Don't Let Other People Define You or Your Worth
Don't Let Others Define You or the Worth of What You Do
How we see ourselves is often defined by the way others see us, until we realize the truth.
We are the only ones who know the true breadth and joy of who we are here to be.
So there I was - totally out of my defined comfort zone.
I was doing something that has never come easy for me:
Sitting on a unfamiliar suburban porch as night fell in a hard chair I just couldn't get comfortable in, while trying to enjoy a potluck meal among near strangers as my husband exchanged climbing stories with his buddies. Hyper dogs alternately chased a ball under my chair and tried to push me out of the way to get THE BALL or tried to steal my carefully selected vegan-gluten-free-depressingly-healthy-but artistically-colorful meal while I watched everyone else eat brownies that smelled heavenly, knowing that my stomach would rebel against me big time if I even had a tiny bite.
I decided I would use this gathering as an opportunity to get better at talking with and getting to know strangers, which is a skill I need to a.) learn to do better, b.) practice, and c.) have generally failed at miserably in the past. Yet, I have learned over the last couple of years that failure isn't a bad thing, it's just part of learning, and talking with strangers is a skill I can practice and get better at...hopefully. In situations like this in the past I would have just sat in that uncomfortably carved but numbing wood chair being pleasantly quiet, drawing people's faces and gestures in my mind while wondering when the time would feel right to quietly head home. I also would have caved and eaten those alluringly chocolatey brownies... and felt sick for days after.
But I'm determined to grow out of who I was in the past and step into who I really am, which means letting go of the habit of hiding. I've realized over the last few years that hiding who I am is also resulting in the art I have poured my heart and soul into being invisible. Being invisible isn't good for me or my art or the people I can help with what I do. I have too much to share with the world to stay hidden anymore...hence being at this gathering as practice to talk with people I don't know.
I gathered my courage.
I chose to set shyness down.
And then tried really hard to ignore the dogs' tail wagging pursuit of the ball they just couldn't share.
I asked questions, listened to the responses, made eye contact...feeling awkward but knowing that practice will make this incredibly scary talking to and connecting with strangers thing easier over time.
And that's when it happened.
My worst fears were confirmed.
The anxiety is rising in my heart as I write this.
An aspiring writer was at the potluck gathering who seemed like a nice person. She was talking to the gathering in general about a book she has been writing and spoke about how she’s currently doing interviews on how people redefine themselves. I lite up. How awesome is that? I'm at this random gathering and meet someone who is working on a project that lines up in a lot of ways with the art I'm creating and the messaging behind the art! Hurray! It's okay to get to know people! I’ve had to redefine myself a lot. I’ve had to cultivate resilience in droves over the years so much I’ve become an expert at it. My thoughts flew joyfully fast. Maybe, I mused to myself, I can help this person out a bit with their project! I was able to relax for about 90 seconds, long enough to say that what she is working on sounds really interesting.
I had just begun to offer to do an interview with her... when she cut me off mid sentence.
She rolled her eyes at me and said in a self important voices reminiscent of popular high school girls, "I've interviewed a lot of people just like you," she sighed and looked around the long table, "and you are of no interest to me."
Then she turned to the person sitting next to me and said to them, "You look interesting, you must know people. So tell me...." The two of them merrily bonded over ALL THE INTERESTING PEOPLE that could be contacted to do book interviews while exchanging numbers and following each other on all the social media inter webs while my brain fizzled, spinning uselessly like the rainbow wheel of death on my laptop when a program stalls out. My eyes were refusing to cry bitter tears as I sat open mouthed in shock, then quietly shut it.
No one countered her words.
Instead, they all nodded in agreement while the ever busy dogs barely missed yanking out my insulin pump tubing and infusion site from my body. My husband wasn't there, he was getting more food inside while animatedly debating the ins and outs of climbing gym setting verses the experience of being on real rock climbing routes outside with his buddies.
I was boringly, miserably alone in a sea of seemingly much more worthy and interesting people.
My worst fears had been confirmed.
I AM BORING.
I AM OF NO INTEREST.
