Let’s play a game of truth or dare: dare me to say the one thing about myself I hate the most.
Okay so this is more like a truth and a dare all rolled into one.
Here it is: I have really low self-esteem.
At first meeting you might not believe this about me and that would be understandable. I am no stranger to “faking it until I make it”, which isn’t to say I’m a fake person but more that I can smile through my fears and lack of confidence pretty well. But inside? I think I suck. I’m not quite sure when it started or why I choose to believe I suck but it’s something that has plagued me for as long as I can remember. I have this really annoying tendency to discredit all the good, lovely things about me and focus on the ways I fall short. And don’t even get me started on the ways I deflect compliments. It’s like I’m trying to force the kind person complimenting me to change their opinion of me to the one I have of myself.
I’m not proud of this. In fact, you could even call this the “cherry on top” of the giant sundae of things I would like to change about myself.
This whole “low self-esteem” thing came to a head a few weeks ago when the chair of the Communications program at my Alma Mater emailed me and asked if I would be the keynote speaker for their big senior gala in May. It’s pretty big deal for the seniors, their families and the faculty…..or at least it was when I was a senior roughly eleventy billion years ago. She asked if I would talk about how I was able to carve out my own niche of success and give the graduating seniors advice on how to navigate life post-grad. “We don’t ask just anyone,” she wrote, “and we would be honored to have you speak to our students.”
Reading her email I suddenly felt very self-conscious and the only thing I could think of was “WHY THE HELL WOULD THEY PICK ME?”
I started second guessing myself: like what had I done in the last (insert number of years here) since I graduated college? I didn’t start a business or invent anything. I wasn’t an award winning scholar or a note-worthy….well…anything. Why in the world would my Alma Mater want me to be their keynote speaker? And also, how terrifying to think that I would be getting up in front of over 100 people to talk about success when I barely feel successful myself!
Can someone tell me why it is that we are so quick to believe our critics but not our encouragers? Why are those voices in my head saying “you can’t” so much louder than the ones saying “you deserve this”? I have gotten so used to selling myself short that I can’t for the life of me imagine why someone would want me to be a guest of honor at such an esteemed event when I feel like I should be the one in the back of the room taking notes. That way of thinking has caused so many shortcomings in my life: so many times I have shrugged off any type of good because I didn’t feel deserving of it. And I hate that about myself.
In 2016 I challenged myself to thrive; that in those moments when I think I can’t, I will instead tell myself “I will”. I will take all those things I hate about myself and find ways to grow despite them. I realize this is easier said than done, but here is my first opportunity to overcome my low self-esteem…..here is my first chance to thrive.
I made myself reread the email and when those negative voices started chattering in my ear I asked myself “why not?” “Why not me?” Maybe I’m not the most successful alumni that’s gone through the program, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a story to tell or some wisdom to share. And you know? Maybe I will suck, maybe the whole thing will be a flop but at least I can say I gave it a try. To pass up such a great opportunity because I’m worried about what others will think of me would be worse, and more regrettable than not going for it.
And so, in May, I will be returning to California to give my very first keynote address. I have no idea what I’m going to talk about yet, and have spent the last few weeks obsessively watching TED Talks to get an idea of what a keynote should sound like, but I’m excited…..and I’m extremely honored. This is the first big step towards being more confident in me, my abilities and my story. And at the very least, I hope I will be able to make them laugh.
I’m proud of myself for choosing to thrive: for identifying this was an opportunity for growth and change….and not running for my comfort zone the first chance I got. Because I wanted to, very badly.
I’m also slightly terrified, need to lose at least 10 pounds before the event and have nothing to wear.
These changes don’t just happen overnight.