This Thanksgiving, when you are going around the table and saying what you are thankful for, consider saying -- "I'm thankful for just being me." Your mom might gasp at how selfish that sounds. Your brother will snicker because he thinks there's very little you should be thankful for in that department. Grandma will be on her third martini, for which she will proclaim -- for the tenth year in a row -- that she is thankful.
We've all heard it before -- we can't love others until we learn to love ourselves. Similarly, I don't think we can fee gratitude for our lives until we are grateful for who we really are--deep inside. But how many people automatically jump on the scale in the morning and scream--"woo-hoo! -- I gained 12 pounds and am so beautiful!" How many people get fired and say -- "Wow! That proves it wasn't for me!" Who gets dumped and says --"Thank you, George, for reminding me how fabulous I am!" Maybe the Dalai Lama, but he doesn't date, so I don't think he can really comment. No -- loving ourselves that deeply comes only with knowing ourselves that deeply. And we can only do that with a little -- or a lot -- of work. But how worth it would it be to look into the mirror and be so thankful that your heart almost bursts? And how amazing would it be if you began to live your life like you actually meant it? For me, for my family, for my sanity -- I decided it was worth everything in the world. Here's how someone much further along in this process counseled me to begin:
1. Listen to that tiny little voice inside. Yes, there is a little voice inside you that will always tell you exactly who you are. I bet you rarely listen to her -- I know I didn't. She often gets confused with those little demon voices that that tell you you're not pretty enough, skinny enough, smart enough, fill-in-the-blank enough. Those voices are not the real "you" and you have to start kicking them to the curb. Just don't start yelling at them out loud -- that'll get you on some FBI list.
2. Start digging... deep. The way to hear your true, loving voice more strongly is by stripping down all the layers of emotional baggage that feed the little demons. Finding who you are starts by realizing who you're not. You're not that voice that tells you your nose is too big or you're too dumb to get that job. But to punt kick those voices for good, you gotta go deep to know how they got there in the first place, so you can replace them with the kindness and self-love that we all innately possess. Even if your family was pretty darn awesome, you've got negative stuff built up under there just by living, breathing and growing up in this world. We all have something, and yours may be deeper than you think.
3. Talk it up with someone who's been working at this for a long time. I have so many friends who say "I don't need therapy -- it's my husband who's making me miserable". Or "I'm now totally Zen because I bought a Buddha for my kitchen counter." Or "I read Sally Joe's book on finding herself and look at me now!" Yep, I'm lookin' at you and you're just the same person I saw yesterday. You can't do this -- if you really are going to do it -- alone. Reach out. It doesn't need to be a therapist, but just someone who's been working at this a lot longer than you. Oh, but a good therapist can probably make it go faster, so hide your head under a scarf, wear some Jackie O's and go pour your heart out. Your heart -- and your little voice -- will thank you.
4. You gotta start trying. When your little voice speaks up -- try to follow her. She will lead you to the ideas, hobbies, causes, people that make your heart sing -- and that my friends -- is the real you. So start trying new things and then see if one of them knocks you upside the head. I call it grasping because that's a little what it feels like. It will actually seem kind of pathetic, but it will help strengthen that voice. Trust me, she's not afraid to tell you what isn't working:
"Yikes -- I'm a terrible photographer."
"God, I can't sing."
"I just pulled a hamstring trying to run ¼ mile."
"My 5-year-old just beat me at chess."
"I probably shouldn't have represented myself in court."
It takes a lot of "Oh hell nos" to get to a maybe. But you might be writing a thank you note or a really fabulous shopping list and hear "Wow, you're a really good writer." And just like that -- you've got one more clue as to who you might really be and what you're supposed to do with it. So follow it -- and see what you learn along the way. You may be ecstatically shocked at who you find.
Who knows, maybe the journey itself is who we are. The only thing I know for sure is that I still don't know who I really am, but I'm further along than I was last year -- and for that I am grateful. So smile as you look around the table this Thanksgiving. Tell your mom that the voice in your head told you to say it; smack your brother and tell him to get a job; and be thankful for being exactly who and where you are at that moment. After all, at least you didn't pass out in the sweet potatoes like grandma.