Learn about the story behind Shaped By WORD
THE REASON FOR BEING
Do you remember ever playing the old and popular children’s game called “hide and seek”? I love that game so much that I played it for most of my life but with a twist.
I remember, as a seeker, I would close my eyes and, at the top of my voice, count up to 100 while my friends would scamper to look for the best hiding place. I would intently listen to their footsteps while they run around. After counting, I would shout, “Ready or not, here I come!” to warn them that I’m now on the hunt for them. As a child, I found it challenging to balance looking for my friends and keeping an eye on the home base. I wanted to protect the home base more than anything, but I had to look for my friends. Unfortunately, as soon as I take my eyes off the home base, my friends would run back to it to avoid getting tagged as the next seeker. I would run after them as fast as I can, but they would end up getting to the base first.
The best part of the game, for me, is the hiding. I would frantically search for the best place to hide. If we are playing inside the house, I will hide inside the closet, under the table or the bed, behind the couch,inside the toilet or the storeroom. I would even try to squeeze into a small space if needed. Once I have seen the perfect place I would keep still and listen for the footsteps of the seeker. I would not dare take a peek for fear that I would get discovered. But then I would hear my friends shouting and laughing; and curious, I would take a look and end up getting caught.
I also like the game because it is inclusive. Everyone can join, as there is no limit to the number of players. The many the merrier, right? You can also play it with people of all ages. I’ve seen parents play the game with their children. Some of my friend’s older siblings would sometimes join our game. There is also no time limit. The game would last for as long as one person remains in hiding. But whenever we get impatient, my friends and I would play a joke on the last remaining hider. We would make it look as if the game is over just to coax the last person to come out.
While I abandoned playing with dolls when I became an adult, I never outgrew the hide and seek game. I continued to play it as an adult but with a twist. I played it with people who did not know that they are playing the game with me. In my adult version of the game, I never played the seeker. Why? I don’t like being the center of attention. If you are the seeker, everyone’s focus is on you. The hiders and bystanders are watching every move you make trying to guess what you would do and who you will catch. And so, in my adult version of the game, I am the hider, and I hid really well.
Every now and then, I would stick my head out of my hiding place out of curiosity or because I get coaxed out by my unsuspecting playmates. And of course, I get found out. When I played the game as a child, I would stop playing the game when I get caught. I would wait until all the hiders have been found so we could start playing the game again. In my adult version of the game, I continued to hide and pretend that I have not been caught when I have. Why? Because I have settled into my hiding place. I found my hiding place to be a safe place, a place of refuge. There, nobody would judge me. There, I could be me, or so I thought. And so, I settled in my hiding place. But you know what the problem is when you are in hiding? You begin to hide even to yourself. You start to hide who you are. I buried the real me in the darkness of my hiding place.
My hiding place was a façade that I built around me. I was hiding behind the façade of someone who is a perfectionist, in control, and secure. I hid behind being good at organizing, multi-tasking, and of following orders to a T. But of course, I am not perfect nor in control. I would get angry when things don’t work out the way I want it to. I would stress out when people change my plans midway as I would not be able to predict the outcome or control intervening factors. I hid behind the facade so well that people had no idea what was going on inside. I would not express my opinion but instead just keep quiet, smile, and agree even though I didn’t want to. In the comfort of my room with no one around, I would replay on my head why things did not work out or why things have to be changed and then blame and criticize myself for it. I would tell myself that I should have known better or I should have worked harder. So, I worked on doing better and doing more even taking on responsibilities and burdens that are not mine to carry.
“Why? Why, would you do that to yourself?” you may ask. Because I believed that I was not good enough. It was a belief that I formed based on what people said about me. People’s disapproval only confirmed my self-doubt. More often than not, they would put up a wall whenever I don’t meet their expectations just realizing later that it was me not them who put up the wall. And so I would make up for my inadequacy by working harder to gain their approval.
One particular incident had the most significant impact in shaping who I am. I once overheard someone talking about me with another person on the phone. It was one of those conversations that you wished you never heard. As I walked into our shared room, I overheard that person say, “What do you expect from Jenna? She is inarticulate.” I suddenly stopped on my track in shock. An unpleasant feeling started to rise within me as that person continued to talk. I don’t remember what else was said after that. I was too upset about what I overheard. Maybe if it were someone else who said it, I would not have been as shaken and demoralized as I was. But that person was someone I not only held in high regard but also someone I considered as my mentor. I wanted to be like that person. Unable to speak, I pulled my chair noisily to let that person know that I’m already in the room. You would think that the conversation would come to a halt, but it did not. As that person continued to talk about me, I felt the pounding of my heart get stronger and stronger that I almost burst into tears. You know what hurts most? That person later acted as if nothing happened.
I should have confronted that person, right? I wish I did, but I didn’t. I was young and struggling with low self-esteem. I just couldn’t find the courage to confront someone of high stature. So I did what I thought was best. I buried the hurt, acted as if nothing happened, and moved on. But I did not move on. The words of that person lodged itself deep into the crevices of my mind causing any remaining self-confidence to disintegrate. For someone who already sees herself as someone who is not good enough, those words were the final nail in the coffin.
I owned those words. I began to see myself the way that person saw me, and more. I am inarticulate. I am incoherent. I am irrational. I am unintelligible. I am unreasonable. I am disorganized. I am incomprehensible. I am insecure. I am not confident. Growing up, my parents and their friends would tell me that I am intelligent, although my grades would say to me otherwise, and analytical as my father. I guess they equate intelligence with something else like being savvy, having good judgment, perception or discernment, or being agile. I, on the other hand, related intelligence with good grades. My parents’ words became muffled as I began to confess and declare my inadequacy. Until finally, the deafening sound of “I am not good enough” shouted victory! I am now forever locked in the place I was hiding in never to be seen nor heard of. But it was not to be so, my friend.
