A heated discussion at work this week about how "African-Americans are better at basketball than everyone else in the world” (I was the one getting mad at how wrong this is on so many levels...) put the phenomenon of stereotypes into my awareness. It has driven me to begin to question many of the stories or stereotypes that exist in my life which could be holding me back from achieving everything I want to and I’ve been amazed at just how many there are...
Humans are analytical creatures and to help us make sense of the big confusing world out there we develop stories about what it means to be who we are and opinions about the way the world and the people in it 'work' (this is why we organise the billions of people into stereotyped ‘categories’) - it helps us feel safe if we think we can predict future outcomes based on these stories and opinions – it is clearly a fear vs safety mechanism.
But as much as these stories and opinions help us feel in control and safe, on another level they are creating destructive limiting belief systems that keep us in ‘Standard Operating Procedure' mode – within which we actually have little to no control over our actions and reactions.
Let me give you an example. For the last 40 years feminism has been a dirty word. The stereotype of what it meant for a woman to be a feminist has seriously delayed a global revolution at the time when it was beginning to gain momentum.
The stories that were told about the women behind the revolution has led us all to form the opinion that feminists are man-haters, butch, gay, aggressive, and they don’t wear bras… We therefore subconsciously told ourselves that it was not attractive or desirable to be feminist... Many women hold back, instead of defending their right to equality, even to the continued detriment of our own sense of worth. When watching the UN speech from Emma Watson, I was so impressed to hear her speak of the actual definition of what feminism is: “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities” not men vs women, but women = men…. It completely redefined what it meant to be feminist for a whole generation of youth.
Fortunately we are lucky to exist at a time where we can witness the transformation of a major stereotype - there is a big movement working to redefine in society's eyes what it means to be a girl and to be feminist – and it means breaking down those stories and stereotypes internationally to get this important topic back into the hearts and minds of people - without fear or prejudice.
But it is not only the stories we believe on a global scale that affect our independent opinions and behaviours. There are stories and stereotypes that exist in our subconscious that were sparked by even the smallest of events in our own world… These are what we need to breakdown to give us the freedom to pursue life relentlessly and stretch beyond our limiting beliefs.
In the spirit of self-awareness, I analysed the stories I was telling myself about who I am and the opinions & stereotypes that existed around what it 'meant' to be me. There are the obvious ones, but then so many small hidden ones that accumulate to ‘prove’ that I am not able to take the leap and pursue my Big Scary Goals, through these stories and opinions I had lost my free will.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the talk I gave at RYPL Circuit Breaker Event in February - 'Altering Reality’. It is based on the theory that we create a restricted reality in our lives by believing Stories, Opinions and Perspectives about ourselves and the way the world works. These keep us stuck in a repetitive cycle of 'Standard Operating Procedures', like a robot following a pre-programmed destiny, instead of the free-willed creative human being we are at our core.
To de-program ourselves we need to begin to question what are these Stories, Opinions and Perspectives we have in our lives - and begin to become aware of how they are holding us back.
Discovering where they come up and having the curiosity to question - "is this actually true for me, is this a fact, or is it a story?" - gives us freedom of choice and the opportunity to prove to ourselves that the Stories and Opinions are not true right now in this moment. By becoming aware of the destruction they have on our lives, we can exercise the strength and free-will to overcome them.
So, in retrospect, one of the many stories that have held me back is I belong to a country that suffers from a severe case of Tall Poppy Syndrome. But it is in our weakness that we find our strength, and in our kryptonite that we discover our true power. The fact is that there are few women in Australia that have made a success in the industries I love - but it is not because we cannot - it is because we fear the hater-backlash when we prove to the nation that we can.