Even if you’re not religious, I’m sure that you recognize the wisdom of the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” I tend to have no trouble with this. My friends, many of whom work in social services and small businesses, don’t either. We work long hours for little pay, we reassure other people that their mistakes aren’t a big deal, and we’ll drop everything for a friend if she’s going through a tough time. It’s the reverse Golden Rule that is much more of a challenge: doing unto ourselves as we do unto others.
I can’t count how many times I’ve beaten myself up for little mistakes, or fallen into despair when I hit a snag in my plans. I’ve looked in the mirror and hated what I saw: the dark circles under my eyes, the big zit, or the belly fat that won’t go away. I’ve told myself that I’m incompetent, a screw-up, and that I’ve wasted my potential.
Can you imagine treating a friend that way? Ever? As Duncan Coppock said, “If we spoke to others the way we often speak to ourselves, we’d have no friends!”
When things go awry, we tell our friends, “Everything will turn out fine.” We remind them that they’re resourceful and smart and all-around wonderful people. We see the best in them. However, we find it much harder to show ourselves the same kindness.
It’s only over the past year that I’ve realized how my self-abuse affects other people. First of all, it’s stressful. People sense the negative energy you’re putting in the air, and they tend to absorb it. It costs them energy to assure you that no, you’re not an idiot, and you’re not a loser — you’re just human.
Moreover, beating yourself up can influence others to treat themselves the same way, especially when they’re young and impressionable. When driving carpool as Co-Director of Spark, I occasionally made a wrong turn and had to make a major effort not to get visibly upset with myself. Instead, I tried to model a calm and logical reaction for the kids: “Darn it, I missed the turn. Let’s spin around and go back the way we came.” By example, I was teaching them how to deal maturely with the kinds of mishaps that happen every day. (Of course, sometimes I let a swear word slip, much to the amusement of the kids.)
The double standard for ourselves and for others applies not only to the way we talk to ourselves, but also to the kind of work we do. I’m talking about the reason medical doctors and gym teachers sometimes weigh 400 pounds, why financial planners can be insolvent, and why writing teachers may not have written anything themselves in years. It’s much easier to coach other people toward success than to invest in your own. It’s a lot less scary, too.
This week, for example, I was struck by how much I’m capable of doing in the world of online communications. Darren and I have been expanding his design business, and I’ve begun doing social media marketing for small businesses and nonprofits (yes, my dream of Twittering and Facebooking for a living has finally come true). I’ve been spending nights reading books like “The Elements of Internet Style” and researching best practices in social media communications. I’m experimenting with sending online press releases, and live blogging through photos and short videos. It feels effortless, because I enjoy it, and because I’m representing someone else.
What’s funny — in a sad way — is that I made very little of these efforts for Reschool Yourself. Throughout the year, I’ve felt a strong resistance to putting the project out into the world, especially to the mass media. Last August, I began a press release but never finished it. I couldn’t find the perfect wording, and deep down, I was afraid. If a newspaper didn’t think Reschool Yourself was worth covering, then I believed it meant that I wasn’t worth covering. This explains why many people keep a manuscript in a desk drawer, and they just can’t find the time to send it out for publication — or even to finish it. We’d be happy to help a friend find a publisher, but we avoid doing the same for ourselves. It makes us too vulnerable to rejection.
It’s still a daily challenge for me to do for myself what I do for other people, but it’s happening slowly. I make a point of taking care of myself first, before anyone else, by doing things I love every day, exercising, eating well, and trying to get enough sleep (“trying” is the operative word). Even when I get upset at myself, I immediately focus on relaxing and letting the anger go, and I now recover and move on more quickly than I used to. I look at the results of my little “failures” — I never sent any press releases, I haven’t blogged for over a month now, and so on — and see that the world’s still spinning. I’ve grown to understand that as long as I think I’m living a good life, it really doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.
Learn to do nice things for yourself, the kind that you’d do for a friend. Make a playlist of music that makes you happy. Try out a new recipe, even if you’re cooking for just you.
Next time you feel upset at yourself, or you’re stuck in a rut, imagine that one of your best friends is coming to you with the same problem. What would you say to her? Write it in an email. Really, do it. You don’t actually have to send the advice to your friend, but I’ll bet that she could use it. Chance are, she needs to learn to tell herself the same thing.
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What about this post resonates with you? In what ways have you learned to treat yourself as well as you treat other people?