A Sense Of Self
Last month I went to Rome for a 45 minute interview. The 16 hour round-trip was totally worth it however to meet the utterly charming, former L’Uomo Vogue fashion editor, Robert Rabensteiner. He of the twinkling Paul Newman eyes – can you tell I have a crush? – who told me a story from his childhood in South Tyrol.
Explaining how important nature was to him, Rabensteiner, who grew up with parents who were deaf, said that his grandfather would always ask him to ‘listen’ for the snow coming. Not to look for the snow, but to listen for it.
When was the last time you listened to anything that intently? I wrote recently that it takes a mind quiet enough to appreciate the beauty of imperfection but it also takes a mind quiet enough to have any sort of clarity, especially clarity about oneself.
And yet, a strong sense of self: that is, knowing your mind, values, ideals and sticking to them has always struck me as a woefully undervalued attribute. We don’t hear anyone bang on about it nearly enough when really, it’s the strongest weapon in your arsenal. Possessing this will help navigate life with more ease, and leave you, day-to-day with a profound sense of calm and happiness. As Bryony Gordon says in her recently published book, You got this: A Fabulously Fearless Guide to Being You, “refusing to give into peer pressure because it doesn’t sit right with you doesn’t make you dreary – it makes you someone who knows their own mind.” In Gordon’s book – and mine – that is pretty damn cool. Sensible people, she goes onto explain, take risks all the time: the risk of being left out. How wonderful it is to really know what sits with you and what doesn’t.
A very good friend said that one of the most important lessons she has learned over the years is not to let anyone make you cruel. No matter how badly you want to give the world a taste of its own medicine, it’s never worth losing yourself. She feels thrown when she has been forced into managing a situation or person in a way that is at odds with her values.
A good place to start? A large part of achieving this is learning to say no. I’m not sure there is a word harder to say than no, other than sorry perhaps. Small and so very loaded, it is much trickier to say than yes which advocates positivity or a can-do attitude. No, meanwhile can sound negative and definite sounding, and is a toughie to deliver, mostly because we have a gut sense of how it will be received, i.e. not very well. Saying no however signals you have a choice in life. Saying no is setting a boundary of what is and isn’t acceptable. It signals self-respect and self-confidence… that ultimately, you value yourself.
Have you ever stopped to think that ‘no’ makes your ‘yes’ more meaningful, only something I’ve learned later in life. Saying no needn’t make you look lazy or unwilling; on the contrary, it just attaches more weight to your decision and actions; there is heaps to value in someone who knows their mind. Every time we say yes to something we don’t really want we weaken our sense of self and inch ever nearer to being labelled a door mat. Partly this has a lot to do with people pleasing. It’s hard to have a strong sense of self if we base our identity on the opinion of others and choose our actions predicated on their response. It isn’t possible to please everyone. We have to pick and choose who we make happy, and the person who deserves to be at the top of that list is ourselves.
If you’ve always felt pleasing yourself instead of others makes you uncomfortable, look on it this way – if you are happy, people will be pleased just to be around you. But if you are miserable from your attempts to impress others then you won’t really please anyone. By pleasing yourself instead of others, you naturally end up a more pleasing person.
Granted it can be very difficult to break the pattern of people pleasing. With every decision you make, ask yourself whether you are doing this for yourself or someone else. Ask yourself too: “what would my life look like if I didn’t have to please anyone?”
Acceptance is also very important. A friend said that she used to dial into the radio frequency triple F, where she was crippled by stories of flaws, fears and failure. While there will naturally be moments of nerves, anxiety or rattled confidence, radio triple F is the wrong station to listen to. It will sabotage your best efforts and hinder peaceful living.
Celebrate a different point of view. Personally, having children has been a real eye opener into realising how differently I might do things. And do I dare open up the can of worms that is Instagram? A thick skin and a willing suspension of disbelief are perhaps what are required. And don’t forget that everyone’s ‘truth’ – or agenda- is so very different.
Being happy in your own company is also worth practising. Believe in yourself too, that you have what it takes to build resilience and manage the hurly burly of every day. That you can cope. When you take responsibility for your emotional health as well as your physical health, you are also so much more better equipped to take on any of the challenges that are thrown your way.
As Dr. Seuss put it:
“Today you are you, that is truer than true.
There is no one alive who is youer than you.”