My ChoiceCenter Experience
About a month ago, I posted the following status update on my Facebook page
I had no idea I’d get such an incredible response and so many votes of support. I had private conversations with almost 40 people who felt compelled to respond to my status update and hear about the program. Because so many people related to what I said and are looking for a way to change their lives, I am passionate about continuing to share about my experience. It’s taken me this long to do so in a long, written blog, because I have been scared to be honest and vulnerable for fear of being judged. Haha, I’ve actually written at least 12 versions of this blog post. But the truth is, I cannot and should not try to control how people feel about me. I can only be true to myself. So, here we go! :)
The name of the program is called ChoiceCenter. It is an experiential training in emotional intelligence and leadership. That may sound like mumbo jumbo to you, and it did to me as well before I went, so let me break it down…
Experiential training — There are lots of ways to learn and some are more effective than others. For example, we could read about how to ride a bike or read about how to play poker, but DOING IT and EXPERIENCING IT is how we really learn at a deep level. If I didn’t ride a bike or play poker from now until I was 60, I would most likely be able to remember pretty quickly (and I’d 5b jam light in some kid’s face) :) So the class is all about learning the following two concepts through experiencing it.
Emotional intelligence (EQ) —
There are five components to Emotional Intelligence:
1) self-awareness (understanding of your own moods, emotions and drive and how they impact others)
2) self-regulation (thinking before you respond, and suspending judgment of others and yourself)
3) motivation (developing a passion for what you do that transcends money and status, and pursuing goals with energy and persistence)
4) empathy (understanding the emotions of others)
5) social skills (the ability to develop rapport and intimacy to create and manage relationships)
As an example, one of the many aspects of my life that I came to an understanding with is my anxiety. About this, I was emotionally UNintelligent. As I mentioned in the Facebook post, I had become lost in my own anxiety. I had no idea of the affect it had on people around me and how it totally changed they way I responded to circumstances. It negatively affected all areas of my life.
Leadership — The skills of a leader don’t just apply to career and work-life, but it also translates to personal and family life as well. I learned to take charge and be the source of change. That means taking responsibility! If I don’t have something in my life that I want, it’s because of ME. That’s it. No blaming my job, my lack of time, my genetics, my circumstances. If I want a six-pack, a passionate marriage, my own business, or a poker tournament win, it's up to ME.
I, like many, had some skepticism about the class. My good friends, Jane Villafuerte and Daniel Negreanu raved about it with such energy, it kind of scared me. I couldn't deny though they were achieving tangible results — Jane was getting promotions and Daniel was crushing poker again. Not only that, but I found myself inspired and happy every time I was around them. When they suggested I go, I blew them off pretty quickly. I didn’t think I “needed” it and I worried what would people think if they knew I thought I needed help.
Over the next few months, my husband and I toyed with the idea of him trying the program. He’d been struggling with feelings of depression and loss of motivation and connection. Honestly, at the time, I didn’t understand just how severe it was. But because we felt like we couldn’t grasp exactly how Choice would help, the fear of wasting the time and money stopped us from committing.
In December, I began going through the most difficult time of my life. There were times when I actually didn’t know how I’d survive. I had never felt more powerless.
I was an emotional disaster — a blubbering fool one minute, a cold zombie the next. I couldn’t eat, which, for those who know me well, will tell you that something must be seriously f***ed up if I pass up food. Instead, I nourished my already stressed body with a diet of wine and xanax (Thank you to all the seasons of Real Housewives for making that combo totally socially acceptable). I was in the eye of the storm during the PCA —hence, the dirty smoker, hooker voice in my videos.
Only a handful of people knew the situation, but even less actually knew how I felt. I closed off completely from everyone else, including my family. Sure, I was strong through it all, but in the times I wasn’t, I wouldn’t let anyone see out of fear… Well, that is unless I was REALLY drunk.
In one of those drunk moments, I confided in Jane. We were at the Bank Nightclub for a dear friend’s birthday party —and in the bathroom… and I’m pretty sure I was barefoot. So yeah, classy moment there :) But she just listened with patience and love. Then, she suggested Choice again. I took a few more shots and ended up literally punting a sandwich and throwing food. Nice.
Time passed, but I wasn’t healing. Jane continued to contact me and asked me to go to Choice. It honestly kinda freaked me out. Why does she want me to go so bad? What does she get out of it? Why is she so damn excited about a workshop?
I decided to do some research. I came across Brian Micon’s scathing blog post about Choice and it scared the bejeezus out of me. I was sure I didn’t want to go anymore until I read a few more posts, including Nick Binger’s post on 2+2. It was articulate, seemingly unbiased, and from an actual first-hand experience rather than speculation. I spoke to Daniel and Jane a few more times and somehow, someway, perhaps out of desperation, Andrew and I both decided to go together. In short, it was NOT easy to get us there. For both of us, it was one of the best decisions we’d ever made.
