How many people do you know who live from a place of expansiveness, creativity, and a sense of worthiness?
I just read a compelling book by social work researcher Brené Brown called The Gifts of Imperfection. She gathered many people's stories and looked for clues about what distinguishes those who feel worthy (whom she calls "wholehearted") from those who struggle with feeling worthy. She then compiled guideposts for how to achieve that sense of worthiness in our own lives, a great challenge for most of us. See her TED talk.
Brown discovered that these qualities separate out Wholehearted people from those who struggle with feeling whole:
• The courage to validate our own imperfection,
• Compassion to be kind to ourselves first,
• Connection with others, and
• Expression of vulnerability
I'm reminded of another book by a friend, Birute Regine, who studied the attributes of successful women leaders from all over the world. The book is called Iron Butterflies. See a clip from my TV interview with her on "Alivelihood: New Adventures As We Age."
Regine found that those women who were successful as world-class leaders had the strength of iron, as in "iron determination," but they also had the fragility of "butterflies," as they were willing to express their vulnerability and to address others' vulnerability with compassion.
Many of us in our mid-years struggle with the questions:
What has my life been for? What is the meaning of my life?
Is this all there is?
In the "Third Age" (over age 50), we seem to reach a time when we assess our lives. We might see that our life is finite, that we have only a certain number of years to find happiness and fulfillment. Time seems to pass more quickly. We feel more of an urgency to create a life that we have only fantasized about, but not put into practice.
We question our self-worth when we feel that our life does not have enough meaning. Perhaps we are too often engaged in pleasing or caretaking of grown children and parents, to the detriment of our own self-care or self development. Maybe we embraced the need to be perfect, leftover baggage from childhood that we learned from our own caregivers or from religious teachings. Maybe we were taught that we were selfish if we were looking for any compassion to be directed to ourselves.
Brown's research stands all these assumptions on their heads. To live a wholehearted life, she finds, and then to have the wisdom to be able to be a positive force in the world, we need to make ourselves worthy in our own minds first.
As a life coach and psychotherapist, I often work with people who struggle with self-worth. Even the most successful people in the public sphere often neglect themselves in the personal domain. They second-guess themselves.They experience anxiety and self-doubt. They disrespect themselves by continuing to tolerate toxic work places and unfulfilling relationships. They are often bored with themselves, but attribute that boredom to others or their jobs (paid or unpaid).
Achieving self worth, I believe, involves these processes:
• Giving ourselves exquisite self-care and compassion
• Being real with trusted people and experimenting with doing it more so, even in public
• Brutally assessing our choices of how we spend our days and letting go of those that harm us or do not bring us joy
• Setting limits with people who invade our boundaries, either in personal or public lives
• Creating meaningful activities and practicing them regularly
• Taking risks to keep learning, especially by opening up creative and spiritual channels
If we are embedded in the struggle for self-worth, transforming it is not an easy task. But, we have many opportunities to get help with this via programs offered on the Internet, self-help groups, spiritual and self-development workshops, books and workbooks, life coaching, and psychotherapy.
Here's to transformation, budding and germinating in this beautiful early spring.