The Sweet Spot of Self Worth

Everyone gets a ribbon, good enough is good enough, we can’t grade, and there are no winners or losers. It was a great social experiment, but as many of us who grew up with learning life is hard and unfair and difficult predicted, it failed. If you don’t believe that turn on the evening news or read your social media feeds. Personally these days listening to the news, watching people fight on Facebook, seeing the protests going on makes me want to slap people. And I know I am not alone in that reaction. I feel like as humans, and especially as females, we have lost the plot when it comes to discussions about equality, harassment and political correctness. We have gone from intellectual discussions on the barriers and how to address them to emotional ridiculousness where ever indiscretion is a reason to ruin a person’s life, even if it was 50 years ago, and people march around in pink genitalia hats. It is easy to pawn this off on entitlement or millennials or liberal vs conservative, but there is a much deeper issue at play right now, self-worth syndrome. We have created a generation who was never taught to value themselves, their efforts and the hard work it takes to achieve and as a result the only way to matter is to search for validation externally and when it isn’t found it must be society’s fault.

I will apologize up front, much of what I am about to say will sound like this is a female only issue. I don’t believe that. The examples are easier to point out related to women, because that is what the news has focused on, but I believe this is now just a part of the human condition. Gender, intellect, physical challenges and economics can amplify the situation and make it appear selective and women are more likely to talk about their feelings around self-esteem and inadequacy, but this mindset is pervasive across all demographics.

I know there are those who will immediately write off what I am saying as me not getting it because I am white, I live an upper middle class life, I am heterosexual and a million other reasons why I won’t get it and what it is like to be held back by the world, but I hope you will try to hear me out. My life has been far from a cake walk. I was bullied in school, I grew up in a dysfunctional family with an extremely abusive father, I am Jewish, I am a female, I am fat, I live with a disability. I get it more than the check boxes about me on a census tell you. But for all I have lived through I have always maintained that how I handle what life hands me is about me not about the world or the other person. I am a fighter, I am stubborn as hell when I need to be and I don’t believe in taking the easy road. It’s how I was raised and what was expected of me growing up. I am glad I was taught to lose because it taught me to work harder to win. I am glad I had teachers who failed me because it taught me to be a better learner. I am glad we kept score in softball and had outs, it taught me to play harder. I became a believer in my own strength. I learned that to matter to the world I had to first and foremost matter to myself. Those lessons are being missed and what we are seeing around us now is the result.

While I in no way condone abusive behavior of any nature and believe there should be consequences for these behaviors, I hear something very different in the “Me Too” movement. I hear a large group of people searching for someone else to say they matter, when they don’t believe it themselves internally. These same people highlight what others have done to hold them back or put them down instead of recognizing they have never developed the inner drive to stand up and rise above and be more, and that is sad. And worse than the sad reality is that it will never solve the problem. This is part of why we hear so much protesting and complaining but no one coming forward with practical solutions or recommendations. The movement and many others right now are searching externally for internal completion and no one but you can decide you have real value. The momentary gain of getting someone fired, or their tv show cancelled or winning a lawsuit is much like eating cake when you are depressed. It feels better in the moment, but an hour later you are back to the same place.

I see the same thing going on related to removing Civil War monuments or Black Lives Matters marches. The cry for how our ancestors were harmed or equality is as much a search for belief in inner value as it is a social statement. And just like the Me Too movement, we can remove every remnant of the past, we can write ever equality law and force bakers to make wedding cakes and dictate pay rates but it is not going to change how one person feels inside. External validation does not fill the hole inside anyone for more than a minute.

I am always struck by people who allow their significant others to treat them as less than they should. That was actually the genesis of this blog post. I am living in a community now where I have a lot of married friends and I too often find myself stepping back and thinking “why does she let him……….”, and much like when I questioned why my own mother let my father treat her so poorly, the answer always comes back to self-worth. How we feel about ourselves completely dictates how we let others treat us and what we feel is acceptable. Someone who sees themselves as valuable and worthy will not allow others to treat them as any less. On the flip side those who have not found their own merit will always be at the mercy of others because they need to please to temporarily find value.

