I’m one of those people who struggles to be kind to myself. I can be a bit of a perfectionist, and I have to work hard to subdue my “shame voice.” It’s not that I don’t have things that I like about myself, because I do. I’m funny. I care about people and try to be empathetic and supportive. I am ambitious and smart. But, a few years ago I found myself overly focused on things I didn’t like. I obsessed over my weaknesses to the point that I didn’t want to become an improved version of me; instead, I wanted to evolve into an altogether different person. I remember it being a dark and lonely period of time.
A New Perspective
I had a dear friend who was a young mother like myself, Julie. She would invite me over to her house so our kids could play while we enjoyed some much-needed adult interaction. A common theme of our discussions was how we felt we were failing as wives and mothers. We both grew up in households where our stay-at-home mothers kept things very organized and clean. Frankly, our mothers had made motherhood look easy, but neither one of us felt like it was easy for us.
One day as I was lamenting what I perceived as my inability to manage my home—the never-ending piles of laundry, the sink full of dirty dishes, the dust that covered the furniture—Julie shared a story that I’ll never forget. She told me that she walked into her living room one day to find each of her kids plopped down on the furniture or in a corner of the room deeply engrossed in their books. It gave her pause because she realized that while she was so focused on all the things she wasn’t doing, she’d never stopped to think about what she was doing and what they were learning from her. Julie’s love of literature had fed her heart and soul for many, many years. She realized in that moment that of all the things she wanted her kids to learn, be, or do, she absolutely wanted to prioritize teaching them to love books.
Because I had been so focused on trying to be someone else, I felt like I had lost myself in the process. I kept thinking about Julie’s experience, and her story resonated with me. I decided that I wanted to pursue some of the things that had once brought me a lot of joy and fulfillment; I wanted to embrace my strengths. I started teaching part-time at the local university again, which led me to pursue a dream I’d had for many years: going to graduate school.
Finding My Strengths
Fast forward several years. I was managing a large student support program at a university when I was introduced to StrengthsFinder, a book that included a promotion code for a personality inventory (of sorts). I took the online test and was presented with a list of my top five “strengths.” I felt the list was fairly accurate; it highlighted things that I had known about myself for years:
- I’m a deep thinker and my mind rarely stops. As a result, I am introspective and like having time alone.
- I am naturally curious and love learning. I find myself reflecting on the past as a way to make sense of the present and future.
- I like making progress. Achievement is a major part of my self-worth.
- I collect information—almost like a hobby—and store it in my mind. I am energized when I make connections between new information and information I’ve collected.
These concepts played out repeatedly in my list of top five strengths.
I was fascinated by this new concept of who I was—that these ways of being and processing information were actually things I was good at, that came naturally to me. I had spent many years trying to turn off my mind, to accept things as people said they were, and to find satisfaction in roles or relationships that I thought I was supposed to enjoy. However, as I read through the book I started to work on accepting that although others might be frustrated with my methods, I wasn’t flawed. Instead, I had valuable things to contribute to my family, my work, and my community because of my inherent strengths.
I was fortunate to be able to attend a number of trainings that allowed me to delve deeper into the concepts I had learned from the book and inventory. One of the best things that came out of those trainings reinforced what Julie had said years earlier: Instead of focusing on deficiencies, leverage your strengths. Self-improvement is always a worthy goal, and rather than focusing on improving areas of weakness, I can choose to focus on developing my strengths.
The Strategy of Faith
At The Younique Foundation, where we are dedicated to helping survivors of child sexual abuse find hope and practice tools for healing, we include as one of our 5 Strategies to Reclaim Hope the strategy of Faith (which we define as “acting on the belief that hope and healing are possible”). I appreciate Faith because of its emphasis on believing in possibility and acting on that belief, and I have found great value in connecting the things I’ve learned from StrengthsFinder to what I’m learning about Faith. For example, because of my drive for achievement I love the satisfaction of checking tasks off my list of things to get done. These tasks can be something as simple as attending a Muay Thai or yoga class, finishing a book, or folding a batch of laundry—all things that I’ll thank myself for later. I find that recognizing these accomplishments—no matter how small—nurtures my Faith because achievement increases my self-worth and motivates me to believe that a brighter future is possible. This creates a beautiful cycle where, because I feel more hope, I accomplish more. And those achievements lead to more hope and more healing.
I hold to the idea that we—you and me as individuals—are enough. While I am not perfect, there are things that I have gleaned from my life experiences and cultural influences that, combined with my personality and strengths, allow me to be the perfect person for a particular situation or relationship. Sometimes what the world needs is a little more me—or you—because of who we are. I don’t think of it as destiny or fate, per se, but as choosing to be me in a moment when I can make the world a better place.
Embracing my strengths is definitely an ongoing process. I have not arrived at a place where I love myself as much as I’d like to, and sometimes I slip back into the trap of being overly focused on my weaknesses and shortcomings. I still am not always the ideal mother, partner, or coworker and I have to work hard to appreciate the strengths others bring to a relationship or situation.
What I can say is this: Julie taught me an incredibly important truth. I didn’t need to be someone different, and my kids didn’t need me to be someone different either. Instead, we all needed me to find more things in myself to appreciate. As I gradually work on embracing my strengths, I’m finding that it’s easier to prioritize things that increase my hope and heal my heart.
I am stronger, and so is my Faith.
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