“You have been criticizing yourself for years, and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.” – Louise L. Hay
I am so guilty of underplaying my skills and achievements, of not recognizing how much I have done and how much I am capable of, and I suspect there are many people who fall into this same category. While many of our cultures celebrate individuality and personal “success” (however that is defined), at the same time we are taught to downplay our abilities, to be modest and humble, to make sure we share the credit with others.
While these are of course worthy traits – nobody enjoys an egotistical jackweed who is always bragging and taking all the credit for themselves – I think sometimes we overdo them. In our quest not to seem braggy or self-centered, we go in the total opposite direction and refuse to take credit for the awesome things we do on a daily basis. I would hazard a guess that most of us could actually focus more on our accomplishments and give ourselves more credit without being in danger of becoming too obsessed with how awesome we are.
Underestimating our own worth happens a lot when we have unrealistically high expectations of ourselves. We are taught to dream big, reach for the stars, find your soul’s passion and never settle for less. This can be inspiring advice and we all know how much I love inspirational quotes. But I think sometimes, instead of inspiring us to do and be better human beings, this kind of advice can overwhelm us and end up making us feel like we’re never doing enough.
As usual, it’s all about balance. I do truly believe that a lot of us settle for much less in our lives than what we are capable of doing or having, simply because we never dare to ask for or expect more. I think it is well worth it to push ourselves to constantly be growing and trying new things, to not settle for something or someone that doesn’t truly serve us, to expect greatness from ourselves and from others. At the same time, we need to give ourselves a break sometimes and understand that we can’t do it all.
I find that beating myself up for not doing or achieving something doesn’t really inspire me, it just makes me feel down on myself and kills my motivation and creativity. I do expect a lot of myself and I do want to always be pushing myself to do more and be better, but I also need to build myself up with self-love and support so I can feel good and believe in my abilities. When I don’t accomplish something that I really wanted to, I can learn from that mistake and think of ways to improve next time, rather than sinking down into a negativity spiral and self-talk that reminds me how I’m never good enough and my life is just a waste.
My master’s degree
About a year ago, I graduated with a master’s degree from Miami University, which, to be honest, I never really believed that I would finish. Some small part of me always felt like a master’s degree was too much for me, that I wasn’t smart enough or hard working enough to get one, or that if I did start a program I would just give up when it got difficult or overwhelming. As a chronic starter of new projects with a lack of follow-through, I felt this was a pretty realistic fear.
Fortunately, I was patient and waited several years after my undergrad until I found a program that fit my lifestyle and my interests perfectly and have greatly enjoyed the flexibility and creativity of this degree. But even now that I have finally completed a graduate degree I find myself convincing others that it’s actually not that difficult of a degree as far as masters go, that I only got good grades because I’m good at churning out work last-minute, that I got my master’s but I could never get a PhD.
Every time we accomplish something, there is always going to be something else just out of reach that we feel we now have to reach for. When I started running half marathons, I was stoked simply to complete the 13.1 miles, a distance I never thought I would be able to run. Then I felt like I had to get my time under a certain number, and now I feel like maybe I should start running marathons instead (which sounds utterly awful, to be completely honest. I mean, I have never once finished a half marathon and thought “that was great, I could run that whole thing again!”)
Even knowing all of this, I still find it hard to recognize my own accomplishments. Even when I hear it from other people, it is difficult to believe because there are so many other people out there more worthy of admiration and affection than me. But here’s the thing: there will ALWAYS be someone else out there who has done more, earned more degrees, worked harder, given up more to get where they are. And that doesn’t make me (or you) any less worthy of admiration and affection.
There is always some greater goal to achieve, no matter how high we climb, which is why we have to find peace and joy within ourselves. That sense of happiness and worthiness doesn’t come from the things we own or the goals we achieve, it comes from searching within ourselves and cultivating love and self-acceptance. Of course, this is not to say that we should never strive to accomplish anything – I will continue to spend my whole life working towards big goals and constantly creating new ones – but I know that that is not where my happiness and sense of worth will be found.
Giving and receiving compliments
When someone compliments you on your gorgeous smile, or your beautiful singing voice, or the way you climbed that route like it ain’t no thang, what is your typical response? Do you say thank you but then immediately rush to qualify it somehow, by saying something like “Oh thanks, my sister is way better than me, she taught me everything I know” or “Oh, it’s not actually that great, the acoustics in here just make me sound really good” or do you simply accept the compliment and smile?
My mom (my most loyal reader – shout out to you, mom!) recently complimented me on one of my latest blog posts and I immediately said “Thank you – I’m not sure it was really anything original, I think I’d said most of that before, but I guess some of it was new”. Why is this such an automatic thing for so many of us, to downplay what others are trying to make us feel good about?
I think something that would help this issue is not only to learn how to receive compliments, but how to give them as well. It is generally pretty easy to tell the difference between a true, honest compliment and a passing comment on how cute your purse is. It’s nice to say lots of nice things to others all the time, but if you want to give genuine, meaningful compliments, quality wins out over quantity.
When you take the time to think about a character trait or an accomplishment that you admire and share that in a meaningful way with someone, it goes a lot farther than telling them they have great hair or a nice body. And the thing is, when we focus all our compliments on physical appearance or material goods that someone has bought, we reinforce the idea that these things are important to us and are worthy of notice and praise. Wouldn’t it be nice if we instead reinforced the idea that being an awesome person is more important than owning an expensive dress?
Here is my challenge to you this week: write down a list of at least ten things you are proud of that you have done. That’s right: TEN. That may seem like a lot (or, if you’re super awesome and don’t have this problem with recognizing it, that may seem like a little!) but really take some time and sit with it until you have at least ten. They can be things as small as remembering to call your mom on her birthday this year, or as big as climbing Mount Everest with your BFF last month (in which case, you have absolutely no reason not to already think you are awesome – why are you even reading this???).
I don’t know this for sure, but my hope is that we have all done things we are proud of, even if we don’t think of them as accomplishments or share them with others. It might be tough at first, but once you get started listing them you might find it hard to stop! If you try this exercise and are really truly unable to come up with ten things you are proud of from your life, then this might be a good time to reevaluate what you have spent your life doing and decide that you need a new direction…
If you’d like some inspiration, here are ten things I am proud of in my life:
1. Completing my master’s degree
2. Traveling and living in multiple countries on my own
3. Starting and maintaining this blog!!!
4. Creating a strong community of friends, both here in Portland and around the world
5. Learning to play guitar and sharing my music and my voice with others
6. Finally getting on top of my finances and saving money for my upcoming trip
7. Always being able to find jobs that are interesting, fun, and that fit my lifestyle
8. Being committed to personal growth and being open to new experiences that push me outside my comfort zone and from which I can learn
9. My ability to converse with strangers, meet new people, and make new friends
10. The progress I have made in rock climbing and acroyoga, two of my favourite activities!
If you do this exercise, please feel free to share one (or all ten!) of the things you come up with below – I would love to hear what you are proud of in your life!