For most of my life I suffered from auctoritas phobia, a fear of authority figures—whether they were teachers, bosses, physicians, police, elected officials, or even other kids in my class.
I remember in 6th grade we were asked to pair up and choose a hot-topic issue to debate with another team. I chose pro-euthanasia, because I felt strongly that we should be able to die with dignity. I remember the feeling of excitement and pride welling up in me as I stated my decision when our teacher called my name.
Moments later, I had a sinking feeling when I heard who wanted to be on my team… let’s call him “Frankie.” He was well aware of my tendency to let other kids copy my work or slack off in group projects because I was so afraid of their authority over my social experience in school.
Surprising all of us, but mostly myself, I blurted out that I knew he only wanted to be on my team because I would do all the work. True to bully form, he raised his hand and told our teacher he wanted to switch sides so he could argue against euthanasia.
And that was basically the end of my being allowed to be in the “cool kids” group. In that one moment of standing up for myself, I paid a hefty price. I was tagged a “snob,” a “teacher’s pet” and any other label that could be used to shame me so I was excluded from the community.
That was also the end of my confidence in standing up to authority figures.
That is, until many years later when my horse, Jove, forced me back into my power.
I had to make a tremendous number of decisions every day about what was best for Jove, covering everything from what shoes he wore (if any), to what he should eat, to how often I would ride him (if at all). I did endless hours of research trying to figure out what the authority figures believed was “best” on even the most basic decisions.
But when Jove’s health started to take a turn for the worse, all my research left me feeling more confused and overwhelmed. I realized I wasn’t going to get a cut-and-dry decision from any authority figure about whether or not it was time to euthanize Jove.
At the end of the day, the advice I got was so divided that I was ultimately going to have to make a decision that would probably be unpopular and definitely go against what a good number of authority figures (veterinarians) would tell me to do.
Despite the fact that Jove looked healthy outwardly, making the decision even more difficult and controversial, it felt like he was telling me, “I need you to be strong for me, and make what you already know is the right decision.”
Ironically, a decision on the same topic (euthanasia) that had many years before put me into an emotional tailspin when it came to dealing with authority figures is what also pulled me out of it.
Once I made the decision to let my beloved Jove go, everyone around me began to follow my lead–even Jove’s veterinarian reached out to say she was moved by the way I handled Jove’s end-of-life care, though she had previously disagreed with me.
Because of this experience, I no longer have the same visceral fear of authority figures. Now, when an “authority figure” says something, I think critically about it instead of immediately agreeing.
I’m grateful to Jove for helping me to flip that switch and regain my confidence to put my own inner wisdom above any external input.
Being in my power in this way has set me up to be a better mom, coach and citizen of this planet. Jove was always helping people become higher and better versions of themselves. This is something I believe we are all being called to do, especially in this tumultuous time.
Connecting to your own inner authority figure allows you to make more clear and beneficial decisions for yourself and anyone else for whom you are responsible. This isn’t always easy, and it isn’t always fun, and sometimes you may let the fear of repercussions silence you momentarily, like I did back in 6th grade.
People often think that standing up to authority is somehow anti-spiritual and attracts more of what they’re trying to fight. But the opposite is actually true. When you speak truth to power and stand up for what you believe in, you are helping to create more of what is right and full of integrity in the world.