This week, one of the ladies at work showed me her artwork. It took a fair amount of cajoling (me) and a fair amount of constant self-deprecation (her) but finally she opened up her portfolio and the work inside was staggeringly beautiful.
She draws in a street style, influenced by graffiti art and tattoo art, but her pencil strokes are so delicate and precise that each drawing also has a heartbreaking softness to it. I loved all her pieces, and I told her that again and again.
And each time she found a new way to defer the comments. “I’m just self-taught.” “I wasn’t born with any talent so I have to practice a lot.” “I have a friend who is actually really good, you should see his work…” and so on.
I felt so much compassion for where she was in that moment, because I get it so completely. It’s not really about self-esteem, entirely, or about self-confidence, entirely. Some of it is fear. And some of it is this socialization we get as women to start sentences with, “I’m sorry, but…”
People can tell you to stop putting yourself down (or in my case, it was always making myself the butt of the joke) but it’s hard behavior to quit until you reach that place where it no longer jives with who you are.
It no longer jives with who I am.
AND STILL over the past year I have found myself more than once talking about my current passion for dressmaking and on the very tip of my tongue are the words, “Well I’m not an expert or anything…” or “I’m just self-taught but…”
I stop myself from saying this things, because the sentence that comes after is the only one that counts:
Well, I’m not really an expert or anything and I am just self taught but I LOVE SEWING SO MUCH, IT JUST MAKES ME HAPPY AS HELL RIGHT NOW.
So I edit out all the italicized bit in my mind, because there is not a prize at the end of all this for being humble, or self-deprecating, or modest.
We don’t get to our deathbeds and discover that a committee arrives and tallies up the times we were full of ourselves vs. the times we properly self-deprecated and dimmed our own light just enough so that others wouldn’t see our true brightness.
This applies to all the things: Slim girls calling themselves fat, lovely girls calling themselves ugly, smart girls pretending not to know the answers. You do not get points for diminishing yourself in the presence of others. We only have this one life we are living. Why deny yourself the pure pleasure of having a talent or being pretty or smart or being really passionate about something? And anyway who is the judge of these things? Who is the panel of human beings fit to determine if we are talented or smart or pretty or successful?
How would our lives be different if today, right now, we gave up the self-deprecating talk and the weird self-imposed moratorium on giving ourselves compliments? What if I told you it doesn’t matter one bit if I’m self-taught or if the young woman at work thinks she was born with talent or not. It simply does not matter.
Does it give you pleasure? Do you enjoy it? Do you like yourself when you’re making that thing you make? Can you be kinder to yourself? Can you just for today indulge in the luxury of liking your own work, your own reflection in the mirror, your own talents and ambitions? What’s the worst that could happen?
I know what the worst is: Yes, someone could try to put you in your place. Someone might think you’re awfully full of yourself, or stuck-up, or not nearly as great as you think you are. Someone might even say something to take you down a notch.
Guess what? You will survive it. You may also discover that other people don’t have as much power as you once thought to take you down a notch or two. In the words of my mentor, Wayne Dyer, “What other people think of you is none of your business.” For every person who thinks you’re full of yourself, there will be two who are inspired by your unapologetic approach to life.
Oddly enough, this is a lesson I have learned through knitting and sewing. When I first learned to knit I was so on fire for it that I was not even one bit deterred by the fact that I had no idea how to bind off my first scarf. All I knew was the cast on method and the knit stitch, so I went out to the store and bought more needles and yarn and did the only thing I could do: cast on for another scarf! In three weeks’ time I had six scarves all waiting to be bound off because I could. not. stop. knitting.
It didn’t matter how much I messed up or how ugly the finished objects were. I just loved doing it.
Sewing is really the same thing for me, I love everything about it. I love tracing patterns and cutting fabric and winding bobbins. I love walking past my sewing machine and seeing it sitting there on the table. It makes me so happy. I’m proud of being self-taught. I love that sewing (much like knitting and art) is something you could practice your entire life and still learn something new every day. It does not matter if I am great at it or if other people are better than me. I can still feel satisfaction and happiness and proud of my finished objects even if I am not the best dressmaker on planet earth. HUH! Imagine that!
There’s no prize at the end for dimming your light, your passion, your happiness. Try it today and see how it feels. Say you love something and don’t qualify it with, ‘I’m just a novice…” or “I’m not as good as so-and-so…” or “I’m sorry, but…” or any of the things we say to keep ourselves in check. Just be wild with your ownself. If you are feeling really crazy, boldly give yourself a compliment the same way you do with a friend.
Let me know how it feels. ♥