I’ve been fascinated by the vast world of personal growth for as long as I can remember. It started at around age 12 with Louise Hay’s You Can Heal Your Life and has continued for the last 20-something years, with the exception of a 5 year break in my late teens through early twenties, when I had more “important” things to do — drugs, shopping and partying.
In the last several years, I have come to realize that my immersion into the worlds of self-help and drug use came from the same fundamental belief. This is an all-too-common but rarely talked about experience in the personal growth world… I believed that there was something desperately wrong with me, and I wanted to fix or escape it before anyone else saw it, too.
I was broken and needed a cure. Self-help, affirmations, ecstasy and cocaine were my drugs of choice.
Throughout all those years of deep self-analysis and self-criticism, I obsessively assessed where all of my brokenness came from, lamenting all the ways my childhood had messed me up. I had a mental checklist of all of my least favorite qualities of myself, a tally of who I “inherited” them from, and what life experiences created them. As a woman, I was especially fixated on the physical and personality traits of my female family members. I tried to figure out how to avoid the ones I didn’t want to inherit — wrinkles, cellulite, loneliness or insecurities — while sinking in thoughts that I could also never be as good as them — gorgeous curves, warmth, kindness and generosity.
I was lost in deep uncertainty about where I belonged, and confused as to how to be “perfect”. And I had to be perfect…
I wanted to be like the women I saw who seemed so naturally confident, courageous and self-assured. I craved that energy of effortlessness. I’m embarrassed to admit that I actually believed at one point that if only I had been born into a family of women who never doubted themselves, I would have had a chance…
Yes, I now know that there’s no such family. Every family has wrinkles, cellulite, loneliness and insecurity. I also now know that embracing those things as a beautiful part of life is key to appreciating life itself, and beginning to shift the cultural expectation for women to be eternally happy, ageless Barbie dolls.
At the time, I couldn’t see that, and struggled to have a perfect looking life — nice clothes, pretty smile, good job, cute boyfriend — while feeling secretly inadequate inside. Ironically, in my fear of being insecure, I was deeply insecure. In my fear of being someone I didn’t want to be, I didn’t like who I was.
In a personal growth seminar one day, the leader called me to the front of the room to spill my guts, then declared that what was really missing in my life was self-love. His diagnosis felt embarrassing and uninspiring. I didn’t hate myself, I told him. Besides, the idea of focusing on self-love seemed shallow and insincere. There were actual problems in the world — couldn’t he just make me more confident so I could get on with the business of helping others? I didn’t have time for some big, cheesy self-love journey.
But he gave me no other options, so I agreed to make a gentle effort at exploring.
Here’s what I’ve discovered:
It’s terribly easy to get trapped in a judgment loop where you criticize yourself for being how you are, then criticize them for “making” you this way, then criticize others who are “better” or “worse” than you are, then criticize yourself again for being critical. It’s a nasty cycle, and there’s only way out…
The key to creating the confidence, courage, ease and joy that so many of us crave is celebrating other women.
The celebration loop looks like this: when we celebrate where we came from, we are more able to celebrate who and where we are in life, which opens us up to celebrate others, which provides the space to be of greater service in the world. It’s a beautiful cycle that creates unity among women and I believe that it’s the medicine the world needs most.
If you want to make a bigger impact in the world…
If you want to feel more grounded and secure within yourself…
It begins with celebrating the women who came before you.
Take some time today to write a list of the traits that you “inherited” from the women in your family, then choose a few to share with them, in appreciation. Leave out any criticism, complaining or commiserating.
Join the conversation in the comments below, to share who you’re celebrating and why you’re celebrating her, and how you’ll share your gratitude with her.