I went to see Miranda Lambert’s concert back in February. (She is a popular country recording artist.) She played a song called “Bathroom Sink”.
Here are a few of the lyrics:
“It’s amazing the amount of rejection that I see
In my reflection and I can’t get out of the way
I’m lookin’ forward to the girl I wanna be
But regret has a way of starin’ me right in the face
So I try not to waste too much time at the bathroom sink”
Feeling like a failure
Even if you are succeeding in every area and receiving acclaim, award, praise, and other validation for your efforts – you will have moments where you feel like a failure, when you feel like you are not worthy, and when you think you will never get any closer toward any goal than you are right now.
You will have times when you are alone and you will look in your mirror and start focusing on all your flaws, on all the ways you are not as good as someone else. Your hair is too curly, too straight, too thick, too thin, too blonde, too dark, too long, too short. You will notice your eyebrows, are they in fashion? Do you look older than you should? Do you look serious enough, fun enough, cool enough, professional enough, pretty enough?
You will start to feel emotions flowing up, self-doubt, pity, regret for things you’ve done and for things you haven’t done. Sometimes, you’ll cry for no reason… then you stare at your red eyes and hate that you cried, which makes you cry again. You zoom in on the smallest things and not only think, but actually BELIEVE — with your whole heart and soul — that that “zoomed-in flaw” is the entire reason for everything that has ever gone wrong.
Even worse, this one small 10x flaw is only one flaw of 10,000 others. You are certain you have 10,000 more flaws because you are standing there, right now looking in your mirror, over your bathroom sink. The bright light that helps you even out your concealer, perfect your lip color and apply fake eyelashes is working overtime. Now, this same spotlight and mirror are highlighting and magnifying every one of those flaws you are trying so hard to hide.
That’s want I want to talk to you about today – the difference between focusing on all your imperfections and being way too hard on yourself vs. truly useful self-awareness. I do want you to know exactly what your super power is and what it is that makes you special and awesome. I also do want you to be aware of what your weakness are, as they pertain to reaching your goals or achieving your dreams. Being aware of a weakness that you need to address to meet a specific goal, is VERY different than focusing on every little flaw, every mistake, and replaying all your negative voices and limiting beliefs, over and over, in your head. And – I’ll let you in on a little secret, often, what you consider a flaw is actually something that makes you uniquely beautiful, inside and out.
Figuring it out the hard way
First, I want to let you in on something that people I work with today might not believe. When I was 19 and first joined the U.S. Navy, there were two things about me that I really hated and would have given anything to change. Little did I know that eventually, I would consider one of these things a critical part of my “brand” and the other is, without a doubt, one of my superpowers. For both of these things, I had to learn how to embrace them, how to use them to my advantage, because even though they could be “improved,” or maybe modified, they were actually part of my DNA, the way God made me, and therefore no matter what I did, they were part of who I was.
The first was that I have SUPER curly hair. The kind of hair that will not be tamed. In-fact the more products, straighteners, styles, and other tricks I tried, the worse it looked. I went to high school in the late 80s, which seems awesome, given how much people love 80s music and styles now. You may have seen how crazy people’s hair was back then, and I think that high school might have been the first time I started to think my hair was ok. Then it happened… I decided to join the Navy, I went to boot camp, and the first day there, they cut my hair fairly short. It was still a few inches long if I pulled on it and stretched it out, but shorter hair has no weight on it to lengthen it, so it curled up tighter than ever. And… there is no time to fix your hair, in the morning, and we were not allowed to use hair products, so my short, curly hair became a fluffball. I may not have mentioned this, but I had zillions of freckles all over my face as well.
So, one day I was outside on the grinder and my Company Commander, who was a mean fire-cracker of a lady – who happened to be from Puerto Rico, came up to me and started screaming at me. (Did I mention that she was under 5 feet tall?) I was looking down at her but was quaking in my boondockers as if she were 7 feet tall. She was screaming at me about my hair. My uniform cover (civilians might call it a hat) was on my head, and my hair was poking out of both sides and sticking straight out. She was screaming SO loud that the entire base could hear her, no doubt. “What the BEEP is wrong with your hair?! Who do you think you are freaking Bozo the Clown?” “Why do you have so many gosh-dang freckles?” “Are you smiling at me? Seriously?” (I could not help it, I was a smiley person.) “Who the freak do you think you are? Freaking Rainbow bright?” She was using harsher expletives than the ones I am saying here, but you get the point. I already hated my hair and my freckles to my core, NOW I had the person who held all the power in my world at that point, screaming my faults, out loud, to all the people in my company and everyone within ear-shot. From my perspective, this was beyond humiliating. I wanted to run and hide and never come out again, but there was nowhere I could go. I had to stand there and endure this embarrassment.
The other major flaw I thought I had was one that made it hard to function some days. When I was young, I was very, very introverted. Back then, I called it shy – painfully shy. I would simply not talk if I did not know the people around me. I guess I was born this way because I have memories of being 3,4, and 5 years old and staring at people (both kids and adults) who were talking to me, and me hardly saying a word. I am not even sure I looked at them if I thought I could avoid it. My mom’s best friend thought I was not going to be able to function in life. Later, I remember being in high school, by then – in my friend group, I was pretty chatty but if you took me out of my element – for instance, in a group of adults that I did not know, I would seriously clam up. I remember feeling that I had no choice, like I was essentially paralyzed, like there was no way I could ever relax in those situations.
