Maybe I’m just a product of my generation, but I read self-help books, and I work on my “baggage.”
I know someone somewhere reading this may think that my generation, and the one following—the millennials—are a little too self-centered for our own good.
And, people who think that may also consider “me-centered” as selfish, disrespectful, and rude.
I get it. This is the generation that made reality television a thing and has elevated people to stardom who may not have much talent or skill. I can really see why an older generation would look at us and shake their heads.
But, here’s what’s wrong with that line of thinking:
As young women, we were raised not to think of ourselves. We were told to put others first and take care of ourselves last. Every message we got growing up taught us that our value lies in who we are to other people.
Our perceived worth lies in those relationships, and in how we look, how we present ourselves, and how quietly and respectfully we interact with the world around us. We’re told that we should keep our legs together, but not be a prude. We should plan our dream wedding, our two children (one of each sex), and we should clock in and out of church the way we do work. We should cook and clean and take care of our children, even if we’re holding down full-time jobs. And, we should just pass the man the beer.
We should sacrifice for our families and never make time for ourselves. And, we shouldn’t love our bodies. Because how will we feel bad enough to buy the stuff that the advertisers need us to keep buying? We need to look younger, be firmer, thinner, have more cleavage, display our curves—but not too much—or we’re asking for it.
And as for young men? The message is to “man up, “grow a pair.” And, “boys don’t cry.” After all, you’re the man of the house, the breadwinner. Take care of your families. Play sport. Do manly things. Drink beer. If you give a hug, accompany it with a manly back slap.
Don’t express feelings…except anger. Anger is an okay feeling to show. Don’t cry. And, it’s okay to sleep around and equally okay to hold a double standard that says women shouldn’t. Rape culture is the locker room talk they many men up with and the talk on the street, in classrooms, and at home. Catcalling and ass grabbing and “she’s asking for it.” Be competitive, work harder, and chase women.
But, we grow up, and a lot of us see that what we were taught to be and who we actually are, are vastly different things.
Yes, we start turning the focus in on ourselves. But, our focus isn’t about being selfish or narcissistic. Instead, we work to undo the things that we’ve learned have hurt us. We investigate our thoughts and feelings and trace them back to the source, to those messages that told us who we are and who we should strive to be, and we start to dismantle them.
We take better care of ourselves so that we can take care of our families and contribute to society as full, functional, happy, and healthy human beings, rather than automatons who function purely on what we were told to think and feel and do.
We’re not about being spectacularly selfish. Instead, we’re trying to become the people we really are, and we’re doing it when society tells us to be quiet, sit down, and follow the crowd. We’re the social justice warriors and the dreamers and the people with the vision to know that the world has the capacity to be a better, happier, and more peaceful place.
By un-learning all of the lessons that taught us that we weren’t enough, we learn how to give of ourselves in a way that makes us whole, rather than depletes our precious energy.
But how? How do we begin to dismantle the self we were told to be, and become the ones that we are?
- We listen to our intuition. Our intuition is that quiet sense of what’s right for us and what’s not. It may not seem rational or logical, but it always knows what we need. Sometimes, we have to be quiet and still inside of ourselves to truly be able to hear it.
- We stop listening to that critical voice in our heads. Yes, that one. The one that says we’re not enough or we’re too much. The one that undermines our confidence and reinforces our fears. That voice is the voice of others who have spent their lives judging and assigning roles and spreading fear. Maybe it’s the voice of authority figures or family members or our culture. It says no and don’t and can’t, and it doesn’t serve our souls.
- We make a list of the priorities of our lives on one side and our actual daily schedule on the other. We compare the lists. Are the things we want in life, our deepest priorities and dreams, showing up in what we actually do on a daily basis? If not, there are changes we need to make.
- We need to pay attention to cognitive dissonance. If we only ever believe the things we want to and the only truth that we hear is the one we like hearing, there’s something wrong. We need to be equipped to take in new information. We can’t adapt if we’re not willing to look at our own behaviors and call out the undesirable ones. We can’t make the changes we need if we don’t stay open to the world around us and the feedback we’re getting, not only from the people around us, but by the experiences the universe sends our way. We need to make sure that we are receptive to the truth even if it’s unpleasant for us and requires hard work to make changes.
- We can seek professional help. There’s a stigma around that statement. Even I could hear it echoing around the words “professional help” as I wrote them. But, we don’t treat ourselves for medical problems, typically. And, we let mechanics work on our cars. We trust professionals for a variety of tasks, and yet we’re so reluctant to reach out and say that we need help to work through our baggage.
- We can learn to accept ourselves. I just listened to Sounds True’s Self-Acceptance Summit, and I loved every moment of it! The overriding message was that we need to accept who we are, to be body positive, and to really practice the love, compassion, and forgiveness that we so easily give to others with ourselves. We won’t be happy when we lose 20 pounds or when we run that marathon or when we get the promotion we want or have the next child. We won’t be happy as long as we’re chasing a set of circumstances rather than loving our lives as they are right now.
- We can meditate every day, even if it’s only for five minutes. Get quiet. Get still. Listen. How can we know who we are if we never stop and listen?
We’re not a selfish generation, at least not entirely. So many of us are working hard to dismantle the armor we were told to wear so that we can find our truest, most vulnerable selves.
We’re removing the layers and finding others. At the heart of it all is this love for our lives and for humanity that can’t get out as long as we’re wrapped in layers of should and can’t and don’t.
Author: Crystal Jackson
Editor: Lieselle Davidson
Copy Editor: Sara Kärpänen