I’ve been an overachiever since childhood. Just weeks before I was to begin fifth grade I received a call from the principal notifying me that I had been chosen to serve on the school’s safety patrol. Even better, I was appointed lieutenant which in 5th grade terms meant “top dog in charge”. In those days it was a big honor to be chosen for this task, and it appears I was already exhibiting leadership abilities.
As a sophomore in high school I was elected President of the school’s business club, a position normally reserved for seniors which I held for three years. The club’s primary purpose was to hone students’ business skills by participating in regional, state and national competitions. I won many trophies, but more importantly, under my leadership our club became unofficial event planners coordinating everything from school dances to fundraisers. Those were exciting times and I took it on like a full-time job.
In college my overachievement reached new levels. In the first semester of my sophomore year I decided to enroll in a graduate level communication class. I didn’t do so well, but my professors were impressed enough to make me one of a handful of students selected for a new undergraduate teaching assistantship (UTA) program. That led to an opportunity to co-teach the UTA training course with one of my professors and become a facilitator in the group dynamics course. As a senior, I was invited to serve as the first student representative to the communication department’s faculty meetings and was nominated and honored by the University as part of Who’s Who Among College and University Students.
Of course all of this overachieving took a lot of time and effort. I was totally in my element. If there was a challenge to be had or a project that no one knew how to address, I was your gal. My aim was to exceed expectation and I was good at it. My professional career followed the same format. My entire self-identity became wrapped up in my work. I once got a call about 9pm on a Friday asking if I would be willing to set up an outplacement center at a plant that was closing in a town 30 miles away. They didn’t have a clue about what needed to be done, but someone had committed to having a person on site Monday morning. Despite the fact that I was scheduled for a week’s vacation I jumped at the opportunity. A long-term, ambiguous situation that no one else wanted was right up my alley.
At work I felt invincible.There was no assignment, no challenge that I couldn’t imagine tackling if given the chance. The problem here was for as much as I felt self-assured and confident in the career arena, I felt equally awkward and inept in romantic endeavors. I rationalized both consciously and subconsciously, ‘why should I expose myself to failure, vulnerability and discomfort when I could spend my energies on something I’m successful, confident and secure with?’ So for decades I happily (for the most part) focused my entire existence on work.
So what does this have to do with low self-esteem? I would have asked the same question four years ago thinking my confidence and achievement demonstrated incredibly high self-esteem. I was wrong. In 2011, I resolved to make significant changes in my life by becoming healthier, creating balance in my life and maximizing my happiness. During the first year I made good progress losing 65 pounds and slowly reducing my work hours a bit to make time for fun. What I wasn’t expecting as a result was the increased attention from men. It was intriguing and scary as hell all at the same time. I realized creating balance in my life had to include social and personal relationships so I did my best not to shy away from this new-found attention. One night I was approached by a man with a very strong life force. For the first time in many years I pondered the possibility of love. I discovered rather quickly, however, that I had no clue why this person was attracted to me? I couldn’t accept that someone I thought was wonderful could think I was wonderful too.
Fortunately my path to life change had made me introspective enough to see that I had been expecting someone to come along and validate my worth by loving me despite the fact I didn’t feel deserving of love. Hesitantly I began to appreciate those damn Pinterest quotes. “What you want to ignite in others, must first burn inside yourself.” ~Aurelius Augustinus “We must be our own before we can be another’s” ~ Emerson “You have to love yourself because no amount of love from others is sufficient to fill the yearning that your soul requires from you.” ~ Dodinsky
This is perhaps the most important, but hardest truth to accept. “The fact that someone else loves you doesn’t rescue you from the project of loving yourself.” ~Sahaj Kohli The process of learning to love yourself is one of the most rewarding, painful, exhilarating, uncomfortable, enlightening, stressful and wonderful experiences you can imagine. What I’ve also discovered is when you start to love yourself and take the top spot on your priority list, it will cause friction, resentment, and jealousy. It may lead to losing people you thought were your friends or even ending relationships. Ultimately the people who remain and the new friends that appear, the ones who truly support and encourage your process, are worth the losses you’ll have to face. And once your self-love and happiness begin to grow, it exponentially impacts every other area of your life in a powerfully positive way.