‘Don’t be a hard rock when you really are a gem’
Ms. Lauryn Hill 1998.
Do you recognise this lyric? I guess some of you will be too young to recall the 1998 album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. That is too bad. Go listen to it.
If you happened to live in Folkestone, Kent, England circa 2001 you probably heard this album from the young woman blasting (or as I liked to think ‘educating’) the neighbourhood from her Volkswagen Golf. All summer.
I love this lyric. From 2001 to 2019 it has followed me, popping up in my head for no apparent reason and sometimes for very good reason.
It’s become one of my personal mantras. It doesn’t have the grandiosity of song title or album cover. Far from it. It quietly and subtly lays hidden in one of Lauryn’s song (10 points to anyone who can name the song) but its wisdom echo’s a truth to every young person finding themselves. And every not-so-young person still on that mission. For me it sums up our misplaced potential in life.
People are so preoccupied with seeking certainty and maintaining their comfort zone that playing small has become an unconscious state of being.
Sometimes it’s hard to recognise the negative self-talk, sabotaging habits, judgement and online distractions all of which contract and diminish our space in this world. Yet comfort zones come with a cost. For some the price of unfulfilled potential begins to weigh heavy.
In contrast, deep within us lies the essence of life, the sweetest spot in the universe, our collective ultimate truth. And this light is so bright it scares the hell out of us.
So with the utmost respect to Ms. Lauryn Hill, I shall now explain what could be a totally misconstrued interpretation of her words of wisdom. But here goes:
‘Don’t be a hard rock…’
Hard rock indeed. How can’t you be a hard rock? Our world isn’t designed for softness. Feminine energy, the beautiful grace that brings so much sensibility into the world, has been suppressed for so long it still isn’t fully acknowledged as an essential element of the Yin and Yang balance in the workplace, household, childhood or politics. (Just to be clear this isn’t about gender equality, men, women, boys and girls both have feminine energy.)
In a masculine dominated world we are taught from an early age to work hard.
Hustle. Win. Repeat.
And most importantly, NEVER NEVER GIVE UP.
Being a hard rock means results. You toughen up. You suck it up. You build resilience, resistance and keep fighting another day.
All great advice.
Except some of us aren’t hard rocks. We aren’t machines with the ability to just keep going, keep chipping away, digging deeper and pushing through all sorts of pain. Our heart rules our head and we get different results than originally planned. Our emotions run high and we are more adept at reading a room than a spreadsheet.
And sometimes, that deems us less successful.
Inevitably a failure?
(And of course the over self-analysis that leads to the blanket of shame vainly soothing the night sweats of regret).
So we vow to change, to fit in and we build a hard rock around that soft centre for protection.
‘..when you really are a gem.’
I am not a natural hard rock. And neither are the beautiful souls that come through my coaching programs.
They are gems.
Stunning gems who have been too scared to leave the protection of their rock for years. That doesn’t necessarily mean they haven’t built a fantastic life for themselves. On paper all appears perfect. Except it’s not. Far from it.
It goes without saying we are all gems, no matter how thick our rock there is always a divine light waiting for permission to shine.
For those of us with little rock life may seem terribly harsh. The world is dominated by materialism, where your worth is based on your financial wealth, education status, lack of time, social media ‘likes’ or whatever other means of separation the ego wishes to bestow.
With so many ways to strip the essence of your worth it is far easier and safer to live small then play big. Vulnerability is painful and once struck we can carry those scars for life.
I have been terrified of my gem-like sparkle for a very long time. Not because I doubted it. I am a child of the universe, just like you, my sparkle is no different to yours, we all sparkle. We are all special and at the same time not special. But I was scared of the pain that comes with showing up in the world with no amour. I’m not hard like a rock but I needed rock protection. So I became an inauthentic rock.
Many years ago I remember an incident on the London underground. I was 18 and a thirtysomething year old woman was sat opposite me on the tube.She was sobbing her heart out. Her distress increased with every station until I could no longer endure her tear stained face. I must have debated handing her a tissue from Putney to Paddington station, but I finally plucked up the courage to intrude on her private pain and passed over a tissue. My witness of human suffering was too much to bear as I began to resonate with her pain. I hoped she took my gesture as a gift of compassion.