My thoughts spiraled down and down and down. There is nothing interesting about me my shocked mind echoed on repeat numbly. That means to me that nothing I have to say is worth saying, others can do what I do better, the idea that I can help others is a fantasy, the work I create is as awful and boring and unworthy of notice as all those art directors and professors said it was. All the ghosts of the past haunting my progress in my life and artwork felt very real and very strong while the words "you are of no interest to me..." echoed across the hushed remnants of my courage and reverberated with a sense of deep failure and unworthiness throughout my being.
It was impossible for me to show up as myself the rest of the night. I reverted back to my old quiet self to the point that I found myself literally standing in a corner like I used to do back in the social torture experiment called high school, unable to sit or escape the aura of being hopelessly boring. The writer continued to work the gathering and go on being "interesting". I've never been good at comebacks, so it felt like there was nothing I could say or had to say or that anyone would want hear.
On the dark drive home it occurred to me to be grateful I hadn't been in the middle of a depressive episode that day.
Things could have gotten very bad, very fast.
It also occurred to me that I don't have to listen to people like that.
By shutting down and settling back into my old self I was giving my power away to someone who definitely does not deserve it. I won't wish ill on that writer, I might even send healing thoughts her way because she has a long hard journey of growth to travel if this is the usual way she treats people. My old self would have taken her words to heart: "I've interviewed a lot of people just like you and you are of no interest to me."
My old self never would have told them to a soul -let alone writing about them publicly here- and would have seen those awful words as devastating confirmation that there is something terribly wrong with me, and that includes being boring and horribly uninteresting.
But my new self - the person I am stepping into being - was feeling rebellious rage by the time I pulled into my driveway.
How dare someone try to force me into a box, a label, a state of being that is not of my choosing!
How dare someone try to make me or anyone else feel small!?!?!
How many other people has she done this to?
What if they don't have the tools and support I do now?
She is a stranger who doesn't know me at all. She doesn't even know what I do because she didn't bother to listen or actually open dialogue. She has no idea what I am capable of or what I have had to go through to get to where I am now.
She doesn't get to put a label on me or push me back into the box of invisibility.
Only I determine my self worth - no one else. Same for you.
You are the only one who determines your worth and the worth of what you do.
And in case you are wondering...
YOUR WORTH and MY WORTH IS VAST.
We are worthy of love and success.
We are enough just being ourselves.
We are incredibly interesting people who are doing amazing things.
We may not be special snowflakes, but we are all incredible works of art ever changing and sculpted by time and experience and the courage of making our dreams come true into something truly remarkable - people who care about each other and healing the world.
And that is no small thing and is not at all boring.
So if you have an experience like I did, no matter if you are expanding your comfort zone or already in your place of genius, remember that you are not alone. You do not ever have to listen to or heed naysayers or dream killers or just plain rude people wether you encounter them in real life or lurking in the comments on your social media feed. Don't let them make you feel small or subside into invisibility.
Instead, close your eyes for moment and remember that you are not alone and I'm rooting for you.
Use those times of adversity to remember who you truly are, what you are really here to do, and as further confirmation that world needs to hear your message and the experience the healing that comes with it. That's the reason I'm writing this post, instead of taking that writer's words as confirmation of my fears to heart, I'm using them as inspiration to help you and everyone else who has ever been made to feel small, boring, or unworthy to remember that you are incredibly wonderful. When you speak the people who need to hear your voice will hear it, and the people who aren't ready yet, well, that's on them, not you.
You are the only one who determines who you are, how you show up in the world, and your true value to the world.
You and only you.
In the spirit of being brave, I'm currently looking for opportunities to speak and share messages of healing like this. If you or someone you know are looking for guest podcasters or speakers, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact me by clicking here.
Art that helps you see your true worth.
Helping you realize your incredible worth is one of the guiding forces behind the women of inner strength portraits I create.
It is incredibly important to me to help women like you see the value of who you are - magnificent, capable, intelligent, and strong in so many wonderful ways. Yet sometimes outside forces cause us to forget that we are the only ones who determine our worth, no one else. The inner strength portrait drawings and paintings I create are talismans for you to remember through good days and bad that you are worthy of love, success, and making your dreams come true.
Your worth is vast, let me show you through art.
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