Instead of focusing on straws and protest and vitriol, it is time we as a society started to focus on what can we do to heal the insides of each other. How can we raise children who find their own self value but understand there is a line between that and narcissism? How can we help adults who don’t believe in themselves decide they are worthy of their own love and the love of others? And how do we hold others accountable without making our own challenges their fault?

Flying Your Kite………………..

I have been looking for a way to tie a few thoughts together on the pressure we put on ourselves to be perfect, even at something we have never done before. As usual I found my answer in horses. Specifically in reading the Facebook posts of a dear friend who showed her horse for the first time last weekend.

I should admit before I go too far I am the worst about this trait and am probably writing this as much as a reminder to myself as anything!

Why is it that from the youngest age we beat ourselves up for not being perfect at something we have never done before? When you watch small children the transition between allowing themselves to freely learn and experience and make mistakes and where they start feeling like if they aren’t perfect they are failing is around the age that they start school. It seems to stem from grading that others do to us and we take on that pressure internally. Do not get me wrong, I am far from the “there should be no grades” or “everyone gets a ribbon” crowd. That makes me homicidal watching people think that way. But I do have to wonder if grades in life should have a component for going out on a limb and trying something completely new.

This question and the resulting lesson smacked me in the face a couple weeks ago. Life likes to do that to me. I had come back from showing at Pinto World and despite doing extremely well (including a World Championship) there were things I was beating myself up for. My horsemanship pattern I let myself get rattled and forgot everything I knew to do. My Showmanship pattern I blew the easiest part in a stupid way. In no way was I giving myself room for imperfection or to recognize that I had just come back from my first big show with a new horse and I had done really well. It was much easier to just find my flaws.

Very shortly after I got back I was invited to a dear friend’s son’s birthday party. Yes, before those of you who know me rush ahead, I did go. He is a cool kid and I wanted to be there since it was his first birthday in a new state. The party was at the martial arts studio he attends. There were nerf guns and games and the parents were competing against the kids (I was hiding in a corner watching). One of the boys was having a really hard time because he wasn’t as good as the other kids, in his mind, at shooting the balloons. Instead of scolding him the leader did two of the most smartest things I have ever seen. It was a lesson I will carry with me always. The first he stopped the young man and asked him “When you were born did you know how to walk? When you were born did you know how to talk?” Of course the child said no. The leader then asked him how he got good at them. Without a thought the response “I learned and practiced”. The leader than pointed out this was the same thing. That many times in our life we will do things we have never done before, and that just like learning to walk and talk we will fall down a lot at first but we will get better over time. I have to admit I was mesmerized watching this.

He then had the boy join him watching the next round of the game. And he quietly pointed out each time anyone else missed, especially a parent. By the end of it he had to say no more and the child was smiling. By letting the boy step back and watch he got him to see that his belief, that others were so much better than him, was nothing more than an illusion in his head. There was no long story or deep lesson he gave the boy, he just showed him we are all human and learning and he did it in the most simple, brilliant way.

It made me pause too and think about my own reactions. I had not watched anyone else in my Showmanship class and immediately walked out thinking I had failed. The irony, when I saw the judge’s sheets after, I was only one of 3 that had no major flaws. In Horsemanship I learned after I beat myself up that my horse has a history in that arena and while it was my fault for not slowing down and doing what I knew to do, much of what went on others have worked through learning to ride him too. I know now when we go back to that facility the next time we need more practice, just like learning to walk.

As I said earlier I watched a friend show this weekend. I saw her video and her caption was all she did wrong. Personally I thought she did a great job handling a young horse in a class she had never done before. Especially considering that a much more experienced handler had a horse in a later class flip himself over. What we do isn’t easy. The pros make it look easy, but they too have days where it all goes wrong, where they are still working on getting better and they too started out as green as we are now. At work my clients periodically refer to me as an “expert”. My definition of an expert is someone who did it wrong enough times and learned from that. But the only way any of us get to that point is by trying and failing. And it is time we all found that four year old inside us who is still willing to try and fall down and get up and try again, without judgement.

My challenge to each of you for the next month, pick something you have wanted to do and do it. Go and fail. Fail miserably. Stumble, fall, lose, break something, embarrass yourself. But then get back up and do it again. Over and over, until you are better at it, until the mistakes are less often. And as you do, it step back and watch others trying also. See their flaws as permission to have your own. Remember, someone new may be watching you!