This week, I told a story I’ve always felt embarrassed to share: it’s about all the ways I allowed my dislike for a former boss colour my own leadership choices. I saw him as self-aggrandizing and arrogant, and for years I bent over backward to share credit (read: minimize my accomplishments) and stay humble (my excuse for not marketing my work). It took years for me to realize that I’d been using my fear of becoming “that guy” hold me back from stepping into the spotlight in my own way.

I have felt embarrassed about telling this story because it always seemed to me that if someone rubbed you the wrong way, you should simply ignore them – not spend years of your life trying to do the opposite of what they would do, or turn them into a kind of bogeyman.

That’s what all the popular wisdom tells us, after all: Ignore them. Let it go. Follow your own path.

But despite all that well-intentioned advice, it’s not that easy. People can get under your skin, and you can get stuck in reacting to them, consciously or otherwise. I see it in my coaching clients, in my friends, and in myself.

The magical thing is, those irritating, triggering people have a great deal to teach us: about where we’re withholding permission, what we truly value, what we’re afraid of, and where we’re holding shame that’s just begging to be let go.

So here’s your curiosity experiment for this week:

  • Who do I judge for doing what I’m embarrassed to admit I do, too? What’s the behaviour I’m ashamed of?
  • Who do I judge for behaving in ways I secretly wish I could “get away with”? What do I fear would happen if I behaved that way, too?
  • How have these fears held me back?
  • What do I want for myself? (And what do I want for the person who’s been triggering me?)
  • What could I do if I gave myself permission to embody those qualities, judiciously and wisely?

And if these questions spoke to you, head over to to learn more about how comparison may be holding you back – and what you can do about it.