Thinking you have to have a high opinion of yourself in every life area is an impossible standard.
This is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, The Self-Love Superpower: The Magical Art of Approving of Yourself No Matter What (September 2021).
You are awesome in a lot of ways. But you are definitely not awesome in every way…because nobody is.
There has been a lot of emphasis on self-esteem in recent decades. Esteem means holding a high opinion. Self-esteem means holding a high opinion of yourself: of your strengths, talents, abilities, and appearance. Self-esteem has nothing to do with self-love. Self-esteem is not a superpower. It’s just an opinion.
Self-esteem in and of itself is not bad. It’s fine! But thinking that you have to have a high opinion of yourself in every life area is an impossible standard. Impossible standards result in delusion or disappointment, both of which can lead to depression. That’s why it’s wonderfully freeing to give up on self-esteem entirely. Don’t worry about it. Don’t try and cultivate it. Don’t feel guilty or flawed for not having more of it. Just let it go.
To clarify, self-esteem is thinking, “My body is so sexy. It should be on the cover of a magazine.” Self-love is thinking, “My body works so hard every day pumping my blood and digesting my food and carrying me from place to place. It’s so loyal and it’s always doing its best. I treasure it and feel grateful for it no matter what it looks like…And even if I think negative thoughts about it sometimes, I know that’s normal and I don’t beat myself up for beating myself up. I just notice the negative thought and then do my best to let it go.”
Self-esteem is thinking, “I am super smart. I am probably the smartest person in this room.” Self-love is thinking, “I have no idea how smart I am compared to the other people in this room, because there’s no way of knowing. And honestly, it doesn’t matter anyway.” Or even, “I love being around highly intelligent people, because they always have something interesting to teach me. And even if I feel inadequate for a second, I don’t let that depress me or keep me from enjoying connecting with people, because I know everyone feels that way sometimes.”
The pressure to have self-esteem can actually undermine our self-esteem. The reality is that no one can (or should) be awesome at everything.
It’s not just that you don’t have to be awesome in every way in order to be worthy of love and approval. It’s that you don’t have to be awesome in any way to be worthy of love and approval. Think about it: who is someone you really love? Consider your son, your daughter, your cat, your dog, your brother, your sister, your mom, your dad, your partner, or your best friend. Bring to mind someone you just absolutely adore.
Why do you love and adore this person or animal? Because they’re a world class skateboarder? Because they’re the best driver on the road? Because they look like a swimsuit model? Because they’re the most popular cat on Instagram? Nope. In fact, when you really and truly love someone, you desperately wish they could know they never have to be any of those things. You want them to see themselves through your eyes, because your eyes see them as they really are: inherently worthy of love no matter how epic or excellent or exceptional they are or are not in the eyes of the world.
I’m not saying we should all just give up and be lazy and never accomplish anything or improve ourselves. What I am saying is that you don’t need to accomplish or improve in order to establish your worth or increase your esteem in your own eyes or the eyes of the world. You can do it because it feels fun and joyful and expansive, or because you just sort of feel like it.
So give up on being super spiritual and having the best meditation habits. Give up on eating nothing but health food and becoming the next Miss America. Of course, do those things if you want to! But stop making them a prerequisite to self-worth. You don’t have to master anything or be the best at anything, but if you do, do it out of a sincere enthusiasm rather than a belief that you have to excel in some (or every) way in order to be lovable. You’re lovable now. You were born lovable. You’ll never be any more or less loveable.
I read an article recently in Mindful magazine about people who spend a lot of time around death and dying. In it, I came across this quote from author Rabbi Rami Shapiro, which I love: “I would push back on the notion that your life has to amount to something. It’s just an amazing thing that you exist at all.”
Indeed, when you imagine looking back at your life from your death bed, do you think you will wish you had been more impressive in the eyes of the world? I don’t. I think I will wish I had been less distracted by being impressive at all. I think I will wish I had just gone swimming instead of worrying about what I looked like in a swimsuit. I think I will wish I had enjoyed the process of writing instead of worrying about whether or not people would approve of what I wrote. I think I will wish I had devoted the entirety of my attention to wonderment, enjoyment, and awe – not to worrying whether or not I was good enough in some way, but soaking in the miracle of being here at all.
The fact is that while most of us excel at a handful of things, we are also mediocre at a lot more things and really terrible at everything else. That is a fact. And so what?
For a moment, imagine meeting someone who is awesome at everything and in every way. First of all, let’s be honest: you probably wouldn’t like this person. Because who could relate? And what a bore! And second of all, they wouldn’t really be all that awesome. They couldn’t! Because there is no one on earth who is. So this is a completely implausible scenario. It’s likelier you’ll meet Bigfoot.
