn their shadow. Discount their brilliance. The higher they reach, the more eagerly we hack at their pedestal.
But can you feel that tender spot?
The one underneath the crusty criticism and condemnation? The one where you know all that judgment is just your own un-owned ambition?
It’s more vulnerable than pain and suffering
I remember sitting in a circle at a workshop.
People were telling me I was extraordinary. They told me I looked like Jesus. They wanted to kiss my feet.
I was in severe pain. Telling them I didn’t want it. That I didn’t ask for it. I was angry. And upset.
Mostly I was afraid.
We don’t ask for it do we?
God doesn’t check with us before giving us phenomenal, world class greatness. We have to live with it. And we have to use it, or get sick, in weird ways.
I know how incredibly vulnerable it has been, and continues to be, when I admit my extraordinariness. It makes me quake, and squirm, and rebel.
It feels more vulnerable than owning my shadows and wounds.
I got a great education in loving my weakness. Loving my greatness?
I’m still afraid of that one.
You’re extraordinary. Let’s celebrate it.
I know you’re extraordinary. I know you know it too. How much false modesty are you carrying?
Let’s play a game…
What are you extraordinary at? Seriously, ask yourself. Take a moment…
Does it come immediately? Does it surprise you? Excite you? Scare you?
What are you better at, than everyone you know? Something that when you say it out loud, the stink of your boasting makes your eyes water.
You’ve got to go audaciously at it. We’re so adhered to modesty, it needs a bit of bending the other way.
It’s time to boast.
I’ll go first.
4 Things I’m extraordinary at
- Writing – I’m seriously fucking good at writing. Despite my superego telling me every single time I sit down to write that I’m not. Most people can’t write like I do. I’ve made a lot of people cry with my writing. I move people, inspire people and amaze people with my writing. A dear friend told me once I wrote like Rilke. Not many people can boast that.
- Listening to depth – I’m an extraordinary listener. I can listen with deep presence, the kind of space where people share things they’ve never shared before. And, I’m exceptionally good at listening to what is not said. Sooner or later, I’ll pick out the answer to the pattern before anyone else has even realized there’s a question.
- Seeing ideal futures – I’m a master at seeing what’s possible. My mind just sees it as a vision, vividly. I can look at something, and use my imagination to repair all the dysfunctions I see, unblock the flow in the system, add time, and describe what it would look like in the future as a result. Like, I’m shit hot at that. And scarily accurate most of the time.
- Marketing – I didn’t want to write this one. Because I have an exceptionally ambivalent relationship to marketing. But I have skills. You know what I’m sayin’? My super-charged strategic mind can map out master plans, and my writing and charisma craft compelling stories. My marketing talents have made a lot of money for myself and others the last few years.
OK, your turn
Put on your boasting socks, and strut your stuff.
The more it makes you squirm the truer it is (probably).
Own it, and it won’t own you.
Speak it, and it will speak through you.
You’re incredible. I know it. You know. So proclaim it.
What are you truly extraordinary at?