One day last week as I was getting my daughter out the door for school, I took a peak at the homework she had done the previous afternoon.
It was some of the cutest homework I’ve ever seen, much better than anything I can remember from my elementary school days (eons ago in the 70s).
Gold star Mr. Z!
She had to respond to a few statements like:
I am proud of myself for ______.
Something I like about myself is ______.
Once I got past how absolutely adorable her eight-year-old answers were, I was slapped over the head by a realization.
When does that very important aspect of self-discovery, and self-acceptance (through calling it out in ourselves) turn into bragging, boastfulness, self-indulgence, egocentricity, arrogance, or narcissism when we become adults?
As a parent I am working so hard to build a sense of self-worth, love and acceptance in my kids. I want them to grow up to be whole-hearted people who see the intrinsic value in ALL human life—the homeless guy at the corner, the teller at the grocery store, the politician, the person who has severe medical issues, even the people we might perceive as being “jerks” or jackasses.
That brings me to this question…I honestly wonder if it’s even possible to really see the value in other people if we don’t first love, honour, accept and value ourselves…I’m talking about deeper, more abstract, innate value—our birthright. I’m not talking about the way our society tends to value and appreciate others based on accomplishments, contributions or how people make us feel.
That kind of value is so fleeting/conditional - like sands through the hourglass.
It's VERY easy to fall off a pedestal. Nosediving off a flimsy house of cards pedestal is never a good experience (especially if the person didn't want to be up there in the first place). When we see this happen, our first thoughts tend to be along the lines of; “well clearly I was wrong about this person. They’re just a _______(fill in the blank with whatever expletive you prefer).” Respect can sometimes be so ALL or NOTHING, you know?
I have been on both sides of this scenario, and it sucks. I suppose the experiences have helped me to expand my thinking. To become more profoundly aware that we are ALL flawed beings—very capable of making mistakes. Right? No one is perfect, and if we find our reactions to people’s mistakes filled with contempt, malice or animosity, then maybe it’s time to reexamine our life theories. Do we want to be treated with grace when we make mistakes? I know I do…
In turn, when our self-love and self-acceptance is dependent on what we do, our accomplishments, and other people's perceptions, we are left open for a lot of insecurity, self-loathing, frustration, and isolation. Especially when we inevitably muddle things up. What if we loved ourselves just because...?
On the other end of the continuum, there’s the fear we will all become egocentric schmucks if we build up our self-esteem too much. (However, I actually think arrogance and superiority is more often tied to insecurity than pure ego.) So I believe that all the qualities that keep us down-to-earth, unpretentious, kind AND strong, courageous and confident can all live together under the same roof. Especially when we realize:
- We always have room to grow.
- We know that we aren’t always right. When we give up the need to be right in every circumstance.
- When we honour multiple truths—realizing that other people have their personal worldviews that are just as “right” for them, as ours are for us.
- We remember that we can always learn something new from everyone we meet. This is so important in creating a level playing field with people.
- We know that we aren’t any more valuable or important than anyone else, and vice versa.
As a parent I want my kids to be the kind of people who learn to get back up after they fall—to be vulnerable, integrated, and authentically themselves.
Accepting of who they are. All the bits—the Yoda, Jedi Knight bits, and even the Jar Jar Binks* bits.
I want to guide them to honour and accept other people’s journeys to whole-hearted living. To have grace for others—even when showing grace, and forgiveness to a “jerk-face” really sucks, and is the hardest thing in the whole world to do. Growth is pretty much always uncomfortable. Learning grace and forgiveness is growth—it’s plain old hard to do.
I am not OK with the idea that someday my kids will go out into the “real world” and they might come across someone who decides that they have been given the task of “cutting them down to size.” How defeating, hurtful and traumatic is that? You know what I mean, think of the teacher in Whiplash, or Mr. Strickland in Back to the Future. Certainly some feedback is good, but that…not so much.
I want my kids to have confidence, and tenacity. I certainly know that their sense of personal value and worth will waver, and be challenged in this life, but I pray every day that they will maintain their sense of self throughout those struggles. I want this for my kids, and I want it for me too.
I want it for all of us.
I’m starting to see all experiences as being on a different part of the same continuum. We like to categorize things into “good” and “bad,” but what if instead, we reframe to look at all experiences through the lens of learning and growth?
- What can I learn from this?
- How can I integrate this experience into my life?
- What can I leave behind?
- What did I learn about my character, and resilience through this experience?
- How can I honour this experience?
- How do I heal from it, if I need healing?
Back to the original point of my post—my daughter’s homework:
Is there a specific point in time where it’s no longer considered socially acceptable to acknowledge what we like about ourselves? What we are proud of? Does that change at 10, 16, 18, 21?
Who knows when the change happens…but I’m calling bullshit on the whole “modesty” thing.
Many of us have scars, of the emotional variety. Some are little—hardly noticeable, except in certain light, or triggered by specific events. Some of our scars are huge, glaring, interfering with everything we do—the result of trauma, or incredible difficulty. I know that wading through this quagmire created by all of our hurts, requires a lot of inner work, and it’s not an easy journey. However, choosing to see the extraordinary parts of ourselves, our strengths, our resilience can't do anything but help.
You are enough.
In the wise words of Brene Brown, “You are imperfect, you are wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.”
Do you believe that?
You are enough, just as you are—right now. Not after you lose that last 10 pounds, get that promotion, get that job, write that book, or find your life partner. Right now. Sometimes this is easier for me that other times.
You are enough right now. It sometimes helps to say it a few times to sink in, you know.
The inner work to get us to the place of radical self-acceptance and self-love is a long journey. If you are new to this, I encourage you to walk into it one baby step at a time.
Let’s start with the homework my eight-year-old brought home last week. This is your mission (should you choose to accept it).
Please think about these statements, and fill in the blanks:
- I am proud of myself for _______.
- Something I like about myself is _______.
- This is one of my strengths _______.
*The writer of this blog post does not in any way support the character of Jar Jar Binks as being an authentic player in the Star Wars universe. Just to be clear...in case there were any wonderings about that.