A friend of mine called the other day sounding distraught, and left a message saying that I’m one of the most grounded people she knows, and of course, my mind immediately started arguing with her statement instead of accepting the compliment. Strangely enough, she’s one of the most unfailingly positive people I know, so I guess that makes us even… if we’re playing that game. We constantly compare ourselves to those around us, and fail to recognize our own attributes. There is value in comparison, but it is important to maintain perspective. In this case, I mean a realistic and positive perspective about our own value and inherent worth. For me, this starts with the ability to be vulnerable and feel safe.
We want the safety of being vulnerable with others, but we rarely allow others to be vulnerable with us… or perhaps we don’t recognize vulnerability when it hides behind a mask of anger, anxiety, or frustration. Paradoxically, we are often more compassionate with others than with ourselves; yet we place people on a pedestal, and when they act human, unless they are in our “circle”, we demonize them for being so. I meet women every day who admire so much in others, but don’t recognize their own worth… I’ve been that woman too. It still sometimes shocks me when another woman tells me that she admires me. Those people we have placed on a pedestal are our role models, and we can’t bear to see them as fallible, vulnerable human beings, because our own self-image might be shattered.
We are socialized to always look like we have it all together, and we spend enormous amounts of energy on self-deprecation and striving to be more like the people we see around us. We are taught from an early age that we must work three times as hard as the guys, and not receive praise or validation for our work, and that we must compete with other women for validation from others. We are taught that our value is not inherent, but dependent upon our relationships to others… daughter, sister, girlfriend, wife, mother, grandmother. But Never. Just. Woman.
Perhaps it’s time to be more of ourselves… warts and all, and more accepting of the same in others. As long as we are constantly comparing and competing, we will never be happy. I’ve found this to be true for myself… I’m not competitive with others for the most part, but I’m constantly competing with myself, trying to be better, do better than I have before. When I slip, I find myself in a spiral of self-deprecating thoughts intended to motivate me, but often does the opposite. This is that vulnerable space of which I speak. What I’ve found is that gratitude is the key to being patient with myself and with the world around me. When I sit in a place of gratitude, even for the negative experiences in my life from which so many opportunities have taken root, I am able to hold space for the patience, curiosity and tenacity necessary to nurture those opportunities into fruition. In this space, I find a sense of awe and wonder that feeds the compassion it takes to work through those places in which I feel stuck so I can move forward.
It’s often easier to hold this space for others whom we love, but not for ourselves or for those with whom we experience conflict. So there is my new challenge for myself. I hope you will join me in finding ways to practice more patience and compassion for ourselves and for those with whom we are in conflict, through gratitude. And perhaps, our own vulnerability will lead us not only to compassion, but to seeing that connection which binds us all in the space where “other” does not exist.