This week, author, speaker, coach and also my friend, Dr. Alice Chan shares her personal journey on uncovering her authentic self in her article—Returning to Me. I saw a lot of myself in her story. Even though her journey through pain was different from mine, we were both looking for something—answers to two burning questions:
- Who am I?
- Why am I here?
Here’s her story:
Returning to Me
By Alice Chan, Ph.D.
It was a brilliant, sunny morning at a beautiful resort in Acapulco, Mexico. I was attending an important conference, where I was presenting my own research papers, as well as being the chairperson and discussant on research panels. The day before, I ran into the spouse of a former professor, who exclaimed, “Alice, your name is all over the conference program! We’re so proud of you!” Two months prior, I received a Young Faculty Excellence in Teaching Award from Cornell University. Together with my research awards, I was a bona fide rising academic star.
Yet, on that particular morning, as the warm Mexican sun saturated my hotel room, I couldn’t get out of bed. I felt trapped under a heavy blanket of impenetrable darkness. I was gripped by despair and hopelessness. A part of me knew that something was terribly wrong. After all, in the wake of a failed attempt to take my own life at age 21, I vowed to myself that I would never let myself sink so low that I’d want to die again. I had reached that critical moment on that morning. So, I willed myself to complete what I went to Acapulco to do, promising that, as soon as I flew home, I’d immediately seek help. And I did. A few days later, I ushered in the milestone birthday of 30 with my first-ever prescription of Zoloft.
What was the underlying culprit to my clinical depression at a time when I had all kinds of reasons to celebrate? I had no idea who I was and why I was ever born. I felt trapped in a life I had labored to create that felt truly empty to me. With each accolade I received for doing the right thing in my career, a piece of my heart and soul was painfully ripped away. But I felt powerless to stop the pain. If I stopped living that life, what would be the alternative other than death? I honestly didn’t have an answer.
That was June 2000. Why am I writing about it 12 years later? That’s because, even though I had tortured myself most of my life about why I took on this human body suit, I wasn’t ready to see the Truth until recently. I didn’t have the guts to ask the ultimate question: Stripping away the Ph.D., the career achievements and other objective evidence of success, what am I really worth? Until recently, I wasn’t ready to face the deepest fear of my entire human existence: Am I worth anything?
The Seed of Self-Denial
I was born into a traditional Chinese family at a time and in a place that planted the seed for my deeply ingrained self-belief of unworthiness as a girl. For most of my life, I unknowingly carried with me the buried wound of not feeling I had any inherent value, that I only existed so that other people could use me to fulfill their dreams. Feeling very little joy from living, I threw myself into doing and achieving in ways that I was never expected to do or achieve as a girl. Subconsciously, I believed that, by doing so, I’d finally feel worthy and happy. Before I was conscious of what I was really doing, I had created this thick façade of success behind which I hid—and attempted to shield the unvalued little girl within me from being hurt any further.
Perfecting that lifelong practice of self-protection, I had also inadvertently buried my Authentic Self and cut off the Truth that I was born whole and complete. Any question of worthiness was a learned judgment, first as an unsophisticated young girl trying to make sense of hurtful things done and said to me—and internalizing the wrong conclusions. These conclusions from early life conditioned the way I expected people to behave toward me in adult relationships—that I was unimportant and very dispensable. Of course, I always fulfilled my own prophecies, and the erroneous belief of unworthiness got reinforced again and again over the years. Subconsciously, the more unwanted and unworthy I felt as a woman, the more I leaned on being smart, educated and successful in my career to save me from completely falling apart. This had inadvertently become my coping strategy to mask the pain, fears and vulnerabilities I had learned not to allow myself to see and, more importantly, feel. Before long, I had become the crowned queen of self-denial.
Ready for the Truth
With years of spiritual study and practice, I’ve started to restore the connection to my Authentic Self. That’s why it wasn’t until recently that I was finally ready to ask myself the ultimate question of who I really am behind the thick veil of denial, a veil that was cleverly disguised as objective success.
So who am I? I am Pure Love. Whatever I do and whatever role I play in my professional and personal life is simply a container to wrap around that particular expression of Love I choose to channel. As a writer, speaker and coach currently, these professional labels only describe how I intend to express and share Love in capacities that make sense to those I’m called to serve. After all, in the process of returning to my Authentic Self, I’ve made it my personal mission in this life to help others who are painfully questioning who they are and why they are here—just like I did for many years. My professional titles do not define me and most certainly not what I’m worth. Whether I’m objectively successful or not in any of these capacities—now or ever—has zero bearing on the Truth of who I am and how specifically I’m here to express and share Love.
Reconnecting to the knowing that I am Pure Love in human form doesn’t mean I always remember that in every moment of every day. What it does mean is that I have rediscovered the Real Anchor to which to return when self-doubt seeps in; that is instead of seeking shelter behind achievements when I feel scared. Knowing my Truth as Pure Love also means being kind and accepting with my human limitations; that is instead of the harsh indictments I repeatedly afflicted on myself for many years that amounted to unconscious self-hate. It is in loving myself through the darkest and scariest human moments that I can love others and help them do the same through theirs. Being an expression of Pure Love also means that I vow to do everything I do from the core motivation of Love, not so that I will become important or indispensable to others, or revered as a success. Success is a product of Love to be enjoyed, not to be worn as an identity—or a shield to avoid feeling human.
I wasn’t ready to be reacquainted with my Truth 12 years ago as I am now. In human terms, it has been a long and bumpy road to return to Me, my Authentic Self. But, it’s also an intrinsic part of returning to Pure Love that I learn to see “long” and “bumpy” as what they are—only human judgments and nothing more.
Alice Chan, Ph.D., a former award-winning Cornell professor and seasoned business consultant, is an inspirational author, speaker and coach. After a near-death experience in December 2008, she reconnected to her mission in life, which is to help others rediscover their real selves and love their lives.
She is the author of REACH Your Dreams: Five Steps to be a Conscious Creator in Your Life. To learn more, please visit www.dralicechan.com.