My sister and I have this thing we do whenever I say something good about myself: I describe my amazingness, then she reaches her hand up and grabs an imaginary pull-cord, yelling “Toot toot” in sync with the two strong pulling motions she makes with her arm. When she first started doing this in response to my declarations of greatness, we’d laugh, and then, because I wasn’t completely oblivious to her inference, my laughter would morph in to a look of sheepishness. Recently though, things have started to change. I’ve started to notice an absence of guilt.
This newfound self-assuredness put me in a state of wonder. What? Me…confident?? It was a big deal, and I loved the ‘wow’ factor that went along with it when I started to connect the dots of my personal growth. I enjoyed the humor as I always do during one of our most recent charades, but this time, I also sensed an undercurrent of seriousness. One by one, questions started to arise.
Were we raised in an environment where it was deemed inappropriate to speak highly of one’s self? Was self-confidence a rare attribute, and if it was demonstrated, was it immediately construed as conceit? Was my sister’s show of horn-tooting hilarity a sign that this was not a ‘me’ she was used to, nor comfortable with? Did she feel compelled to point out my display of audacity, her virtual horn serving as a reminder that I’d gotten conspicuously close to sounding full of myself?
I knew the whole thing was meant in fun, but now my brain was on a roll. I looked at the similarities in our personality. It was clear we’d both dealt with our share of confidence issues over the years. I began to wonder if the idea of unworthiness played a role, that perhaps we carried the belief that we should keep our inner light dimmed, because really, who were we to be shining? For me, I grew up shy, in that painful kind of way, and somehow knew it was severely limiting my ability to say yes to life. As I entered my twenties, I started making choices that I knew would challenge me, and though none of them proved easy, neither was being shy. This was something I wanted desperately to overcome, and eventually I was able to enjoy life more fully as shyness became less of a factor. Confidence and self-worth, however, still remained somewhat elusive.
I don’t know exactly when my tooting started, but I’m now wondering if my continuous noise-making could be the reason I’ve started to believe the things I’ve been saying. Maybe I’ve been unknowingly validating myself out loud, all along. All I know is that the sheepish feeling seems to have taken a back seat through it all. Once in a while, doubt will creep in and I’ll catch myself conforming to familiar expectations. But then I notice how empowered I feel after sharing my latest achievement, and I realize it’s less about bragging and more about recognizing the moments of self-growth. After all the self-help books, constant stumbling and repeat behavior, I’m finally settling in to a much-needed sense of self; of self-worth. My experiences have helped me discover a critical piece to the puzzle that had been missing: I needed to love myself. It was the one thing that needed to happen for everything else to be able to fall in to place. Learning what the hell that even meant was the first challenge. But one thing was certain: I had unknowingly defined it in the past with casual indifference, and seriously underestimated what that would cost me.
I think the answer to the questions above is yes. Somehow, my sister and I had come to believe we shouldn’t be too ‘high’ on ourselves. It was acceptable for someone to toot our horns for us, but not so much the other way around. After having lived a life on one end of the spectrum, I’m now beginning to settle somewhere between the two extremes.
I will continue to fuel my sister’s theatrics, but with the awareness of change; a change in me. I feel an inner strength that wasn’t there before when I speak of my triumphs. These personal milestones were hard-won, and I was beginning to feel a glimmer of pride that could only come from knowing how long, pitted and dusty the road had been up until this point.
I realize not everyone’s form of tooting is music to our ears, but I’ve definitely become an advocate for exploring those first few shy notes. What’s something you’ve done well, recently, or something you’ve learned through self-exploration that, to you, is nothing short of a miracle? Give yourself the credit you deserve. Pat yourself on the back. Be your own best friend.
Come on, grab that pull-cord.
Photo courtesy of Carol Good – all rights reserved