“I have become too comfy calling myself a piece of shit worth nothing….no one appreciates the amount of work I do. I look like a fool……..etc etc. I want to come out of this self-pity condition and work on believing myself. Stop depending on external ppl to tell me how good I am, what I can do and cannot.”
When a good friend wrote to me thus, a flood of memories came back to me. I was sleep-deprived, having had less than two hours of sleep after flying back from the Maldives. I didn’t respond to that friend in that sleepy, dazed state. And now, my dearest friend, this is what I want to say.
Dear Self-Esteem Seeker,
When I was a child, I was painfully shy. I would cower if asked to speak to people. I was surrounded by a gorgeous sister who was getting movie calls, was an extrovert who could charm anyone, and was also the college topper. In contrast, I was wearing ‘soda-buddi’ glasses, I was failing my school exams, and I couldn’t open my mouth and utter a few words. I struggled through school.
Then I came to college – I no longer had subjects like Chemistry and Physics. A teacher told me that I should apply for law school. I looked at her dazed. Me? Me? “A little bit more effort, you will be JNC’s first rank holder,” she urged. I didn’t put in that extra effort because I didn’t believe her. I didn’t believe myself. I graduated from Christ College later, and yes, I was the college topper. How cliched, right? But wait. I was still stuck in a corner. I couldn’t speak to anyone. I had a new haircut by then, and I was wearing lenses. It’s amazing how physical appearance can mold our inner selves.
Then on to JNC where I was doing my Master’s in English Literature. And here it was that everything came unraveling. I could no longer stay quiet and then write long passages in stealth later that my teachers would love. No. My teachers here loved it if we spoke in class. Expressed our opinions. Shudder. Being quiet was not an option.
I read self-help books desperately. I trained myself in self-hypnosis. And slowly, I started to speak as they wanted to. I hid my shyness in a dark closet of my mind and started this new dress of my self. Did it work? It did. Here’s what I learned from that:
Your mind is really putty in your hands. You can shape it any way you want. The mind is the most annoying animal. But it’s yours. The wonders you can coax from it are immense.
Let’s fast-forward. I moved through to work. I learnt to swallow my fear and teach children. Remember courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is the facing up to of that fear. You are courageous in facing your demons. How do we make our demons into diamonds?
Over the course of more than a decade, as I took different jobs, I learned. I learned to manage a team of almost 50.
And no. I didn’t think I am fantastic even then. I felt like an imposter as my team looked up to me. What do I know about grammar? Writing? What do I know of anything? I started Trippin Traveller, and my doubts became larger. What do I know about marketing? I suck at sales. I can’t sell ice to an Arab in the desert. What am I good at all? The questions were the same. Who am I?
The answer, my friend, is that this is who we are.
We are our hopes. Our vulnerabilities. Our deepest fears. Our largest anxieties. We are the sum of all the wretchedness of ourselves. We are beautiful.
We are wading through life every day, and trust me, no one has any idea what they are doing with life. You can read about ikigai and hygge all you want, but I don’t think there are many people who get up thinking: This. I know what the purpose of my life is.
We can’t magically transform our lives overnight. It has taken me 25 years, and I am still here. Still with the same fears as I had when I was 10. But we can take small steps:
- It’s wonderful that you are no longer happy being comfortable. The pain you are going through now is transformative. Keep getting uncomfortable. You are growing. Take 20 deep breaths every time you are stressed out too much. Hell. Take 200. Sometimes, the world is really our thoughts. Nothing is really a big deal.
- Make a list every day of at least nine things that you are great at. I mean it. It doesn’t matter if it is. “I am great at laughing.” Not too many can laugh heartily! Compile that list. Grow that list.
- Start a gratitude practice. (Old advice that everyone trots out. I know. But here’s what I do. I took a big plain jar. I cut up small pieces of cardboard. At least 365 pieces of those. Every day, in the night, I write the date, and I think of something that made me smile that day. It’s amazing how even on our worst days, there was always, always something that makes us smile. I write silly stuff like : April 13. I saw the blue sea from the plane today. Made me smile. My jar is filling up and one day I will look at those pieces of colored paper inside and smile at how full a life I am leading.
- Define two things: What you love doing and what you get to do. I would love to just have someone pay my bills while I write and travel the world. But. What I get to do instead? I run a travel company where the work is maddening. I consult for a newspaper group. The latter pays the bills. And that I am grateful for. So, bite the hook. Tell yourself that you can’t put restrictions on the kind of work you get to do. Do what you can. But earn. You don’t have to earn millions. But define how much you need for your lifestyle. And then, most importantly define how much time you want to spend every day doing what you get to do. And then, the rest of the time is doing what you love doing. You don’t have to feel that this is some great passion. No. Forget that. I love reading and traveling. I earn just enough to make a living so that I can read and travel. But it doesn’t come by chance. You have to put your wish out there.
- You will not start to love yourself immediately. I believe the book, ‘Start Where You Are,’ by Mira Lee Patel is a great start to figure out some things in your life. Take time with yourself. One lifetime is long enough.
- Please start work on this calendar
- Start to rewrite your thoughts to yourself. If you think, “Shit, it’s a fucking jam,” then you are adding stress to a fact you can’t control. Traffic jams happen whether we like it or not. Think instead, “Hmm. Looks like I will be stuck here for a while. What music can I listen to?” *Hums along. So, start thinking of what you can control. Your thoughts? Yes. You can’t control what you think. You can reshape those. You can’t stop yourself from thinking. No. But each time, think of each thought as a bubble in your mind, and then gently visualize letting that thought go.
- Start very small. Embrace curiosity. Instead of thinking of what major changes you can make to your life, think of what changes you can make just today. When you get up in the morning, can you be curious about what the day will bring? Just that thought. “I wonder what today will bring?”
Over the next few days, I will share some more thoughts on how we can live with our self-despair. Note that I do not say ‘overcome our self-despair’. I say we need to live with it.
We have to learn to live with every aspect of ourselves- with the same kind of compassion you might give to a wounded dog on the street. The dog didn’t do anything to be wretched. You need to think that of yourself. You need to nurse those wounds and make those scars stars. Because you are good. Because you are a messed-up, fucked-up beautiful you.