The New Year brings opportunities for new insight, growth, and positive change. I want to share one of my most impactful life lessons.
Years ago, I spoke with a highly regarded motivational counselor and coach about how I could improve my self-esteem. I went on and on to her about how I had been through years of therapy, faced all my fears, achieved my professional goals, but I still did not have the confidence and positive self-regard I wanted.
I beseeched her, “How could I get there?” She could probably hear the desperation in my voice, and she responded with the most shocking reply.
“You never will get there, Cherilynn. You will never have the kind of self-esteem you desire. It just isn’t going to happen.”
Yes, she said this. WTF!
I felt shock. I sat in disbelief. Then, I took a deep breath and said something that surprised me. “You are right. You are right. I will never be that person.”
I was filled with the most enormous peace. The peace came from the end of a fantasy. You see, I had built this idea in my mind of who I wanted to become. The problem was, who I wanted to be wasn’t me.
I wanted to be a woman who never felt insecure when trying on bathing suits … a woman who didn’t shake when a stranger yelled at her … a woman who never second-guessed herself when a crazy, narcissistic boss acted like a complete a**hole … a woman more like Carly Fiorina or Hillary Clinton.
What I had not realized in all my “do better, try harder” machinations is that I wanted to be a different person. On some unconscious level, I wanted to be some kind of a robot woman who never felt hurt or insecure. I wanted to be someone who didn’t feel anxious when faced with difficult life events. I wanted to be someone who weathered attacks with a smile and a wave.
Reality set in. I would not become that person. But something did change, and it was amazing.
The experience taught me about self-acceptance and self-love. I came to understand on a deeper level that I am human. I am wonderful. I am me. No need to try to be anyone else.
By embracing my lack of “self-esteem,” my self-esteem and self-regard soared. That’s the secret to really great self-esteem: It isn’t about trying harder, it is sometimes, just about accepting yourself for who you really are.
As a result of that life lesson, I am more okay with myself than ever. I realize that I make mistakes and am a sensitive, thoughtful human being who feels shaky after negative and hostile confrontations. I obsess a little when I hear that so-and-so has been talking ugly about me behind my back. I feel nervous about speaking in front of more than 50 people (under 50, not so much). I feel uncomfortable and a little weird at parties when I don’t know anyone. I feel damn insecure in a bikini, and I get embarrassed if I spray food out of my mouth with an unexpected guffaw.
All of these things are okay. In the past, they were obstacles that kept me distracted. Not any longer. What a relief.
Cherilynn Veland, MSW, LCSW, is a counselor and coach based in Chicago. She has been helping individuals, couples and families for more than 20 years. She is author of Stop Giving It Away, a new book about developing healthier relationships with yourself and others. The Stop Giving It Away movement aims to stop the detrimental level of self-sacrifice in which many women live and work. For more insight, get a copy of Stop Giving It Away.