I was a little late to the party and finally just binge-watched the Emmy-award-winning TV show, “This Is Us,” last week.
If you haven’t seen the show, I highly recommend it. All the characters and the storylines are so honest and interesting, but I have to say I was most affected by Randall.
The reason why his story drew me in is because of something I don’t talk about a lot. But since my dad died a few months ago, the topic most often on my mind is adoption and the effect that has on a person, especially an entrepreneur. (Spoiler alert: I was adopted.)
3 Things I Learned from Randall
1. PROVING takes a toll. When you’re adopted—even if your family is great, loving and supportive like mine was—there is a need to prove yourself. You can really see that in Randall. And the cost of the PROVING pattern was huge—remember his big breakdown at the office? He is absolutely driven by perfection and a fear of not being enough, even in the flashbacks to grade school. The stress he put on himself to succeed because he was so different was enormous.
Then when he learns on that fateful Thanksgiving who his biological dad is, he initially needs to prove to himself and to William that he doesn’t need anything from him—that he has made it on his own. But when William invites him inside—Randall finally lets go. His curiosity and William’s lack of defensiveness finally softens that decades-old proving posture. I so get that! I felt like I was so different and had to be more, more, more in order to just be enough.
2. SECRETS are killers. Even though her family looked really good on the outside, Rebecca lied—for decades. She knew who Randall’s dad was—she’s met him and she even had a correspondence with him. And yet she kept the truth hidden, even from her husband. She made that choice out of her own fear.
What I’ve learned in my life is that where there are secrets there’s shame. Even the healthiest of adoptive families is run by fear. The parents can’t allow the possibility that there might be more love than they are giving. They believe love is finite instead of infinite. Rebecca’s motivation was, “If I can keep him from meeting his father, he won’t ever leave us.” She was trying to protect Randall, but when he learned of her secret, he felt incredibly betrayed.
We had secrets in our family, too, and even though my parents were wonderful, I know such fear was at the root of the secrets. I was adopted back when nearly all adoptions were “closed.” When I reached an age when I wanted to know more about my biological parents, my mom and dad were instructed to tell me that all the records had burned in a fire. When I found out in my 20s that they had lied… wow, that was hard.
3. WHO am I, anyway? In the flashback scenes to childhood, each time Randall meets an African-American couple, he searches their faces, wondering if they are his real parents. Can I ever relate to that! I always fantasized about the time I would eventually meet my biological parents, and what I would learn from them about ME. Everyone wants that feeling of connection—there is not a person alive who doesn’t want to know everything about who they really are. (Why programs like 23&ME and ancestry.com so popular!)
As a coach, I teach that you get to CHOOSE who you are being, no matter what happened in your past. That’s what I believe. But as a child you tend to look to your family for that information… and if you are adopted and don’t find it in your adoptive family, you’re naturally going to yearn for it. When Randall discovered his birth father was a musician, he wanted to see if he had that ability, too. Although he’s an adult, he’s still looking for himself in this man that he barely knows.
I have spent a lot of time these last months examining the effects of adoption on my life and my business. For those of you out there who are adopted, there are likely pieces of your story that still feel frazzled and undone. I’m here to tell you it’s far better to walk through it than avoid it.
I’m cooking up something new based on what I’ve been uncovering.
I can’t wait to share it with you very soon!