A number of times in the past when I’ve taught or attended a spiritual workshop at a larger event or venue, such as a conference or retreat center, I’ve felt inadequate upon arrival, like someone who vaguely but fundamentally didn’t belong. The other people at the venue seemed somehow wiser, cooler, richer, or more glamorous, and I felt like they all knew each other and maybe even had inside jokes together. This made me feel both ashamed and resentful. But luckily, I’ve learned to remind myself at times like these that my feelings of inadequacy aren’t based in reality and the comparisons I’m making aren’t actually relevant to anything. And that pretty much everyone else is almost certainly feeling the very same way and thinking the very same things about themselves.
That’s why, when I teach, I often like to start off my workshops by naming this feeling. I ask if anyone else feels like I do when they first arrive: like they are the odd man out, and somehow not as wonderful as the other people in the workshop, or at the venue in general. When I say this, the whole room nods. You can feel the group loosen up with laughter and quiet sighs of relief. It’s amazing how much everyone lets down their guard once we get the illusion of personal inadequacy out in the open and see it for what it is: a trick of the mind.
I find it helpful to constantly remind myself of this at parties where I don’t know many people. My initial instinct is that no one will want to talk to me because they will all have better things to do and more interesting people to talk to. But then I override that thought by reminding myself: those partygoers quietly sipping their drinks feel just as fundamentally deficient as I do. On some level, everyone feels lonely, bashful, and insecure. Even people who seem to exude confidence are shy and worried underneath it all, sometimes even more so than the ones who are obviously introverted. And often a feeling of inadequacy can come across as prickliness or standoffishness or even superiority. Ultimately, there’s not a person on earth who doesn’t want to be seen, heard, and appreciated for who they are. Armed with this inner reminder, any party can become a delight as you connect with that spark of magic behind someone’s eyes while asking them where they come from and what they care about. It’s amazing how a person blossoms before you when you bust through the initial fear and bathe them in the insecurity-melting sunlight of your interest and attention.
As an antidote to stage fright, I once heard someone say, “Bless, don’t impress.” This is a useful motto for all situations. Wherever you go and whatever you do, go around blessing instead of impressing. Bless yourself and others with love instead of trying to impress yourself or others with your fabulousness. It’s such a load off and it makes life so much more fun.
In the Tarot, the first card is not number one. There’s a card before that: zero. Tarot card number zero is called The Fool. The Fool is traditionally portrayed as a happy-go-lucky sort of fellow setting out on a journey; all of his earthly belongings tied in a small bundle on a stick slung over his shoulder. Along with a scrappy little dog, he is exuberantly sauntering along a cliff, perilously close to the edge. Like the number zero itself, The Fool exemplifies the power of emptiness: of being free of stories and expectations, and completely open to whatever life brings. He not only doesn’t need to be the best at something, he doesn’t need to have any mastery over anything at all. And this is the ultimate mastery. Because without this energy within us, we would never try anything new or do anything that involved the unexpected. We couldn’t learn anything because we would need to be great at it from the very first try. Clearly, if we aren’t willing to play The Fool – to be amateurish, imprudent, or even spectacularly awkward and naive – life will be predictable, boring, and basically the worst.
Everything contains its opposite: there is no one who excels at something who is not extremely familiar with the path of The Fool. Who is your favorite musician? Rest assured they have made far more terrible songs than good ones. Is there someone you admire for their uncommon and adventurous life? They could never have lived it without setting out on countless paths they’d never been down before and had no idea how to navigate.
When you give up on being awesome at everything – when you get comfortable with being an absolute zero – a whole world of possibility opens up to you because you are open to everything. So right away, you begin to reap the joy of this life experience. Because right away, you realize that life is not about achieving awesomeness or being a badass. It’s about every step of the journey: including the step that is even now beneath your feet. It’s a trick of the ego to think you have to arrive on some special scene and electrify everyone you meet in order to start living a life that matters. The life that matters is already here. It’s within you and all around you. It’s now.
Moving forward, instead of holding up an index finger to tell the world we’re a number one, let’s hold one hand in the shape of a circle and proudly declare that we are a zero: free, open, empty, and inherently worthy with or without the perception of awesomeness in the eyes of the world. Like, Look, ma! I’m a zero! I’m choosing to need nothing, expect nothing, and even be nothing. And so I am open to everything. How liberating is that?
If you liked this post, you’ll love my new book, The Self-Love Superpower: The Magical Art of Approving of Yourself (No Matter What). You can pre-order it now.
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