We’ll get back to these two flaws I hated so much in a few minutes…
Let’s talk about Body Image for a minute – what does body image mean?
According to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), body image is how you see yourself when you look in the mirror or when you picture yourself in your mind. Body Image encompasses:
- What you believe about your own appearance (including your memories, assumptions, and generalizations).
- How you feel about your body, including your height, shape, and weight.
- How you sense and control your body as you move. How you physically experience or feel in your body.
Positive body image is a clear, true perception of your shape; seeing the various parts of your body as they really are. Body positivity (or body satisfaction) involves feeling comfortable and confident in your body, accepting your natural body shape and size, and recognizing that physical appearance says very little about one’s character and value as a person.
A negative body image, on the other hand, involves a distorted perception for one’s shape. Negative body image (or body dissatisfaction) involves feelings of shame, anxiety, and self-consciousness. People who experience high levels of body dissatisfaction feel their bodies are flawed in comparison to others, and these folks are more likely to suffer from feelings of depression, isolation, low self-esteem, and eating disorders.
A positive or negative body image actually does not have to have anything to do with weight, it can apply to other parts of your body, your hair, your face, your height, your complexion, etc. I have a female friend who has really big hands and she talks about them all the time, and you can tell she has a negative body image about them but, if she had not mentioned them, I wouldn’t have thought much about them.
The pit of despair
So, think back to those times when you have been getting ready in the morning, and the time you spend focusing on that one thing, your perceived flaw. You might not even be doing anything about it, you might just be looking at it, wishing it was different, and meanwhile – time is ticking away. Your mind is spiraling your thoughts into a deeper and deeper hole the longer you stand there. We’ve all been there at some point.
As you go down that hole, you find that scared part of yourself that only wants to talk about your limiting beliefs, the reasons that you cannot succeed. You start to hear negative voices circle all around you. Have you ever seen the movie, “What Dreams May Come” with Robin Williams? It is such a good movie, one of my all-time favorites. There are some scenes depicting Robin’s character’s version of Hell and at one point, he is standing in a sea of grey muck, with hundreds of arms and hands trying to grab him and pull him down into the abyss. This moment, standing at your mirror thinking about your flaws and limiting beliefs is basically the same moment as this pit of despair, the arms of darkness dragging you into a torturous place. You have to find a way to quickly stop this when the slide begins. You have to DECIDE you are not going to Hell, and you have to take immediate action to turn the tide of your emotions. You can do this, you can take control of your thoughts.
Understanding and Combating Shame
One of my favorite authors who spends a lot of time on topics related to this is Brene Brown. In her book, “Daring Greatly,” she has a chapter dedicated to Understanding and Combating Shame where she breaks shame into 12 separate categories. “Appearance and Body Image” are but one of these categories. She says shame is real pain. She quoted a 2011 study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and by the National Institute for Drug Abuse. She said that researchers found that, as far as the brain is concerned, physical pain and intense experiences of social rejection “hurt” in the same way. Also, she clarifies in this same chapter that shame and guilt are two separate and distinct emotions. When you feel guilt, that means you DID something bad. When you feel shame, that means you ARE BAD. For example, if you miss your son’s soccer game you say, “I’m so stupid, I’m a horrible mom!” That is shame. If you say, “Wow, I can’t believe I missed that game, I should have left earlier, that was a lazy thing for me to do!” This is guilt.
Brene Brown says you can develop “Shame Resiliency”
Here are some action steps Bren Brown recommends to fight off shame, including the negative voices in your mirror:
1. Recognize shame and understand its triggers. Learn to recognize when you are in the throes of a shame attack. Try to see yourself and figure out what the root cause of the event was. “Recognizing Shame and Understanding Its Triggers. Shame is biology and biography. Can you physically recognize when you’re in the grips of shame, feel your way through it, and figure out what messages and expectations triggered it?
2. Practicing Critical Awareness. Practicing Critical Awareness. Can you reality-check the messages and expectations that are driving your shame? Are they realistic? Attainable? Are they what you want to be or what you think others need/ want from you
3. Reaching Out. Reaching Out. Are you owning and sharing your story? We can’t experience empathy if we’re not connecting.
4. Speaking Shame? Are you talking about how you feel and asking for what you need when you feel shame?”
One BIG BOLD Action:
Track the amount of time you spend in front of any mirror, and make a point to get that number as close to zero as possible. If you absolutely have to look in the mirror to get ready in the morning, use the mirror for only the necessary things
You will find the less time you spend in front of a mirror, the happier you will become. You will forget how you look and you will act how you feel, instead of how you look.
Finding your superpower
Now, I want to talk about your true strengths and weaknesses, for a moment, and how doing exercises and spending time to clarify them is time well spent and will accelerate your productivity and honestly — your life. Taking time to identify your strengths and your weaknesses isn’t just an activity to make you feel good or bad about yourself. It’s a process that will allow you to understand how you can be most effective at what you do, and where you’ll need to improve if you want to be successful. This is very different than knowing and focusing on each and every perceived physical and mental flaw.