I’ll share with you a few things I learned about myself —
I became a person who believed that winning at all costs meant success and that perfection was always achievable. If I parts of my life started to fall apart in places, it was just as important to me that everyone perceive it to be perfect. Subconsciously, I thought that I would not be worthy of love from others if I failed at great success and perfection at everything I set out to do.
Like most beliefs we have about ourselves, these were instilled in me as a child. I came into this world by accident. My mother was 19 and raised me pretty much on her own. My father already had a family who came from Vietnam to the States around the time I was born. They did the best they could with what they knew and the circumstances given. My mother grew up in an orphanage until she was adopted at age 11, so because of her upbringing, she had a difficult time showing affection. No kisses, no cuddles. But she loved me so much and showed it by fighting to ensure that I’d have all the opportunities she never had. She saw potential in me and was determined I reach it. So she pushed me, HARD-- Tiger Mom style. She came to every soccer game, every basketball game, every award ceremony, and every student council win and homecoming court. B’s were unacceptable. Losing was unacceptable. Emotional weakness, and sloppy physical appearance were also not tolerated. However, when I was winning or achieving, she showed me love with words and wore it on her proud face. And as a role model to two amazing little sisters, I became masterful at performing under pressure and giving the illusion of perfection.
As I grew older, I fell more and more into the trap of feeling validation and love only through achievement. So EVERYTHING became a competition. If you were next to me on a treadmill, we were fucking racing (whether you knew it or not). I’d do whatever it took to win, including running anyone over who got in my way. I was even in competition with myself. I spent far more time working on my physical beauty rather than my inner beauty. Every day I looked in the mirror and was greatly dissatisfied in some way. My self-talk was egregious. In any given day, I felt extreme stress 80% of the time I was awake. I would even feel anxious while I was sleeping!
I constantly felt I was not good enough or doing enough. I became a control freak and tried to manipulate how people felt about me. The only time I felt confident and comfortable was when I was competing. That is why I could do my job as a reporter without succumbing to anxiety. Career equaled competition.
For the most part, I was a ball of nervous, negative energy. And energy is contagious. I pushed away my family and friends, and refused to let new people into my life out of fear.
But I wasn’t like that all the time because that’s not the core of who I am. I would show some honest vulnerability in the past, but that was rare. I lived most of my life in the dark with moments of light. The darkness came from a crippling fear that if I shared the imperfections and the weak parts of me, I wouldn’t be loved. Now I know this simply isn’t true. Showing myself is the only way to have real and deep connections. When I went to Choice, I took a good, hard look at my life, and I was very alone. My family didn't even know who I was. I wasn't even on speaking terms with my youngest sister.
This topic, in fact, has been researched and spoken about in one of the most viewed TED Talks of all time -
(Brene Brown also has an amazing audio book called “The Power of Vulnerability” and what she discusses is the core of what ChoiceCenter teaches).
Need to achieve and be perfect to receive acceptance and love was one of the biggest beliefs I lived by that held me back. Now that I have a deep understanding of where my anxiety came from, I now have tools to handle it, and shift out of it. I have never felt freer. My relationships with my family has never been better, and I finally have my youngest sister back in my life. What it took from me is to SHOW MYSELF. I had to be vulnerable, tell her I was sorry, admit that I don't know everything and take responsibility for my part. My poker game has improved so much because I’m not afraid to show my weaknesses! I realized that I often avoided talk about my hands with players who I thought were better than me because I was afraid they would think I was an inferior player, which which would result in them thinking less of me. Haha that’s embarrassing to admit, but I have always had a chip on my shoulder about poker. I was always trying to PROVE something. I was living in a prison, trapped by walls of fear.
The class is designed for people to discover these limiting ways of thinking on their own. I found so many limiting beliefs that were not supporting me to live my most free, joyful, amazing life. There are LOTS of ways I could have had this awakening, but the most powerful tool I know of is ChoiceCenter. It took a devastating event for me to stand for myself and go. For me to say, enough of this anxiety, enough of constantly feeling inadequate, enough of keeping people at arm's length. So it isn't about "needing it" or not. It's about figuring out who we are, what's most important to us in this life and going out there to get it. Life is short. And we don't know how short. So I'm sure as hell not going to waste time living in fear. If Jane and Daniel would have been worried about me, or others, thinking they were crazy for advocating Choice, I would not have gone and I would still be strangled by anxiety and a need to meet people's expectations. My husband may have wandered forever, feeling lost and alone. Our understanding and love for another is forever changed. If I had let Micon scare me or my sisters into not going, we wouldn't have the most amazing two weeks with each other reconnecting. We healed so many deep wounds, laughed until we cried, and cried until laughed.
I know what it’s meant for me and my life, and I've seen firsthand what attending this program has created for others. I've seen marriages saved. I've seen hundreds of relationships mended, even ones that appeared to have been lost forever. I've seen people find purpose after spending years feeling like there was no point.
I would be happy to answer any questions. And by no means do I think I have it all figured out. I believe we are all students of life until we die. I do intend to write more deeply about lessons I’ve learned and continue to learn. Thanks so much for reading :)
I would love feedback if you have any!