A recent research study found that girls begin doubting their brilliance at around age six. The article didn't say when girls stop doubting their brilliance, likely because the answer to that question is "never", which is so unfortunate. I often wonder how many incredibly talented and wonderful people are holding back because they worry that they are not enough and what they have to offer just isn't that important or good. I wonder because I often find myself holding back and I know I can't be alone in that experience. Anytime I am about to "put myself out there", I often pause to think about how there are so many people who are more talented, more qualified, more engaging, and more dedicated than me. Sometimes I let those thoughts keep me from stepping out, but almost always I let those thoughts "dim my light". I rarely do anything as boldly or as excitedly as perhaps I should because somewhere along the way I have come to believe that what I have to offer just isn't that great.
When did we begin to believe that we aren't all that special? Small children inherently believe that they are super awesome. They don't stop before trying something new to think "What if I'm just not that good at this?". They don't waste time comparing themselves to their peers, constantly racking and stacking, trying to sort out where they fall...."Man, Sally is so good at tying her shoes, I'll never be as good as she is so I just probably shouldn't even try". But then, somewhere in our early childhood, we learn shame. We start holding back from trying things that seem like they might be too hard. We look around the room, reading reactions, trying to assess how bad a mis-step really was. The things we thought we were good at come into question when we find that somebody else is good at the same thing. We spend significant effort trying to cover up small mistakes here and there, hoping nobody will notice. We try to make ourselves small and minimize our accomplishments to avoid the critics. Eventually, we end up so far down the rabbit hole of self doubt that we aren't able to find our way back out. It becomes our way of life, our normal.
I just don't believe we have to spend the rest of our lives as slaves to our self-doubt and shame. I'm not saying we should all become massive narcissists, but I think we all could use the occasional reminder of our value.
Here's what I know---
- You and I have something incredibly unique to offer the world. In all of human history, there will never be another person who has your exact personality, skills, experiences, passions, and opportunities. Stop acting like you are not that special....you are it. There will never be another you and if you push your unique contributions aside, assuming they don't matter all that much, then you are depriving the world of the one shot they have to experience you and the light you've been given to shine.
- You don't have to be the best to be valuable. There will always be somebody better than you and more successful than you. That is not for you to worry about. Start where you are with what you have and do your thing. Revel in the things that fill you up and let go of the weight of comparison. It doesn't serve you.
- Most people don't even notice the "mistakes" you spend so much time trying to hide and minimize. We are at the center of our own experience so it's hard to remember that people are often so busy doing their own thing that they just aren't that concerned about so closely analyzing our lives and our work, looking for something to criticize.
- Life is short. We get one shot at this thing and we can either spend it anxiously trying to avoid any attention and failure or we can spend it doing what we love, unconcerned with what others think. You will not be for everyone and that's okay. They can move along. Life is way too short to spend any time or energy trying to convince other people that you are good- as a person or at the thing you love to do.
We will likely never learn to shake self-doubt and shame entirely, but I hope we can all learn to live a little more unencumbered, a little freer. I hope we can all be a little braver and a little more willing to put ourselves out there. I hope that when we fail, because we will, that we will hop back up, dust ourselves off, and keep moving forward. I hope that we can all begin to see the light within ourselves shining a little brighter and start to share it with the world a little more freely.