It is important to know what your 2 to 3 BIG strengths are – then go all-in on them. It is also important to be aware of your 2 to 3 biggest weaknesses and then to find ways to compensate for them, like finding people on your team who have strengths where you have weaknesses.
There are many online assessments and books out there to help you figure out your strengths and weaknesses, and I’ll make sure to sprinkle in some of those resources in future podcast episodes. I have two recommendations that you can start with, each with a slightly different focus. They are very low cost as you can get the code to take the assessments when you purchase the accompanying books. The books are available in all formats on Amazon.com:
1. Strength Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath – cheapest book format on Amazon is under $20.00
The premise of this book is that all too often, our natural talents go untapped. They believe that people who use their strengths are three times more likely to report having an excellent quality of life. StrengthsFinder 2.0, one of the bestselling business books of all time, is loaded with hundreds of strategies for applying your strengths. StrengthsFinder 2.0 includes access to the CliftonStrengths assessment and to personalized reports and tools to learn more about your strengths.
2. “How the World Sees You” by Amy Hogshead – the cheapest book format for this one on Amazon is under $10.00
3. Here is an activity that you can do for free and you can start working on it today. If you aren’t interested in the books and paid assessments, there are things you can do on your own or with the help of your friends, family, and colleagues.
I want you to get a notebook or a journal and make two columns: strengths and weaknesses
Take 30 minutes or so, and even if you think you basically “know” what your strengths and weaknesses are, write down between 5 and 10 in each column. You don’t have to get down to nit-picking and listing every single thing you can thing of; focus on the top strengths and weaknesses. Here are some prompts to help you think:
- What am I naturally good at?
- What comes easily for me?
- What types of complements to I receive from others?
- What types of activities do I dread
- Which projects and tasks seem to drain my energy?
- Which projects fill me with endless energy, like I could work on them all night?
- What do I enjoy doing with my free time?
- What are my hobbies?
When you are done, take time to ask trusted family members, friends, and colleagues. Once you do this, you will have a good idea – even without a paid assessment.
One of the best quotes I have heard this week is:
“You alone are enough. You have nothing to prove to anybody.”~Maya Angelou
Hear this… “You alone are enough.” Repeat it, this is the type of voice to have in your head, “You have nothing to prove to anybody.”
The rest of the story…
So, let’s get back to my Bootcamp story about my “Bozo the Clown” hair and my painfully shy childhood. what was the outcome of the most hated attributes from my young life, the ones I would have given anything to change?
Since curly hair and introverted tendencies are part of my DNA, they cannot be completely done away with. I did spend a lot of time with my hair pulled up, there was A LOT of time spent straightening it, there were disastrous Christmas parties when I spent HOURS getting ready, just to be at an evening outdoor event where my hair hit humidity (we live in San Diego) and then exploded into a complete puffball.
Somewhere in the back of my mind, I heard my grandma whisper, “Someday you are going to love your hair, someday you are going to thank God for these curls.”
Eventually, I realized that when I left my hair curly, with very little product, it handled the weather much better than when I straightened it. So, I started leaving it curly more often. One of my girlfriends told me about a Curly Hair Stylist who specialized in curly hair, and I decided to go give her a try. I will tell you – her attitude and love of curly hair finally got through to me. I found my way, left my hair curly, and now I am just me. Others can love it or hate it, but this is who I am and I own it. My hair is also Auburn, so when I am out and about, with my energetic, positive attitude, this hair has become a part of my “Brand.” People see me coming, I stand out in a crowd, and I am authentically me. There are so many days when I know I am on fire – I walk in a room, I smile, I feel enthusiastic, and I KNOW that others light up. My hair is not the reason, but it is part of who I am, and maybe making peace with that perceived “flaw” IS some of the reason for the success I have had. Making peace with your differences and fully embracing them will bring you natural confidence. NOTHING is more beautiful than a confident woman who loves who she is.
The other thing is that lingering shyness, now I say, “I am introverted”. I have realized now, through experience, self-awareness, and education that being Introverted is actually a superpower. I see things others miss, I listen to people, I read the room, I find ways to connect others. I have found the power of communication, but also know the reality that what “introverted” really means is that with intense engagement and interaction, I am going to need some quiet recovery time – so I work that into my schedule, as necessary.
If you ask me if I would change either of these attributes, I would say, “HECK NO!” I would be a different person without them and I love this version of me.
Don’t be so hard on yourself
Ok so – do not be too hard on yourself, be self-aware, know your superpowers, and the areas where you could use some help, but let all the time spent worrying about those flaws go. Be authentically you.
Miranda Lambert is quite the philosopher, she writes most of her own lyrics and is quite a masterful poet. To bring this full circle, one of the songs she performed is called, “All Kinds of Kinds.”
I’ll leave you with this thought….
“Now some point the finger, let ignorance linger
If they’d look in the mirror they’d find
That ever since the beginning to keep the world spinning
It takes all kinds of kinds
All kinds of kinds”