All of my life, I've had feelings of self-doubt, feelings of self-consciousness, feelings of not measuring up. Oftentimes, as I get older and somewhat more sure of myself, those feelings will subside for awhile. But they're always there, waiting just beneath the surface. I've been in therapy for it. It helped a little. I took anti-depressants for it. It helped a little. I can thoroughly describe for you the origins of these feelings and can convincingly tell you that, rationally, I know these feelings are ridiculous--that if I were as hard on the people I love as I am on myself, they would crumble under the pressure. But for some reason, in my mind, it's always been acceptable--required, even--to catalog my failures and shortcomings and to judge myself--harshly--for them.
I had a really low night a few months ago and decided to broach the problem the same way an addict would--by first admitting that I had a problem. I sent an email to some family members, telling them in detail how I felt--telling them about the despair and the self-hatred I oftentimes feel. And of course they all wrote back and said, in their own individual ways, that they didn't see the loathesome person that I see--that they see someone who is loving and kind and smart and funny. And I thanked them for their support and tried to see what they see. And I even felt a little bit better for having unloaded this burden, this darkness that I carry inside of me sometimes.
In a lot of ways, it was a relief to share with my family that I sometimes feel like a fraud--that I sometimes feel the need to act like the competent, gainfully employed person and loving sister, daughter, mother, and wife that they think I am, while on the inside I feel like a loser, a burden, a wreck. And I know that what they see in me is the truth, but I oftentimes feel that what I see in me is the truth as well. And up until that point, none of the therapy, none of the anti-depressants, and none of the well-meaning words spoken by people I love had made one bit of difference.
And then, of all things, I was watching a movie for children on the Disney Channel called "Akelah and the Bee." (Did I mention there was nothing else on? And that I can be a bit of a geek?) It's based on a novel and is one of those classic coming-of-age, feel-good stories about a girl who has what it takes to win the National Spelling Bee, once she believes in herself enough to do so. And it was a sweet movie. And about three-quarters of the way through the story, Akelah's mentor, played by Laurence Fishburne, made her recite a passage he had framed on his wall. And I cried. Because even though it might be a little hokey and new-agey, and even though the passage is from a self-help book that I remember being all the rage about 10 years ago but that I never read, it hit home. And it was one of those moments of grace that we sometimes experience in our lives--a moment of synchronicity when I knew that it was a message that I was supposed to hear.
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented?
Who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
And as crazy as it may seem, whenever I'm feeling particularly down on myself now, I ask myself just that--"who are you not to be?" And although I still feel like a loser--the eternal wallflower, the girl who's too shy and self-conscious to really let go, the woman who thinks she's not good enough--muttering that phrase to myself is enough to make me realize that not everyone is looking at me and immediately labeling me as "less than." It's enough to make me pull back my shoulders and force myself to walk into that bar (or cocktail party, or meet and greet--you get the general idea) and to pretend that I'm brilliant, and gorgeous, and talented. Do I feel that I am? No. But for now, it's enough.