By Alicia Keys
Alicia Keys' music is a staple of my early years. But I don't think I became fully conscious to her spirit until recently. I remember viewing the Red Table (Piano) Talk episode with Alicia and feeling so completely seen and empowered as she described herself as a recovering peacemaker and people pleaser who'd awakened to her needs and her power, learning to give herself tenderness along the way. Listening to her read these passages from her memoir stirred something in me.
"Oprah sat quietly for a moment before answering. 'For many years,' she said, 'I looked for someone outside of myself to dream up and create what only I could. I eventually realized that no one else could see your big picture. Only you know the journey you're on. Others can contribute, and you should definitely surround yourself with smart people who lift you higher and share in your vision, but the truth is, even with wise counsel only you know what your next step should be.'
All of my best decisions in life have come when I tuned into what felt like the best moves for me. I'd spent much of my life looking at others for answers, allowing their opinions to drown out my instincts. My default was to substitute others' desires for my own. In fact, I'd done that so much that it became a habit, one I'm still unlearning. I've needed a lot of practice at putting my own ideas and intuition at the forefront and Oprah was encouraging me to, again, rehearse. As I sat there across from her, taking in her wisdom, I realized where my anxiety was coming from. I was expecting someone else to fill a space that only I could stand in. I've read a lot about what it means to listen to your inner voice, that whisper in your gut that is always speaking.
On paper, I understood the idea, but in reality I was clearly still struggling. That afternoon Oprah articulated the lesson to me in a way that turned on the lights. 'You know what a resounding yes feels like,' she said. 'It's undeniable. Nothing's going to stop you from doing it, you're excited, you don't have to convince yourself to move forward. You simply know this is the right thing and that is what I live by.'
I've made a lot of decisions from my head, I've chosen to go in this direction or that one based on finances, or because something seems like a great opportunity, or because I don't want to hurt people's feelings or disappoint them, or because someone is pushing me towards an agenda that serves them. But when I've listened to my heart, when I've trusted what my spirit is telling me, that yes has always steered me right."
"Rather than basking in the glow of those miracles, I shrank. At certain moments, I even dumbed myself down or chose not to talk about the many blessings I received. I figured that if I shared my experience in its entirety, if I took the lid off my joy, it would push others away or make them feel small. As my career progressed, that tendency took another form in my interactions around the industry. 'I don't need much, nothing has to be too grand, I'm cool with my little piano, my bench and a cup of water.' In a sense, that was true. I'd never been an over-the-top kind of girl, but what's also true is this: some part of my spirit was always signing up for less because that is what I believed I deserved. For so many years I thought I was just being modest. I never wanted to come across as self-absorbed or as someone with a big head. It's how we women are brought up: don't ask for more, don't take credit, don't outshine others.
But there on the couch it hit me that my alleged modesty was just a disguise, a mask for a lack of self worth. It was a huge revelation. For me, that seed of worthlessness was planted in childhood. As well-intentioned as Craig was, and as much as he was dealing with in his own life, his absence impacted me in ways I'm still uncovering. It left a hole in me. When a child's parent is not there, even if the reasons are completely legitimate, that child interprets the absence exactly as I did. 'I don't matter enough for you to show up for me. I'm not important.' And in those early years, when I was forming my identity, I took on a belief parallel to that interpretation. 'If you don't value me, I must not be valuable.' A big part of my journey has been about changing that view, as well as getting clear on the other beliefs passed on to me by my parents.
"There are only two people you ever have to deal with," a life coach recently told me. "Your mother and father." As I deal with the man who gave me life, and as we work to create a new story, what I've discovered is this: neither Craig nor my beloved mom is responsible for where I go from here. I am. The price of admission for self-ownership is total responsibility and I can move forward only if I'm willing to ask myself the hard questions and examine my beliefs.
In life, we don't get what we ask for, we get what we believe. And what we believe about ourselves shows up in our energy. It's how we walk into a room, it's how we communicate through body language. 'I don't deserve to be here.' It's whether we sit up straight or hide out in the back of a meeting. At times, my own energy has been saying 'I'm cool with the bare minimum, don't give me more.' Without knowing it, I stunted my growth because I was scared to be magnificent and doubtful that I was. If you asked me at age 22 whether I thought I was worthy, I would've answered loud and proud "YES!" But it's possible to declare a woman's worth and yet not fully know your own. It's possible to say you want a grand life but then continue to play small. In many ways, I have played big. I've embraced experiences I never dreamed I'd have and I've risen to some enormous moments, but there's still more I can do, other ways for me to grow.
And as I keep relearning, it's okay to own a desire for more. In fact, it's how we honor those who have paved the way for our place at the table. 'You don't want modesty,' Maya Angelou once said. 'You want humility. Humility comes from inside out. It says someone was here before me, and I'm here because I've been paid for. I have something to do and I will do that because I'm paying for someone else who has yet to come.' When we dim our light, we don't do anyone a favor. It's a disservice because when you're in the presence of someone who knows his or her worth, like the extraordinary Maya did, you want to shine brighter. Self-honoring energy is contagious.
At the start of my career I thought I was such a novice, but at 19 I knew the one thing that is most important to know. I understood who I was at my center, I was closer to my truth than I'd become during my twenties. It's not that I wasn't authentic to some degree at every stage, it's just that out of a desire to please others or to squeeze into a mold, I made the outside world my point of reference. 'Will they like me if I dress or speak or walk or talk this way?' Finally, in my early 30s I stepped into my girl on fire energy. I moved back towards my essence."
Aforementioned Red Piano Talk. Alicia performs "Girl on Fire" at the end.
Also all of this, starting with a performance of "Show Me Love."