As I listened to friends and colleagues discuss Whitney Houston’s life and premature death there were two recurring themes.
First, she was universally loved and admired for her amazing musical talent.
“Pure music royalty,” one person said.
“Her voice will never be forgotten,” said another.
And, “Her voice was the perfect combination of richness, intensity, and brilliance.”
They spoke of her loveable personality, her hometown roots, her devotion to Christ and her church, her work ethic and commitment to developing her musical gift.
Then they talked about her downward spiral, her anguished fight, meteoric rise and slow fall. I heard Billy Bush on “Access Hollywood” say how drugs are so “mean,” and how they took away everything from Whitney.
She had the perfect combination of beauty, talent, and greatness, and yet she wanted and needed more.
Even Whitney Houston, the star of stars, still wanted more.
She struggled with and a nagging feeling that she was not enough.
Like all of us, to one degree or another, she couldn’t hold on to a healthy image of herself.
She could only compare herself to some unrealistic standard of the woman she thought she should be, which was some exalted, perfected version of the woman she saw in the mirror.
With airbrushed images of flawless women all around us, it’s a daily battle not to compare ourselves to that standard, even when we know those images are false.
Can we learn from Whitney Houston to somehow separate what the world values from what we value?
I think about Demi Moore’s comment that she wonders if she’s lovable.
That, right there, is a tragedy. And, her quest to make herself more loveable by starving herself nearly to death is another example of a woman feeling like somehow she is not enough.
Some friends of Whitney Houston’s said that she gave everything to her audiences and then left the stage and felt empty and alone so she turned to drugs to numb her pain.
We hate seeing the Whitney Houstons of the world tumble to the depths right in front of us not only because it reminds us of the fragility of life but also because it reminds us that none of us are immune to crippling vulnerability.
Doug is studying coaching, learning how to help people move from one place in life to another. In his recent session of classes, he learned about the saboteur we all have in our heads, the voice that screams so loud sometimes that we can’t hear anything but its critical message telling us not to even bother trying to change because for this or that reason, we will never succeed.
Clearly Whitney’s saboteur got the best of her. Her life shows me that either we learn how to be sass the saboteurs or we fall prey to their deadly clutches.
I’ve been trying to identify my saboteur. I’ve decided it’s the voice that tells me I can’t succeed at my goals because I’ve tried and failed too many times. “Look at how many times you’ve failed. You might as well not even try.”
So how do we shut them down or at least tame them? According to Doug, the almost master coach, we first identify them, and then when they open their loud, negative voices we talk back to them, put them in their place, and refuse to believe what they tell us. He said if we try to ignore them, they get louder. So it’s best to acknowledge them, like a child throwing a temper tantrum, and then go about our business, trying to do what we set out to do in the first place. We know they’re there but like the screaming child in the grocery aisle, we see them, and then we walk around them, not giving them the negative attention they’re seeking. Pretty soon, they figure out that screaming tantrums don’t get them what they want. Sometimes they’re sneaky and figure out another way to get your attention, but sometimes they learn to be quiet.
In a way, identifying and quieting our carping saboteur is like embracing our vulnerability and then turning it into something that can work for us instead of against us.
I know it’s not that simple in the case of Whitney Houston but what if she had successfully stared down the saboteur that screamed at her as she walked off a stage? What if she found the inner strength to shout back at the saboteur before she got into drugs? Could it have changed the trajectory of her life?
Could it change the trajectory of mine?
Whitney’s horribly sad death makes me wonder why we feel so much pressure to hide or run from our vulnerabilities. Why can’t we accept that we are human beings, not perfect flawless, magazine cover people? We’re all imperfect so why are we so ashamed of that?
Somehow, we have to learn to deal with the stuff we hate about ourselves. We all have them. Why can’t we accept them with more grace and less struggle?
Probably because we’ve accepted that for some reason the saboteur’s voice knows what it’s talking about. We believe it. We give it credibility and figure it knows more than the quiet insecure voice that has learned to just be quiet in the din of the saboteur’s clamoring you-can’t-do-anything-right noise in our heads.
We need to practice talking back to our good-for-nothing saboteurs. The more we subdue them, the more we free ourselves to be ourselves with all our imperfections and vulnerabilities.
Maybe the secret is to see our weaknesses as simply part of what makes us unique and wonderful people. It’s hard to grasp that weaknesses or at least less-than perfect aren’t bad. They are normal. Even the people we think have everything, don’t.
Pretending we don’t have areas of weaknesses is what’s bad. It takes so much energy to pretend to be something we’re not.
Whether we’re running from the opinions of others or just running from our selves, the outcome is the same. I think Joan Didion said it best, “We run away to find ourselves, and find no one at home.”
At Whitney’s funeral, Kevin Costner said, “The Whitney I knew, despite her success and worldwide fame, still wondered: Am I good enough? Am I pretty enough? Will they like me? It was the burden that made her great.”
Whitney’s life and death teach me about embracing my burdens and taming my saboteur.
The lesson I take from Whitney Houston is to accept my vulnerability because it’s what makes me both real and human.
At some point, we have to learn that it’s not our weaknesses that do us in. It’s running from them, agonizing over them, and beating ourselves up because we’re not the quintessential people the world holds in such high esteem. Comparing ourselves to that made-up, fake version of people is the sure road to self-destruction.