How often do you feel there must be so many other, more qualified, more experienced, more talented people than you?
“You alone are enough. You have nothing to prove to anyone.” Maya Angelou
I recently moved to the amazing city of Atlanta, Georgia. My first week here I found a quiet spot in Piedmont Park and adopted it as my safe space to reflect. I’ve spent many a morning running there, sitting on the crisp, cold stone next to the lake. Watching the water ripple as the geese gracefully glide along the shoreline and periodically stop to bob their webbed feet in the air, wagging their fat feathered bums back and forth. One morning it hit me. They were so natural, carefree, and unaware of what I or anyone else was thinking of them. I admired them for their untroubled lives and yearned for what they had—the complete and total lack of care for what I thought of them. Sitting on the stone wall, breathing in the fresh air and watching those geese, I realized this is the most content and peaceful I’ve felt in years, maybe even my entire adult life.
I have a long laundry list of things about myself I’d like to be “better.”
I wish I could call my parents and ask for their humble advice. I’d like to conquer my fear of failure. I’d like to practice yoga every day. I’d like to be one of those girls who can sport spaghetti straps, ripped jeans, a nose ring and look unbelievably hot. I’d like to stop feeling slightly nauseous when I think about my career choices. I’d like to volunteer more often. I’d like to always have a clean home, sexy underwear in the drawer, and an art project underway (okay maybe I do always have an art project underway.)
All of my life I wanted to see my name on important research articles, and know that I made a difference in the world like so many others I admired.
If you know me, you know it’s in my innate personality to give without expectation, altruistic to a fault. Affirmation is everything to me.
I find a purpose or a person and pour everything I have into it/them until I know my job is finished. In the back of my mind, that purpose was always Global Health. I couldn’t think of another profession that would allow me to impact more lives than this. So, when life handed me a different set of cards, I was crushed. And yes, sometimes life does give you circumstance that negates your ability to choose ( in my case only temporarily). I’ve struggled with the delay in getting to my dream job for years. Mostly internally, but there are a few close enough to me to know how much this affected me. (I will forever be indebted to those who have supported me and listened to my angst and tears.)
Fast forward a few years and I found myself working for an incredible company with a mission I could get behind even if it isn’t what I saw myself doing, but I still wasn’t happy. I feel fulfilled and have a lot of freedoms others don’t, like working remotely. But day after day, I have poured my heart and soul into a job, into a life, that I feel like I didn’t choose for myself. I submit things for work and receive small amounts of praise, but buckets of criticism on top of that – what I could have done better and what was wrong with what I did or how I looked. Deep inside, I knew that that was how I’d learn, grow, and become better, but the constant flow of negative feedback was really taking its toll on me. Most days I would go back to my small apartment and cry about how terrible I was. At some points I was unable to even look at myself in a mirror without breaking into tears.
While this was happening in my professional life, I wanted to make friends, and discovered an app to do so. It’s made me realize the lax attitude we have for others and how much they matter to us. The culture is that people are disposable. Why bother to explain how you feel to someone or the things you appreciate about them when you can delete them from your life in a single swipe? This is yet another area in life that I have struggled with, even more recently than I’d like to admit.
I never felt good enough. I hadn’t yet realized that I was so afraid of judgment from other people because I was constantly judging myself.
Negative thoughts are real
In his book Change Your Brain, Change Your Life, Daniel Amen, a practicing psychotherapist, presents brain scans showing how our limbic system, is physically affected by negative thoughts.
This is an area of the brain the size of a walnut that has many functions, including the way we think.
When the deep limbic system is overactive, it sets the mind’s filter on ‘negative’. They [people who feel negative] are suffering from automatic negative thoughts or ANTs.
They see the world in a haze of grey, feeling pessimism about the future, and regret about the past. Their gloomy, cynical, complaining thoughts seem to keep ‘marching in all by themselves’.
He tells us that if we’re not aware of our thoughts, we can easily believe them to be true. Even if they’re not. Daniel gives us an insight into clients with a wide spectrum of serious problems ranging from relationships, career, and social interaction. Each client was found to have overactive limbic systems.
Our internal dialogue matters
Daniel’s findings are consistent with brain research conducted at Stanford which found different brain cells process positive and negative experiences. The more reinforcement we give to either experience, the more our brain cells react and pass on those messages to the rest of our body. Say, for example, we keep telling ourselves we’re not good enough to write. Our brains physically react to this negative thought. We simmer in a murky, stinky cauldron of hopelessness, dejection, and loss of motivation. These feelings impact us physically through tiredness, stress, irrational thoughts and actions.
Flash forward to moving here, to Atlanta, sitting in Piedmont Park one morning this week. To my left, the city. The hustle and bustle, the crowds, the competition, and the never ending flow of judgement and criticism. To my right was the gentle rippling water of the lake, the soft stones and pebbles strewn along the sand, the geese in all their carefree and content splendor, the swans with their heads held high, floating peacefully along the shoreline. I knew in that moment that I would have to make a choice. I either had to dedicate myself wholeheartedly to this life, with all its criticism, or walk away and find something new. Both choices were equally daunting. I always loved nature and being immersed in it made me feel so calm. Life became simple and easy in those moments and it was okay to be me. The geese didn’t need anyone to tell them that they were good enough.
The geese were simply themselves. They didn’t care that there was someone on the shore. They didn’t instantly attempt to straighten their feathers or worry about whether or not I liked how they were swimming. They were completely at ease. Free.
I decided that I would much rather be a goose with ruffled feathers and happy with myself than someone constantly striving and working toward validation from others, which was how I’ve felt for as long as I can remember. I had to let go of the idea of me, the idea I loved, the idea of who I wanted to be, in order to accept who I really was as a person.
Just as I was judged when I chose this path, I knew I could also be judged for leaving it behind. But that simply didn’t matter anymore.
The best and most fulfilling realization came to me that day on the beach. I didn’t have to earn the right to be deemed good enough. I didn’t have to work for it. I didn’t have to do a song and dance to prove I was worthy.
The truth is there will always be judgment in life. There will always be someone to tell you that you aren’t smart enough, thin enough, or successful enough. You can’t change what people think. The good news is you don’t have to. If you believe in yourself, nothing else matters.
Sitting on that rock alone, appreciating the breeze in my hair and smiling at the geese, I finally embraced the truth. I was already good enough. And it was in that moment of acceptance that I was truly free.
You can’t change people but you can change how you respond to them, which is what I did. Now, I acknowledge the criticism when it comes and immediately let it go. When someone offers support, encouragement, and love, I bring it in and allow it to raise me up higher.
The wonderful part of self-love is that once you know you are good enough already, there’s no way to go but up. The negativity fades and the positivity grows. Embrace the security, contentment, and inner peace that come with accepting yourself.
How can you accept yourself today? My best advice is in three small words: be a goose!
Let the judgment and criticism from others slide off your beak like water, swim how you want to swim, look goofy with your bum in the air, make silly sounds, do whatever makes you happy without caring what anyone else thinks, knowing you are wonderful exactly as you are right now.
Shout it from the rooftops and let the whole world know.
“I am good enough!”
Because you really are. So, give yourself permission to be you. Accept, believe in, and love yourself knowing you are already enough and you don’t need anyone else to tell you that. It is only once you accept yourself that you’ll be free to live the life you’ve imagined.
“Be who you want to be, not what others want to see.”
I learned that lesson from the geese. And for that, I’ll be forever grateful.