Some of the people I admire most are those who live an unapologetic life.
I found out recently that lots of people think that I’m one of these people, too.
To be honest, this shocked and slightly offended me. You mean to tell me that, all this time, I had been living a fabulously unapologetic life without reaping any of the benefits of total self-assurance and a healthy sense of pride??
When other people call me unapologetic, they are looking at my life in retrospect. They’re seeing the times that I was willing to wrestle with vulnerability, which Brené Brown describes as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” In those micro-moments of clarity about my purpose, I summoned the temporary courage I needed to move my life in a new direction. In those times, I didn’t wait for permission to do what I felt needed to be done. But, until now, it’s never been a conscious strategy.
That’s because in my own mind, I am far from unapologetic. I go to battle daily with fear and uncertainty about who I am, what I’m allowed to ask for, and whether I’m doing anything right. My fear is twice as potent when it comes to pursuing a multipotentialite passion that makes me feel vulnerable or risks potential failure.
So what’s all that fear about?
I recently discovered that it might be because I, a middle-aged woman, still do not believe that I have permission: Permission to banish the ghosts of old and crusty gatekeepers that I failed to notice no longer have a hold on my life. Permission to confront my most demoralizing mistakes and then forgive myself for making them. And most of all, permission—finally!—to reap the full benefits of an authentic, multipotentialite life characterized by more beauty and far fewer apologies.
Is this as intriguing to you as it is to me? Let me put this theory to the test in my own life so that you can see if this is something you’d like to try, too.
Step 1: Acknowledge the influence of past gatekeepers
Growing up, I had a lot of hopes and dreams about multipotentialite passions I wanted to pursue. Like every other child, I also had no language, power, or resources to pursue them. As a child, I understood this as not having the “permission” to pursue my childhood-dream career as a Broadway/Disney singer/dancer/pediatrician/professor. As I grew up, the gatekeepers of those opportunities (parents, teachers, administrators, partners) changed. What didn’t change was the fact that I still didn’t feel I had permission.
Who was the first person in your life to withhold permission from you? What kinds of gatekeepers have you encountered since then? What was the impact of being denied permission to live a fully authentic multipotentialite life?
Step 2: Ask, compassionately, what if you’re in your own way?
As I aged, fewer people had power over my life and my decisions, but my sense of still not having permission only grew stronger. Without realizing it, I had transformed the gatekeepers of my childhood into a generalized sense of fear that (a) I wasn’t good or deserving enough to get what I wanted and/or (b) it was too late to start anyway. After years of being denied permission, I started colluding with my past gatekeepers to let fear keep me from going after what I really wanted. What if those people were right to keep me away from my multipotentialite dreams?
Do you still hear the voice of the first person in your life to withhold permission from you? Sometimes, very real gatekeepers are still working to keep the life you want just out of your grasp.
Now what about the flip-side of that, when the prolonged presence of multipotentialite dream-inhibitors has morphed into the more generalized fear I described? Long after a gatekeeper has ceased to have control over your decisions, they can be living rent-free in your head, in the form of fear. What does that fear call out in you? What might you be afraid of being named? How does that fear keep you in check? How does that fear keep you small?
Step 3: Accept the uncomfortable truth about who the gatekeeper is now
Fair warning: once I worked through these questions for myself, I didn’t really feel better. I felt depressingly guilty for having unknowingly held myself back. I had to forgive myself for personifying fear as coming from an external source, when it was really coming from within. All this time, I’d felt like the world was refusing to give me permission to live the life I wanted, when no one really had the power to do that anymore—except me.
As I processed these realizations, I went down the strange, sad road of naming my unanticipated detours on the road to figuring out how I wanted to live my authentic multipotentialite life:
- Asking my parents to pay for an expensive MCAT course, taking the MCAT (that my parents also paid for), and then refusing to apply for medical school because I feared I didn’t have a doctor’s confidence
- Dropping out of grad school that I’d only enrolled in to make up for not applying to medical school
- Investing in my dance career and taking private singing lessons, then only participating in two terrible auditions where I was cut in the first round before abandoning my Broadway/Disney dreams and going back to grad school
- Almost failing my final teacher training practicum because my methods were at odds with the way my supervisor expected me to teach
- Applying to grad school again…this time because I almost failed my teacher training
- Getting a PhD in Education, then only applying to one tenure-track professor job which I clearly did not get
When I look back on this list, I see how it could make me appear to be one of those unapologetic types.
In reality, I spent my life inventing increasingly elaborate ways to apologize to the people I was sure I had confused and disappointed. I thought I owed everyone a very good explanation for taking yet another risk when my current situation was perfectly good, normal, and stable. And if the explanation wasn’t good enough, I would try to shape my life into an even better apology-in-action:
Sorry that I got too scared to become a doctor. Did you know that people with PhDs are also called doctors? I will get one of those. Oops, sorry that I dropped out from the other program to become a doctor. I will follow in your footsteps and become a teacher. Oops, sorry that I did not become a teacher. I will try to become a doctor again…
Have you ever found yourself living inauthentically because you were stuck in an elaborate, never-ending apology-in-action? What might you need to face—and forgive—so that you can retire from the role of gatekeeper in your own life?
Step 4: Reap the benefits of moving from fear to forgiveness
A key part of being authentic, in my opinion, is to be as honest about the ways I’ve succeeded as I am about the ways I failed. So as tempting as it was to wallow in my own disgrace, I had to keep it moving. When I faced the times I had let fear keep me small, I realized something very important: Focusing on my list of failures—the ways that I had invited uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure into my life—disregarded the ways in which entertaining vulnerability had also allowed me to create beauty in this world.
It turns out that my fear was never able to stop me completely from taking risks, trying something new without knowing how it was going to turn out, and building my resilience after colossal embarrassment and failure. These steps were an unavoidable part of figuring out how I wanted to use the gifts I’ve been given to create beauty through living my version of an authentic multipotentialite life. Allowing myself to be vulnerable in this way isn’t something I need to apologize for.
Besides, it also ignored the simple truth that none of these people had actually asked me for an apology for living my multipotentialite life. They were confused, yes, and some were even disappointed. But they also got to witness the beauty that came next, and none of them hold the sad, strange times against me. In fact, a lot of them take pride in having witnessed the messy middle before I figured out where my multipotentialite journey was headed next.
So today, instead of composing more unasked-for apologies, I choose to move from fear to forgiveness. Forgiving myself for the ways that my multipotentialite life didn’t move in a straight, orderly line clears the slate so I can grant myself permission to create more beauty with less fear.
Are there some messy areas in your multipotentialite path that could use some of this permission, too? You’re in luck! It’s time to create your very own multipotentialite permission slip.
Use it to begin carving out a life for yourself where you know who you are, and to communicate what you are worth. Use it every time you feel afraid to ask for what you need—and, if what you need isn’t available, to summon up the courage to create it for yourself. A multipotentialite path can look unconventional. Here’s permission to forge a path that you can leave for others to follow in your footsteps, if they choose.
Download and fill in your permission slip, and share whatever parts of it you like in the comments below to inspire a fellow multipotentialite to lead a more unapologetic life.
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