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Seeing Beyond Filters

"In order to go on living, one must try to escape the death involved in perfectionism."
- Hannah Arendt

How things look to us depends upon how we look at them.

Unconsciously, we filter our experience through lenses we develop as young children. Do these lenses help us focus in ways that open us to larger perspectives and higher purposes? Or do they cloud our vision by coloring it with doubt and suspicion?

"They don't care about me," we tell ourselves, "no one understands what this project means but me; I can't bring that one up, they would just get angry and leave; I won't get what I need even if I ask." The stories we tell ourselves are the stories that come true.

Much of the turmoil, anxiety, and frustration we experience as "life" is determined more by what goes on inside us than outside us, more by what people or circumstances remind us of rather than who or what they are.

We switch to "automatic pilot" simply to get through the day and permit ourselves to be hijacked emotionally by conditioned responses from our past. Swept away by emotions of anxiety or anger, better suited for physical survival than navigating the waters of office politics or family relationships, we overreact or numb ourselves to our true feelings, unable to cope. "Never has that double vodka martini looked better to me than it does this week," we say, "I'm outta here."

To be authentic leaders, we must truly understand ourselves within the context of our past and free ourselves from it, opening to fuller, more expansive, enticing perspectives – the larger landscape of real possibility.

Read a story that demonstrates the principles of "filters".

The following is shared with permission from Nan Shaw, President/Founder of Club Soda and Mattermatics Inc., a consulting company. Nan is a graduate of Center for Authentic Leadership programs and a coach to the clients of the Center's 3-year Future-Thinking International Leadership Community.


Sometime between the ages of 0-13, we make the declaration of a lifetime. Though we certainly don't know it at the time, an imprint is made on the brain through which we might possibly experience much of the rest of our life. It usually happens in a moment of high intensity, and it usually involves emotional or physical pain.

It is very helpful to identify this moment in our life. By doing so, we are able to see a much larger picture of the world, and it opens up so many possibilities for our life that we couldn't see before. It also genuinely relieves much of the pain we have tried to numb through addictive patterns.

To get started, think of the moment you would least like to repeat in your childhood. What is the one that, up until now, you may have felt you needed to keep secret, or one you may be embarrassed about? What is the one moment you felt as if your world changed forever; that some belief you had held until then suddenly was turned upside down?

It probably involved a parent or a sibling or a teacher or a best friend. It may have made you cry, or get angry, or run away. You may have felt stupid, or weak, or powerless, or worthless or____? It always had you in the starring role.

For me it was when I was about ten. My mother and father were fighting. My father had been drinking. I was terrified that he would hurt my mother. He was screaming at the top of his lungs; my mother was cowering in fear with silent tears smeared on her face. I came out of my room with the intention of bringing peace to the family and speaking the truth so they would see the absurdity of their actions. I rushed into the kitchen and was immediately told to go back to my room, that what was occurring had nothing to do with me, that what I thought I saw was not accurate, and that I was too young to have any idea what was happening. I remember saying, "But..." when I was cut off and told to mind my mother and not say another word and to go to bed.

In that one moment, I felt like a stupid idiot. I felt stupid for trying to help. I felt stupid for not accomplishing my goal. I felt like an idiot for thinking I could. I felt like everything I had thought was the truth must not be. I felt like I would be a stupid idiot if I ever opened my mouth again or thought I could make a difference. My filter was firmly in place. I had made my declaration of a lifetime.

I spent the next thirty-five years trying to hide what I thought was the truth...that I was a stupid idiot. I hid it by making great grades, by going to a prestigious college, by being president of everything and looking like I failed at nothing. I was so afraid of someone thinking that I was a stupid idiot that I closed the door on letting anyone know that I didn't know. So I shut the door on learning. And in my blindness, I failed at relationships, I denied my alcoholism, I silenced my own voice, and I ignored the places where I could truly make a difference. I went through life trying to be a "stupid idiot not", and as a result I almost always felt like a "stupid idiot for sure".

Fortunately the physician with whom I shared an office, suggested that I attend "The Leadership Intensive" course in Atlanta ,GA. led by Jan Smith. She helped me identify what I had kept hidden for all of these years...that very confining and untrue declaration of "stupid idiot". Once I became aware of what I had assumed I was, I was then able to begin to see a lot more of me. It took a while to replace that habit with a new one, but each day now, I see the world differently. I no longer have to search for the things that might make me look stupid. Now I find joy in discovering all that I don't yet know. I have gone from the fear of looking stupid to the excitement of not knowing. I have come home to my curious nature so I can discover all that which can make a difference.

Copyright 2004, CLUBSODA, A Division of Mattermatics, Inc.

Posted on Thursday, April 1, 2004 at 11:48AM by Registered CommenterJan Smith | Comments Off

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