Well, little naïve me didn’t really know the rules around rocks and gems. This lady cut me down with a knife. Then there who two women crying on the District line.
Of course she didn’t really knife me physically but emotionally I was struck down.
I desperately tried to rationalised my thoughts and suppress the pain of rejection but my emotions betrayed me. I was overwhelmed and looked totally ridiculous. How could my act of kindness be so bitterly scorned. What was wrong with showing compassion? Why is it bad to want to help?
And worse, this poor woman, who had only wanted to suffer in private on her way to work had me publically acknowledge she was crying. In the land of ‘stiff upper lip’ this is not the done thing.
And so grew another layer of rock. Another reason to dim my light and stop being me.
Being highly sensitive means you feel. You feel everything. It’s like there is no filter between you and the outside world. You may have great empathy, intuition, listening skill and connection to others. But you probably also excessively dwell on things that have happened to those you love, those you know and the strangers in the news. You feel terrible for the pain in the world and the pain becomes your own.
Being sensitive means you walk about the earth with a hyper vigilance for impending doom. You feel EVERY LITTLE THING. And just because something isn’t physically painful doesn’t mean the emotional pain won’t sting, bruise or take over every cell of our body.
Unsurprisingly over time we may lose our authenticity. We look for the safer option rather than daring to be true to ourselves. It’s easier to handle our own disappointment than that of others.
“It’s not a big deal’ we self soothe ‘it’s too painful and anyway, what would others think?’.
In the short-term being a rock works. No doubt about it. But long-term suppression of who we truly are is like holding up a huge mask. It’s eventually either going to make your arm ache or in time this mask will weather until one day you won’t even recognise it’s reflection.
I have seen what happens when we don’t let our light shine. The sparkle never totally extinguishes but anxiety and depression do a good job of trying to blow it out.
Luckily it’s never too late to change.
Unfortunately there isn’t a magic formula to do the trick. I could list out the five steps to greater authenticity in your life but seriously, do you honestly think I am the expert in your life?
I would never take that sovereignty away from you. And neither should you let me.
You are the expert in your life, only you can give yourself permission to shine. And only you can take a jackhammer and drill all that unnecessary rock from your beautiful self.
I am here to help. Along with many other professionals.
But change doesn’t start or end with me. For you there is only one decision to make.
Are you ready to shine?
For me, my journey has involved seeking out experts to show me how to safely navigate my sensitive nature and live from my authentic voice. I honour my intuition and trust myself. Being highly sensitive means I can smell out inauthenticity a mile off. This is useful in an age of oversubscribed experts. I only listen to those I trust and learn from those who are students as well as teachers. I am dedicated to my truth and uncovering both the tarnished and prettier parts to my gem.
And how do you stop the hard rock?
You let things go.
Imagine a rock. A rough surface capable of trapping all sorts of debris.
Now imagine a gem. A smooth, polished surface incapable of trapping debris.
We must let things slide off. Don’t mistake this as easy. Our egos want to trap all sorts of debris to keep the negative stories playing. Constant vigilance means not allowing the mind to wander far from the present moment. For only in the present moment do we have the power to change who we are.
I have never met a client who didn’t want to put down the weight of their rock. It takes courage to return to our authentic path. And even more courage to stand up to ourselves and demand our light shine bright.
When we give ourselves permission to shine we automatically start to play big in the world. How can we not? The world is our playground. It’s not here forever and now is our time. Light dispels darkness. By standing strong in our light we raise the expectation for others to join us. Gems attract gems.
Finally, as Ms. Lauryn Hill also stated ‘Lauryn is only human, don’t think I haven’t been in the same predicament.’
Being a gem isn’t easy. Shining doesn’t mean perfection. Sometimes we effortlessly stand tall and sometimes we fall flat on our face. Lauryn, despite all her goddess prowess is still human.
And so am I.