Drawing on decades of experience as a life coach and teaching shadow work, Kelley Kosow knows a lot about what holds people back — and she’s just written a book about how to change that. In this excerpt from The Integrity Advantage, she shares the many ways we “step over our truth” and paints a picture of what a life with greater integrity offers.
Have you noticed something going on in our world today? I think I’d call it a trust crisis. People don’t trust each other. We don’t trust our neighbors, our bosses, or our politicians. We don’t trust our families, our spouses, or our friends.
Why? Is it because everyone is corrupt? Just out for themselves? No.
The reason we don’t trust others is because, deep down, we don’t trust ourselves.
That’s right. Deep down, we don’t trust ourselves.
Think about it for a moment. We don’t trust our feelings, so we try to squash them. We remain in our comfort zone instead of going for our heart’s desires. We don’t trust the parts of ourselves that we think are unacceptable, so we cover them up. We ignore our inner voice and look outside ourselves for answers.
Our lack of trust, our tendency to look outside for what should come from within, leads to stepping over our truth. When I say that, I mean we don’t trust ourselves. Because so often, when we make the wrong decisions, we do it knowingly. We see the truth right there in front of us. He’s not right for you. This job will suck the life out of you. You don’t need to keep working; you’ve put in the time, now go home and be with your kids. But we step over that truth. We don’t trust the GPS inside us that will never guide us astray.
Think about the ways you have broken promises to yourself, leading to a pervasive state of distrust. You vowed to speak up at work, and then sat silent in the meeting yet again. You convinced yourself that this time you were going to stick to your diet, only to find the number on the scale inching up again. You committed to making a change, and then found yourself sliding back into the same behavior you’d been so desperate to avoid.
Even though we can sometimes undo something that has been done, or fix it in the outer world, the imprint it leaves on our psyche cannot be undone. It’s like a nail and a piece of wood. If you hammer a nail into wood, you can pull the nail out, but the hole in the wood cannot be gotten rid of. It remains forever. We all have holes in our soul that represent the many ways we have betrayed, lied to, or disparaged ourselves—all the ways we have stepped over our truth.
These holes serve as evidence to our already suspicious psyches—you are not trustworthy! And when we don’t trust ourselves, we can’t listen to ourselves. We can’t heed the very guidance that our soul is trying to provide. We are cut off from the very essence of our being and end up living a life that feels wrong, inauthentic, and disconnected.
Integrity, however, is an invitation to a whole new way of being in the world.
An invitation exists in every moment—actually, in every moment, a multitude of invitations exist, all dancing right in front of us, ready to be received, promising to shower us with new possibilities.
Integrity is an invitation to honesty, to being authentic with yourself, listening within, learning to trust and value yourself—your whole self, not parts of yourself. The good, the bad, and the ugly. I’ve learned firsthand the compromises we must make if we don’t deal with the truth, if we ignore what we know deep down. We all know. We always know.
When we stop denying, when we stop being propelled by fear, we can finally start living a life of integrity.
Integrity isn’t perfection. It isn’t a strategy. It’s a way of life. It’s a way of being aligned with who we are and what we want. Being in integrity is the ultimate advantage. We can finally start living a life that feels right to us.
As Richard Bach wrote, “You teach best what you most need to learn.” My path toward integrity started with my being out of integrity when I was in my twenties. It was the day so many women dream of—my wedding day. The sun was bright, and the Miami heat was already settling over us as I sat outside by the pool in the lush, green backyard of my soon-to-be husband’s house. As I sat chatting with one of my closest girlfriends who had flown in for the festivities, I was concerned about how the pictures would look, so I draped a towel over my face and even covered my eyes so I wouldn’t get sunburned.
It was a day that was supposed to be full of promises. A day of new beginnings. My beautiful white dress was ready. The flowers were ordered, the cake was being adorned with handmade flowers, caterers were hard at work, and the makeup artist and hair stylist had cleared their schedules. Everything was ready for a meticulously planned, lavish celebration.
Sounds like my fairy tale was about to come true, right?
It wasn’t. It was the day I made one of the biggest “mistakes” of my life.
It wasn’t a “mistake” that I discovered in hindsight. Nope, I knew that day. I knew, on that morning, that I was making a “mistake.” I qualify the word mistake because I truly don’t believe in mistakes, since they are situations that are part of our divine plan and provide the foundation from which we grow and evolve. This “mistake” was the best thing that ever happened to me since it led me to this moment and provided me with the three things I love most—my daughters—but on the morning of my wedding, I knew I didn’t truly love the man I was marrying, or at least love him in the way I should to commit my life to him. I knew he didn’t treat me the way I wanted to be treated.
There had been one red flag after another during our courtship.
But I was too scared to admit the truth.
Instead, I put that towel over my head.
Living in Integrity
At some point, we finally say, “Enough!” when cheating on ourselves or selling ourselves out becomes too painful, when staying stuck and playing small is no longer enough for us, when we can no longer endure the old way of being because we know we are destined for so much more.
