I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how we talk to ourselves. I don’t mean in a crazy voice in my head kind of way, but in the way our background narration of our lives carries us through the day without most of us tuning in too closely.
I woke up this morning thinking about the time I did community service learning with Alternative Spring Break in Detroit (side bar: my favorite part of the experience was the ways in which we were sternly lectured NOT to embody a “white savior” complex but instead to consider the service “learning” on OUR parts–learning about the grace and dignity of the grassroots movements already in place in the city most have written off).
One of the days we, a bunch of college-aged females, were directed to run a self-actualization workshop in a middle school for young girls who had had some trouble fighting and generally being mean to one another. We decided to have them write positive attributes about one another so that each girl would go back with a list of things the others admired about her.
A talk with one girl who felt stuck turned to me asking her what she liked about herself.
She was horrified. “I can’t talk about what I like about myself because then others might think I’m full of myself.”
Even to this day, I recognize that feeling even as it makes me sad and I want to condemn it. I wonder too at the gendered implications. Is it still hard for women to proclaim what they like about themselves? I think about the parody of that in Mean Girls, where Cady, having not been raised in the United States, awkwardly offers up that she has bad breath in the morning when she is unable to think of something to hate about herself in the mirror with the rest of the plastics. It’s certainly been something I’ve been aware of lately: how little I tend to applaud, admire, or thank myself, how easy it feels to in fact do the opposite in my self-talk somehow without even paying much attention to what I’m doing.
Last week was Thanksgiving, so it seems appropriate this morning that I try to start with myself to start changing that negative self-talk, to be confident without being conceited.
Here’s a list of things I’m grateful to myself for:
1. My resilience. I’ve lived in three states and two countries. I’ve taught ESL, Spanish, and Creative Writing in tough schools with little guidance. I conquered countless rejections and career changes and am in the process of earning three Master’s Degrees.
2. My sense of humor. There’s nothing like having a little pun.
3. My body. it’s changed a lot over the last ten years, but I feel strong. I eat what I like. I work out. I lift weights in Body Pump twice a week and have run so many Half-Marathons and 10ks I’ve lost count. I’m curvy and need high waisted pants, but damn it, I look good even if I got junk in my trunk.
4. My face. I like my smile. My (sigh) ever-browning blonde, sometimes straight, sometimes wavy hair. My hazel eyes, sometimes gold, sometimes green, sometimes brown. My small pores and acne prone T zone and chin. My thick eyebrows that I’ve never bothered to pluck after I made myself cry the first time I tried in middle school.
5. My tiny, skinny ankles. Boys used to call me chicken legs in middle school because of how disproportionately skinny they are. They make me clumsy and make it impossible to find slip on shoes that won’t slip off, but they also make me look great in boots and belie a ton of strength to run many miles.
6. My compassion. I don’t have many friends. I find it exhausting to be surrounded by crowds. I don’t always feel many people get me or have the patience for my neuroses. But to those I do count in my circle, I have a lot to offer in terms of my empathy and my grace and my willingness to drop whatever to talk, cook, or drive you to the ER.
7. My temper. It’s taught me a lot about restraint.
8. My creative brain. It lights up in the presence of a good poem or novel. I am the perennial teacher’s pet–except when I’m trying to teach the class for them. I love to write and cook and knit and paint.
9. My drive. What I seek to accomplish gets done. My planner is a sight to behold. I am organized to a fault. I plan out each day by the hour. I don’t always get things done as quickly as I plan, but I do get the job done.
10. My love of adventure has brought me countless exciting experiences, from learning to snow shoe and then alpine tour (i.e., ski UP) the Pyrenees, to zip-lining in a rainforest, to hiking solo in the dark and camping out above the tree-line, to scaling rock face up to the Kitchen Mesa, to swimming with Dolphins in Hawaii, to snubbing a wreck in the Caribbean, to white water rafting down the Rio Chama, to surfing the Atlantic, to flying across the world to hike down the Taroko Gorge to bathe in natural mineral hot springs alongside a rushing river. The only thing that I will probably never do is learn to scuba dive because for some reason the thought of relying solely on a tank for air freaks me out (that and prohibitive costs also likely rules out ever climbing Everest).
Though I certainly could have more easily come up with 20 things I don’t like about myself, and though I certainly have faults and lots to learn in layers with all of the above, I want to encourage everyone, especially gals, no matter how young or old, to take a minute to write out ten things you’re grateful to yourself for, and to challenge you to be full of gratitude for yourself without feeling bad or apologetic about it.