I am reminded of what Yehuda Berg, an international speaker and author once said:*
“Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.”
I don’t think we fully understand that words have the power to kill or give life. I don’t think we know the responsibility of being given such power. Because if we do, we will not utter hurtful words in jest or in anger. We will be careful with our words and what we are saying. We will use the force constructively and purposefully use words that are motivating, uplifting, encouraging, healing, comforting, and inspiring.
You see, when words are spoken, they take space in our hearts and minds, and its effect is lasting. They influence our beliefs, perceptions, behavior, and attitude and affect our life choices. My life is a testament to the power of words. I shaped my convictions, opinions, actions, and perspectives based on what people said about me. Believing that I am not good enough, I tried to make up for the inadequacy. I conditioned myself that I needed to do more and be better. I worked on being articulate, coherent, rational, intelligent, reasonable, organized, comprehensive, and understandable. I became a perfectionist, and I tried to control everything to my own detriment. I didn’t share my opinion about issues for fear of being rejected or laughed at because I am unable to articulate my thoughts. I kept quiet even when I know I have something to say. I did not talk unless I’m spoken to. Years after that incident, I still found myself saying that I need to explain harder to be understood.
As I grew older and gained more confidence, I started to see a glimpse of what I could become, and I liked what I saw. So I began to slowly claw my way out of my hiding place. I started to break down the wall one brick at a time. It was an intense and uphill battle as I try to get free from the stronghold of not being good enough. I would come out, but whenever I get hurt, I retreat. It was a never-ending cycle. The words of that person were like a dark cloud hanging over my head.
Twenty years or so after that incident, I found myself working, of all place, in one of the best universities in Australia. Now, for someone who thought that she is inarticulate and not intelligent enough, working in a university was daunting. My substantial experience of traveling and working overseas, engaging with people from different cultural background, and meeting prominent political personalities like the former Presidents of the Philippines and even a real princess paled in comparison to what I was about to experience. It was in that environment where intelligence reigns supreme that I had my breakthrough.
One of my key responsibilities as Organizational Development Consultant is to support the change initiatives of the university by conducting orientation sessions and providing change management interventions. One assignment had me on my toes due to the mixed response to a particular change. In addition, I saw how a group of professors vilified my colleague in one of the orientation sessions. My thought at that time was these people would eat me alive! If they could badly treat someone who is one of them, what more with me! I’m new to the university, younger than the professors, and an Asian while my colleague was one of their peers, older, and a Caucasian. The words that were spoken to me twenty years ago by that person suddenly came like a raging flood shaking my confidence.
While the orientation with other faculties went without a hitch, there was one particular faculty that I became very anxious about. I have been warned that the professors in that faculty are notorious for being difficult, and they were. After the workshop, the dean of the faculty approached me to my dismay. I was already mentally exhausted and emotionally spent having worked myself out the night before preparing for the session while battling with my insecurities. Fearful of what the dean would say, I found myself putting the wall up to protect myself. I put on a brave face, smiled at the dean, and mentally prepared myself for a dressing down. What happened next was so unexpected that I burst into tears after the encounter. Instead of being reprimanded, the dean commended me for being articulate, coherent, and concise in my presentation and explanation. The dean also noted my confidence in handling such a difficult group. The unexpected praise was followed by more compliments from the other professors that I was too dazed to even remember. When everyone has left and unable to hold my emotions any longer, I burst into tears. And as I sob, I felt the claw of the words that were spoken over 20 years ago lose its hold on my life. I am finally free. The dean saw who I am. I saw who I really am.
My story is but one of the many stories that I have come to hear about the power of words. In all of these, I learned that words could make or break a person. I learned to watch my words and what I am saying. I learned to choose what I listen to and who would speak into my life. I am now surrounded by people who believe in me and continue to speak words of healing and hope in my life. They are not afraid to pull me in line whenever I feel like retreating. I have given them the power to teach, rebuke, and correct me because I trust them and know that they only want the best for me.
Friend, shaping our world with the right word doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time. Healing takes time. It requires changing our mindset and replacing limiting beliefs with beliefs that would help us grow. It involves forgetting the past and forgiving ourselves and those who have hurt us. It is during this healing journey that I came across the “Our Deepest Fear” reflection of Marianne Williamson from her book A Return to Love,** which spoke to the deep cry of my heart.
“Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Discovering who I am and my purpose for living, gave me the courage to step out. I know who I am. I am articulate, coherent, rational, intelligent, smart, reasonable, organized, comprehensive, understandable, secure and confident. I am that and more. I am beautiful, generous, accepted, approved, valuable, and most of all, I am loved. I am not just good enough. I am more than good enough. I am who I am not because I worked on it to prove that person wrong. I am who I am because that was how I was created. It was already in me, and I needed a new set of seekers, who saw who I really am, to patiently draw out who I really am. I am determined to shrink back no longer nor cower in fear nor play small. I am committed to letting my light shine. I am not saying that I have become the woman I have been called to be. Far from it. But I can honestly say that I am becoming that woman. It is a continuing journey of becoming as I’m discovering that there is more to me.
Looking at my life experiences, I have resolved to use my voice and my words to speak life into people, to inspire, motivate and encourage them, and to bring hope. I started Shaped by WORD for this very reason. I hope that my stories and other stories that you would find on this site would encourage you to liberate yourself from your own fear. If you believe you may have a condition or need someone to help you process life’s challenges, please seek professional care or talk to someone that you can trust. There is no shame in it. I did.
The WORD continues to shape me. Join me on this journey of shaping our world with the right word.
Your life travel companion,