Fact Checking Our Mental Storywriting
Early in my career, I learned a pretty big lesson about checking in with the stories we tell ourselves.
My story started in 2006 when I was interviewing for an in-house coach and Head of Organizational Development job. When I was hired, one of the things I really wanted as a single mom was flexibility in my schedule. I was told that because my position was new, the flexibility and money would come if I were as good as I said.
What I told myself upon hearing that was, All right, I’ll bet on my own horse any day of the week. I’m going to kill it. Then I’ll get the money and the flex time. So I came in, put my head down, and started cranking out work.
The One-Year Performance Review
The man who hired me was an amazing leader, very generous and kind, giving (mostly) positive and always thoughtful feedback that kept me working at my best. I loved it, but…. I sat there waiting. Um, when will you show me the money? I thought. I’m waiting for the flex time because you said it would come if I did the work. I’m doing great work. Can’t you see?
But it didn’t come. I walked out of his office after my one-year performance review with nothing more than I had when I walked in. I guess I wasn’t good enough, I thought. I just haven’t proven myself enough. I need to do more!
So I worked even harder to prove myself over the next six months. I was determined to see the company win a certain national HR award for our development programs—and we did! Of course, I’m going to get a raise now, right? But no. No raise.
Now, to be honest, I was getting incredibly frustrated. I experienced a spectrum of negative emotions but kept plugging away. But eighteen months from my hire date, I was way past irritated. I was angry.
I started saying things to myself like: What if I’ve made a big mistake in coming here? Or worse, what if I’m really just not good enough?
At one point, I nearly slipped into resignation, where nothing really mattered anymore. I’m never going to get a raise. I’m never moving up in this company.
The Fact Check
The first peer group I created in 2007 was a cohort of working mothers just like me because, honestly, that was where I felt I needed the most support. We had mothers across the generations, with children in kindergarten (like mine), middle school, high school, and even college. We had married moms and single moms, new moms and seasoned ones.
We quickly became a part of a circle of contribution, celebrating each other’s successes, supporting one another in our challenges, and giving each member space to practice asking for help. You’ve undoubtedly heard the expression, “Two heads are better than one.”
This universal truth describes in the simplest terms how collective thinking can produce greater results than any one individual’s thought or idea. When our individual and unique perspectives work in harmony with others, we get collective engagement, empowerment, and change.
We learn that everyone, especially those we may not have expected, has something to contribute because each voice carries with it a lifetime of experience, education, wisdom, and insights.
During one of our group gatherings, everything came to a head. I started saying terrible things like, ‘My boss is not a man of his word. We had a deal, but he didn’t live up to it. I can’t believe I closed down my own coaching company to work for him.”
As I explained to the women in my PEER group why I wasn’t getting what I thought I deserved, a more seasoned mom in the group asked a simple but courageous question: “What would it look like to ask your boss for what you want?”
Looking back now as a coach, it was an absolutely brilliant question, but did I ever get defensive?
Why should I have to ask for a raise? I thought. We had a deal! He clearly said that when I delivered results, I would get what I wanted. I just needed to prove it to him.
Since then, I’ve learned that when I feel defensive, it’s time to get curious about what’s underneath it. For me, strong emotions mean there is some important truth worth exploring.
After I calmed down and thought about her question, I realized she was right. I hadn’t asked.
When I finally did ask him about it, he looked confused. In fact, he told me he didn’t even remember the conversation! He gazed at me earnestly and said, “Christy, why haven’t you brought this up over the last 18 months? How long have you been carrying this?”
I had been ready to quit. I was prepared to leave behind the best leader I’ve ever had the privilege to work for—in my entire career to this day—and go someplace else and start over. But with an eleven-minute authentic conversation, I fact-checked my own story.
I felt like the story had me tangled in it, but I was the script’s author.
Here I was, in full-on resentment mode, but I was writing a story my manager was unaware of. Challenging the script only happened because a member of my peer group served as the mirror and asked me a great coaching question. With her question, she opened my eyes and helped me become an observer of myself.
And so, I challenged the script by rewriting the story I told myself.
My story. My choices. My ending to write.
I walked out of his office with six flex hours a week and a 25% raise! He gave me everything I wanted and more.
But I had to ask.
I had spent countless hours over the course of more than a year obsessing about proving myself and brooding over the situation. I’m embarrassed about the things I said about this man who is such an amazing leader. I’m equally embarrassed about the terrible things I thought about myself in my own doubts. How on earth could I get sucked into such a negative spiral?
The scripted conversations we have in our minds are entirely too common, and it’s time to stop, fact-check the story, and flip our scripts. Interested in learning more about how group coaching can build your pathway to excellence? Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to find the best solution for your team!