I used to umpire girls’ softball. Like, little ones that were one step above tee ball, still weren’t 100% sure which way to run after they hit the ball, chasing butterflies in the outfield aged little ones. For the most part, it was a great gig. I loved the sport, the kiddos were fun, and the coaches were really committed to somehow getting 9 children with zero attention spans to stay engaged long enough for a few innings of softball. 

Some of the parents and spectators? Not so much. 

One dude in particular stands out in my head. He was the type that would stand right behind home plate, fingers laced through the chain link fence, yelling at his daughter. Not words of encouragement, either, but barked instructions and exclamations of frustration. 

I kicked him out. 

At 15, I was intimidated by his size, threats to call my boss (I handed over John’s business card no problem), and anger. But I was more concerned about the little girls who were being subjected to this. I told him he could yell all he wanted from the parking lot, and my boss backed me up. I’ve never forgotten this experience. I remember wishing fervently the girl just had a fun place to play. What would that experience look like if she just knew she was safe? As an umpire, one of my jobs was to call SAFE or OUT when a play was made. At that point, I wanted him OUT of there so she could be SAFE. 

Fast forward a few decades, and as I’m working through my own growth and evolution, sometimes my inner monologue sounds like that guy hanging on the fence. What would it look like if I was safe from that? What if I umpired my own thoughts and kicked that voice out to the parking lot? Moreover, what if I trusted that, no matter what decision I made, I would – TRULY – be safe? 

I’ve encountered so many versions of this more positive thought, often on signs in home decor stores or stitched on pillows, “Leap and the net will appear. There are no mistakes. You can’t get it wrong.” Heck, I grew up watching Indiana Jones take a step out onto an invisible bridge, trusting that he wouldn’t fall into the crevasse in front of him. And still, my inner skeptic pushes back against all of these. HARD. 

But you know what? I get to be my own umpire, and I’m going to ask that skeptical, critical voice to back up off my fence and stop yelling or she’s going to get sent to the parking lot, too. Sometimes I’m able to feel this deeply and really convince my mind, body, and emotions that I’m feeling it. Other times, I have to rely on the power of my imagination to help me construct a version of me that believes I’m truly safe and really can’t get it wrong. When I do either of these, my whole body relaxes, and I can rest more in the truth of what I’m thinking and experiencing. I think back to other times when I’ve made what felt like huge moves, explored risky decisions, and held hard conversations. A lot of times I feared it wouldn’t be safe. It might not turn out well. I may get rejected or I might need to make another decision, maybe change my mind. And sometimes all of that did happen!

And I navigated it. 

It wasn’t always smooth, but even in the instances where things went (sometimes majorly) awry, I was able to pivot and eventually move forward. 

Maybe next time your inner skeptic or inner critic shows up and starts threading their fingers through the fence right behind home plate and yelling at you, try sending them to the parking lot for a bit. Call yourself “safe” and see what happens in your mind and body when you consider making moves from a (real or imagined!) place of safety. I can’t wait to see what’s possible for you! 

- Nicole



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