Here is the good news. It is possible to step into the next, best version of yourself. How? Through declaring to yourself and the Universe that you deserve more, that you are ready to stop stepping over your truth and are ready to start living the life of your dreams.
I call this living a life of integrity.
A person of integrity is someone whose life isn’t full of contradictions. They do as they say, and they say as they do. Who they are on the inside is who they are on the outside, and who they are on the outside is aligned with how they feel on the inside. They have declared what is important to them and who they want to be in this lifetime. The actions they take and choices they make are aligned with that declaration and reflect that they feel worthy and deserving to manifest that which they most desire.
Now, you may be thinking that integrity is a lofty, unattainable goal, where you must measure up to a certain standard of perfection. I’m here to say that is not the case. Integrity isn’t a destination. It is a way of life. It is an internal guidance system that will never guide you astray!
We are all born with a knowing deep inside us—we realize when something is right or something is wrong. But we’ve learned to ignore that early detection mechanism. It’s as if smoke alarms are going off in our house, but we’ve put in earplugs so we can’t hear them. The house is burning down! Get out before it’s too late!
Every time you bite your tongue, you swallow your integrity!
When we learn to live in alignment with what we know deep down is right for us, we live in integrity. And living in integrity means we no longer live a conflicted, disjointed, insecure life.
Think about it. We work in jobs that we hate, stay in marriages that suck us dry, spend beyond our means, hide how we truly feel. We live in a state of constant conflict, always engaged in an internal tug-of-war. No wonder so many of us are walking around exhausted!
Integrity is an invitation to something different.
When I finally separated from my husband and divorced, people constantly commented on how great I looked. When they’d ask, “What did you do?” I’d reply, “I got divorced!” Later I realized that it wasn’t the divorce that made me look and feel so much more vibrant and alive, but that remaining in the marriage and living outside of my integrity had fueled my self-sabotage and created my physical and emotional heaviness.
When we learn to stop stepping over our truth, we shed all the baggage that has been weighing us down. We can move forward into a life that feels right.
Deanna Minich, PhD, author of Whole Detox, writes: “Toxins are better understood less as poisons than as barriers—obstacles to the life and health we truly want.” It could be a job that is not right for you, has never been right for you, but you are too afraid to change. It could be a commitment that you took on that you knew was wrong at the time, but you ignored that feeling because you didn’t want to disappoint anyone. It could be a health issue that you want to avoid dealing with. It could be that relationship where you’ve been ignoring the warning signs for years.
Integrity is about starting to live life on your own terms. It’s about facing the fear, shame, and false beliefs that caused you to get into those situations in the first place and then starting to live your life according to you and from the inside out—because you are the only expert on you.
And although integrity shows up in the big decisions like what job to accept or whether or when to have children, you’ll soon find that learning to live in integrity is a moment-by-moment choice. It can show you how to recognize the right choices for you in every single situation: what to order from the menu, what movie to go see, whether to say yes to that invitation or decide to stay home for some quiet time, or whether to be intimate with the person you have been dating. It will empower you to speak your truth in a neutral way, perhaps confronting someone who is gossiping about you or sending your meal back at a restaurant, without worrying that you will be judged for being a complainer or spoiled and entitled. It allows you to live a life without conflict, one that is whole and peaceful.
Whether it’s our marriage, our health, our work, or our relationships, there is usually at least one area of our life where we willfully ignore or cover something up that doesn’t feel right. That lack of comfort, that gnawing anxiety, that quiet but persistent voice in our head that’s trying to warn us to change the course—those are all signals that we are living out of integrity.
And the problem is, the more we lose touch with our integrity, the more likely we are to continue to make choices that widen the divide, taking us further and further away from it. Think of it as being adrift at sea. Your integrity is the lighthouse on the horizon—when you swim toward the shore, the beacon grows stronger and brighter until, at last, you are home. But when you get too far from shore, the tide pulls you away. As you drift farther out to sea, the lighthouse grows dim in the distance. Eventually, you can’t see its light at all, and you’ve lost any sense of the way back.
Once we let integrity guide us, everything becomes easier—clearer. It’s as if we’ve been living in the dark, and then suddenly someone switches on a light.
That someone is you.
Kelley Kosow is a Master Integrative Life Coach, co-CEO and Program Leader of The Ford Institute. She is a leader and teacher of emotional education, shadow work, and personal mastery. Kelley recently authored The Integrity Advantage.”
Kelley is known for being a “kick-ass” coach who uses her quick wit, laser sharp insight, genuine examples, and ruthlessly compassionate style to transform people’s lives. Truly gifted in supporting people to realize their limiting patterns and beliefs and self-sabotaging behaviors. Known as a “coach’s coach,” Kelley works with individuals, groups and corporations worldwide.
In 2007, Kelley joined the Ford Institute staff. She was hand-picked and personally trained by the Debbie Ford to lead her programs and continue the legacy of her life-changing work. Kelley is a graduate of Brown University and University of Miami Law School. Kelley has been featured in local and national media. Oprah Magazine named Kelley as someone who could “Dream it, Do it.” She has been featured in In Style, People, NY and LA Times, and Conde Nast Traveler.