FMM 5 10 19 Mirror Mirror
“Low self-esteem is like driving through life with your hand-brake on.” ~ Maxwell Maltz.
One of the joys of genetics is that you never know what features a baby will have. Will he/she be a ‘mini-me’ of one parent, or a blend of both? I don’t know what age I was when I discovered that I was cursed with a nose that was neither my mother’s nor my father’s, but managed to combine the flaws of both. And at some point I saw my nose in profile and was convinced that if any boy ever saw me from that angle, he would never want to talk to me. If I confessed this flaw to my (Jamaican) friends, they would of course laugh at me; “Look how you nose straight!” they would reassure me. All white people have straight noses after all. But no, I would explain, see the dip, the bump, the everything but straight!
It may be a feature of evolution that the female of the species learns from early to be entirely too self-critical. When many girls hit puberty, their belief in themselves and their ability to rule the world takes a dive. The child who picked out her own amazing outfits and created new hairstyles, all of a sudden will not come out of the bathroom because of a life-threatening facial flaw. The teenage years become this battleground where future self tries to find their way through doubts and insecurities. I am not suggesting that all girls experience these doubts and fears. Those who exude self-confidence (even if they only half believe it) are often considered too full of themselves, arrogant, conceited. And older women will try very hard to put them in their place.
For some of us, the lack of self-confidence continues beyond those confusing teenage years, and may not be related to our appearance. We may not believe that we are smart enough to enter a certain career, to take on a challenging educational goal, to climb to the top of the pile. Unfortunately, many of us enter marriages with no idea of how to demand an equal partnership, how to speak out on our own behalf. We believe that we need to ‘small up’ ourselves, to ensure the man’s ego stays intact. Instead of spreading our wings to soar to great heights, we stay perched on a branch and feed off the crumbs of our spouse’s success. Maybe I am speaking only for myself, but in the early years of my marriage it never occurred to me to state what I wanted, how I expected to be treated. By the time I woke up and realized how unhappy I was the pattern was already set.
In the arena of higher learning, many of us are struggling with a clash of generational attitudes. We who were sent to huge encyclopedias to ‘look things up’ have no patience for the ‘google’ generation. Instant gratification is to be found at their fingertips. Faculty offices are full of middle-aged teachers wondering how to get students to invest their time in learning, rather than taking screen shots and copy pasting information from one place to another. Knowledge needed for the next generation of professionals resides in a smart phone, rather than in the human brain. Despite all of the available instant information, I have found that the same demons of self-doubt torment our younger generation.
In the 60’s the sociologist Bandura coined the term ‘self-efficacy’ – the belief in your own ability to achieve something. He noted that if you start on a path of self-change unconvinced that you can do it, you are guaranteed to fail. We all can identify with that. If I start a diet thinking ‘I bet I won’t lose any weight’, or any other life-style change like quitting smoking, or starting an exercise regime, then the thought of failure becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I once heard that what differentiates champions from other athletes is an ability to lie to themselves, and believe the lie. It comes back to the concept of the law of attraction. When you announce your plans/desires/wants to the universe, the universe will make them appear. What we believe we will achieve.
So in my role of nurse/teacher/counsellor/coach I often find myself trying to help my students see how important your attitude is. Math is one weak spot. Many students almost have PTSD when they hear about ‘dosage calculation’. These exams are significant; nursing students are usually given two attempts to score 90% on the dosage calculation exams. When you realize that a decimal point can kill a patient (imagine giving 5 tablets when you are supposed to give half a table), then you can understand that we need to be picky. But the anxiety that many students associate with math speaks to early childhood trauma, a parent or teacher who damaged a child’s fragile self-belief, their self-efficacy.
The act of self-reflection, of self-monitoring and self-correction can be one of the most powerful tools of growth. Whether it is recognizing our strengths or critiquing our weaknesses, that willingness to spend a little time in honest and critical contemplation may be the first step to moving forward. When I find a student struggling to emerge from the weeds that seem to be holding her back, I encourage her to imagine it was her child she was talking to. What kind of pep talk would she give that child? Or, if she has no kids, her best friend? Most of us are amazingly supportive of others, able to see their strengths and their best features, but harshly critical of ourselves. Once we can flip that switch, we may then realize how much we have to be grateful for, and realize that like the men in the parable of the talents we have a responsibility to keep our fires burning to light the way for others.
This Friday morning, I hope you can look objectively at yourselves and see the beauty, strength and gifts that far outweigh any perceived flaws and imperfections. I hope you can help those around you to also see how blessed they are. Life is too short to focus on the negative, on the the things we wish we had. At the end of a week where we appreciate nurses, teachers and mothers, I send love and appreciation to all of the wonderful people who play those important roles in the lives of others.
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!