Those negative thoughts that sometimes stick in your head like a magnet on a refrigerator? There are ways to shove those aside.
Liz Wooten-Reschke walked onto a stage recently for a leadership presentation to an apropos song: the 1990s grunge hit “My Own Worst Enemy.”
The guitar riff got the crowd, about 200 businesswomen at the Key Women’s Leadership Forum Annual Summit, held at the Bryan Glazer Family JCC in south Tampa, amped for the start of the session. And Wooten-Reschke leaned right into the song. She is, she says, her own worst enemy. “As a recovering perfectionist, enough, for me, has never been enough. Some call me hardheaded, difficult, stubborn.”
Wooten-Reschke also is a former teacher and nonprofit professional, who, after being laid off in the 2008-09 recession, transformed herself into a TedX Speaker, a strategy expert, an author and an entrepreneur. In 2009 she founded Connect For More, a consulting firm that helps nonprofits on organizational and board development, training and retreat facilitation, coaching and mentoring, philanthropic advising and more.
Wooten-Reschke’s presentation at the summit — titled "Enough: Rumbling with Your Soundtracks & Surrendering to Your Circumstances" — focused on an important element of leadership: how to overcome negative self-perceptions, self-doubt and second-guessing. I think many leaders have these feelings pop up at various stages of their careers — a point Wooten-Reschke addressed. “I’m not an expert in resiliency,” Wooten-Reschke says. “I’m just a speaker who has had some life curveballs thrown at me. You will fail at this. It’s a practice that takes practice.”
Wooten-Reschke’s presentation focused on three books that have impacted her career and belief-system. The books include:
“Soundtracks: The Surprising Solution to Overthinking,” by Jon Acuff, a leadership speaker, consultant and author. Acuff implores readers to stop overthinking, that when your thoughts control you, it holds you back in your career and life. “The solution to overthinking isn't to stop thinking,” he writes. “The solution is running our brains with better soundtracks. Once we learn how to choose our soundtracks, thoughts become our best friend, propelling us toward our goals.”
Wooten-Reschke says when she was laid off 13 years ago, her thoughts — her soundtrack — were fixated on not being good enough. But she learned to not use internal judgments and assumptions as facts. “This really could’ve been a devastating thing when I lost my job,” Wooten-Reschke says, in a phone interview after her presentation, “but I turned it into an opportunity.”
Going back to her practice, practice theme, Wooten-Reschke says even with her second-act career successes, the soundtrack can go negative. “I still hear that voice,” she says. “My inner voice gets louder in times of stress, in times of crisis. And it’s always telling me I’m not enough.”
She battles that with a dose of reality, dumping all the “nasty things and ugliness” people tell themselves. “The heart work is the hardest work of all,” she says. “We are trying to build these muscles. It can really be a painful process.”
“We can’t expect a negative soundtrack to magically fix itself,” she adds.
“The Power of Surrender: Let Go and Energize Your Relationships, Success and Well-Being,” by Dr. Judith Orloff, a psychiatrist and speaker. This book and concept was, and remains, Wooten-Reschke’s highest hill to climb. “The idea of surrendering,” she says, “seems counterintuitive for a perfectionist.”
But the key to joy and contentment, Wooten-Reschke says, lies in surrendering to your circumstances — particularly the ones out of your control. “As a strong, southern, stubborn woman, I thought surrendering sounded like a terrible idea,” she says. “Sounds like defeat. Sounds like worst of all, failure.”
It wasn’t a failure. Instead, she says, surrendering was freeing. It has allowed to her adjust quickly, from the small daily things that happen to everyone to bigger strategic decisions regarding her business. Surrendering, she says, “isn’t about dropping boundaries. It’s about listening to the inner voice and saying enough.”
“It’s about saying ‘I may not get exactly what I expect but I will always get what I need,’” she adds. “It’s about knowing you don’t get to control the outcome but in the end you have to do what that famous Disney princess said and ‘let it go.’”
All about soul
“The Seat of the Soul,” by Gary Zukav, a former U.S. Army Special Forces Green Beret who served in Vietnam. The book explores the motivation behind why people make certain decisions. For Wooten-Reschke, the book was a guide to rewrite the soundtracks and narrative of her life — notably, without judgment.
Wooten-Reschke turned that mission into an exercise during her presentation at the leadership summit. The exercise was for each attendee to fill in the blank after “I should…” I should be richer, happier, a better sibling, etc.
At the end, after hearing about the trio of books, attendees were asked to revise the “I should” statements. Some read their “I should” aloud, and one, I think, nailed it. Her should went from “I should be less fearful,” to “I should take more risks and I should be more willing to make mistakes.” A succinct and subtle, yet significant modification of an inner soundtrack.
Wooten-Reschke, now in her early 40s, says she was in her mid-30s when she started to fight back against what had become a debilitating addiction to perfection. It was a breaking open moment, when she was helping taking care of her mother while pregnant and later raising two kids. “I was always driven in any field,” she says “It was a desire to feel worth, to feel seen.”
But in letting go, rewriting soundtracks and narratives and eschewing crippling self-judgment, Wooten-Reschke says she now relishes being a recovering perfectionist. It’s also why sharing her story is so important to her. “To become a better leader, to become a better entrepreneur, to become a better parent,” she says, “we all really need to do this.”