I had my first anxiety attack in the first grade. When my teacher returned my paper with See Me written in red ink instead of the usual Excellent, I felt such paralyzing fear that I almost couldn’t breathe.

It wasn’t until years later that I wondered: Why, at six years old, was I so terrified of failure? How did I acquire this near-primal need to be perfect?

Of course, the answer is complicated. Some of it goes back to my younger brother Willie’s autism diagnosis and how I took on the role of the Golden Child in our family. Some of it goes back to the cultic church of childhood where I learned to earn God’s favor. And perhaps some of it was with me from the get-go as the lesson I needed to learn in this life.

(For those of you who love to geek out on personality types as much as I do, I identify as a Myers-Briggs INFJ and an Enneagram 1 wing 9, a Perfectionist with Peacemaker wing.)

Doing My Best to Be Good

Growing up, I won awards and accolades and fought against failure with everything I had.

When Willie started having violent meltdowns, I held it together in public, then hyperventilated and cut myself in private.

When I got into a serious car accident on the way to high school, I insisted on going right to class afterward. (Trauma? What trauma? I’m fine!)

I showed up as a problem-solver, yet in my secret heart, I feared that I WAS the problem. What’s wrong with you? was the shaming mantra in my mind, appearing at the slightest sign of weakness.

I believed that trying harder would save me, when in truth it kept me stuck. I tried to reason my way out of deep fear, and it simply didn’t work.

The thing that did help – the thing that saved me, really – was learning to bring love to the parts of myself that were hurting and terrified.

The Lifelines

Fortunately, I had true friends to show me how to do that.

There was the one who sat with me after my first breakup, holding space and refusing to leave until I let myself cry. There was the L’Arche community where I lived alongside adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. There, I learned how to love in vulnerability, not just in strength. I wrote my first book, met my husband Jonathan, and risked reaching out.

And then there was the blizzard that hit our lives, the howling snow where I was lost and the love that led me home.

What I Do Now

Now, I’m honored to help kindred spirits to stop doing what they’re “supposed to” do and start doing what they’re meant to do. Through writing, speaking, and coaching, I walk with them toward their true selves: fully alive, fully human.

In that spirit, I’m the author of You Don’t Owe Anyone: Free Yourself from the Weight of Expectations (Broadleaf Books, 2021). You Don’t Owe Anyone has sold over 5000 copies, been translated into three languages, and was recommended in Publishers Weekly.

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