Ever feel like your worth is tied up in the approval of other people?
That if you don’t look a certain way, talk in a particular tone, respond the way others want you to, that you are not okay? Not accepted. Not loved.
That if people were exposed to the real you, boy, they would shield themselves from you quicker than one can say “coronavirus.”
We live in a world that can be harsh, unforgiving, and intolerable, and it is not serving us. So how do we improve our connection and our confidence in our true selves to radiate warmth and happiness into the unknown?
Sorry, I am fresh off “Frozen 2” soundtrack influence.
Let’s travel back to an early memory imprinted in my childhood, one that shaped a well-known narrative in the minds of girls and women everywhere.
It is the year 1991. The boy is standing at the front of the kindergarten classroom at Pueblo elementary school in Yuma, Arizona; a crowd of 25 children and a few scattered adults surround him.
Next to him is a man, dressed up as a colorful clown.
The boy looks back and forth between the two girls with their hair done up halfway with bows, wearing birthday dresses, and the chairs they sit in are placed in the center of the other children.
“Her,” he said. “I choose her.”
He had been instructed by the clown to choose one of the birthday girls to present with a gift after a fun magic trick.
I look to my side at the lovely, red-headed, freckle-faced girl sitting next to me while the clown tells the boy to choose one of us. It immediately makes me feel anxious, scared. How will he decide? I wonder. Then I realize how clear it is: he will look at us, and something about one of us will matter.
When he picks me, I think that maybe he likes brown hair more than red.
My hair was extra poofy because my mom loved to tease our curls to the max, and maybe he was into the 1980s do. I was wearing a black-and-white flower dress, so perhaps he preferred flowers. My five-year-old mind intrinsically linked the experience with how important it was to be attractive. Because if I wasn’t, I would forever be resigned to being the one who wasn’t picked. A terrifying, lonely, demeaning, and shameful feeling.
I began to develop a confusing relationship between who I was and what I slowly theorized the world wants a girl to be.
I realized that a lot of boys don’t like it when girls talk too much. I noticed that the prettiest girls in school got the attention. I knew that it mattered to become thin and stay thin for fear of teenage boys calling me names I had heard them call other females around me. I saw the importance of being charismatic but not overly confident. I realized it was good to be smart, but not too intellectual. Ambitious, but not competitive. Funny, but not as funny as the boys.
To add to the complexity, and gender aside, I was a stubborn child. As a toddler, I would pass out in anger. I liked to argue my point and boss around my best friend (until she grew weary of it—but that’s a story for another day).
I loved soccer, and I could eat an entire ultimate cheeseburger from Jack in the Box before my 12th birthday.
I got angry in the fifth grade when the recess manager told me “The boys are playing now.” I marched my clan of girls to the principal’s office, demanding equal time on the playing field.
In the seventh grade, I removed myself from home economics class the first week, explaining in a written letter to the guidance counselor that I was not attending junior high school to learn how to bake the perfect brownie. I was placed in wood shop where I tormented the male teacher to the end of eternity, singing “The Start Spangled Banner” at the top of my lungs while he laughingly recorded the calibration of my vocals on a classroom instrument.
I was not a dainty little flower, ripe for the picking. I was a bit of a spitfire, self-righteous and clearly difficult—if not annoying—with places to go.
For the first time in my life, I was attacked by other females when my family moved from the West coast to the East coast. I showed up to school in Etnies skater shoes, and it turned many a boy’s head, because they wore them and they thought it was super cool a girl was wearing them. I did not get the memo that girls in the South didn’t wear skater shoes, because we all did in the small California town I came from.
I was hated, despised by some of the popular girls as the new chick stealing attention. The one who did not ask permission of the cool girls in the subtle way they expect you to do. They yelled passive-aggressively out into the hallway as I walked by, commenting on what I was wearing or how I looked. It terrified me all the way into the electricity of my heart, yielding palpitations. I had never before felt so unwanted and so scared about my place.
High school came around, and I found a way to mold my understanding of what I thought the world wanted out of me and who I thought I was. I kept playing soccer, practiced dating boys, and found great value in learning how to be likeable.
I went to college and focused on getting into nursing school and learning semi-adulthood. I was introduced to new friends, alcohol, and living on my own. At times, it felt more confusing than life had ever been. I made it to senior year and could not wait to leave, ready to begin the next adventure.
I moved back home, started my first big-girl nursing job, and met the man I soon thereafter married. We both went back to graduate school, and I obtained my nurse practitioner degree, continued my career in cardiology, and then we had our first son. Then we had our second son.
And here we are. I have been spending more time writing, listening, reading, being sober, and meditating. That scene from my five-year-old experience has returned to my consciousness time and time again. It’s funny how we don’t realize how much a seemingly minor moment can shape our understanding of who we are, our worth, or what other people find of value in us.
Here is the tape that had been playing in my head: he chose me because he thought I was the better looking one. But he was a five-year-old boy. Knowing fairly well what a five-year-old boy cares about now (as I am a mother to one), he probably pointed to the closest human so he could get on to the mysterious magic trick that would likely end in a sweet treat. And even if he did choose me based on anything having to do with my attributes, why did my psyche place so much of my value on an extrinsic source of power I had little or no control over? Where did I learn that? How do I unlearn that? How is that possibly helpful?
I cared too deeply for too many years about being chosen. Being wanted. Being worthy. That belief system hinders our growth because we are living for others’ expectations. The world doesn’t need people living to please. We need people living to dare, living to create.
We have a lot of work to do to get there. We need to dig up all of that enclosed mind crap we subconsciously carry around, asking curious questions about what it means, identifying it for what it is, and releasing it. Learning more about ourselves in the process.
There is a new narrative that we can accept to read and recite and remember:
Every woman is deserving of deep love.
Every woman is a princess with heavenly value.
Every woman should be taking care of herself accordingly—even if there’s no prince in sight. Even if there’s a toad she keeps kissing when she knows not to because he just keeps staying…a toad. Even when she feels unattractive or overweight or plain or boring. Even when she’s going through serious turmoil in her life. Even when she doesn’t know where she is going. Even when she is constantly behind in her group texts or mundane bills. Even when she’s got parents to care for, or pudgy toddler toes following her every move, or sacred friends going through the mud of life. Even when she works 50-plus hours a week and takes airplane rides on the daily. Even when she has found her prince and lives with him and the children they had together in a ranch house in the suburbs of sunny Florida.
She loves herself, and the rest is to be seen. Not forcefully, not dictated by the approval of others, but with great adventure and mystique and respect for becoming.
It comes when she is in the space of confident joy of being herself.
But she has to trust herself to go there, to be there, first.
Be quiet, be still, and listen.
It is revealed through you.