Almost a year ago I joined Toastmasters. Toastmasters is a group that teaches you how to be a good public speaker, and I love it! At the beginning, though, I was super scared by it. See, in Toastmasters, you sign up to give a speech, and after you deliver it to the group, another member of the group also gives a speech, this time evaluating your performance. Argh!
I expected to struggle with having a good presence, or using the “right” words. And don’t get me wrong, there was definitely a learning curve. However, these things were not what really tripped me up. It turned out I had a huge blind spot.
When I joined my Toastmasters group, I had the option of choosing a mentor. I chose an incredibly talented and expert speaker, who did an amazing job of helping me with the structure and flow of my speech. And who noticed something about me I was not at all aware of: I constantly dismiss what I know, have achieved, or am good at. Our mentoring sessions almost always went like this:
Yuko: Aurora, what would you like to talk about in your next speech?
Me: I don’t know, I don’t have any ideas…
Yuko: Really? How about [suggests something I have done or know about]?
Me: Nah, nobody would be interested in that OR Everyone already knows that OR I am not really an expert.
It took me months to be able to appreciate some of what I know or have experienced enough to come up with an idea for a speech, without weeks of Yuko pushing me. When I finally took a serious look at how I am always dismissing myself, I was shocked. I would never treat others like this, and yet, when it comes to myself, I always invariably put myself down.
I don’t know where this comes from…maybe it comes from my Italian culture: growing up I always excelled in school, and learned I had to minimize my intelligence and knowledge to be liked. Italians often mercilessly bully those who are good at school, and I felt constantly unsafe, especially in middle school. In Italy it is also a no-no to say you are very good at anything, or to push for more opportunities or rewards because you perform better – especially if you are a woman. Every time I scored high on a test, or achieved more than others, I felt I had to hide it.
Or maybe it’s because of my own family, they always focused on negatives (you are too fat! you talk too much!) and rarely praised achievements. It’s amazing now thinking back to when I received a full scholarship out of the blue to attend an American college while still in high school, and my family acted as if I had just killed someone. The mood was one of mourning, rather than celebration, and I was made to feel guilty to pursue education away from home. I was often called selfish and “too ambitious for a girl” every time I tried to make use of my own abilities.
I am not saying this about the past out of anger – I long ago forgave everyone. But training in Toastmasters I was shocked to see that I had not removed the defenses I had to use as a child and young person; instead, I carried those with me all these years, even though I thought they were behind me.
We learn to appreciate and value ourselves from those around us. If we grew up in an environment that put us down, left us neglected, or didn’t acknowledge our skills, talents or potential, chances are it is hard for us to do that as adults. The same can happen if we experience a very toxic and humiliating environment at work. Going through one, or even a few, toxic work situations can leave us feel worthless or insecure about our value.
The good news is that we are not stuck with any of this – knowing where these unhealthy mental patterns might come from is just the first step to disappearing them. The second step it to practice love and kindness towards ourselves, developing new mental patterns.
Now I am aware of the little voice in my head that says “Nah, no one is interested in that!” and even if it feels weird, I share what I know, or have done, anyway. Every day I make progress in overcoming this defense mechanism that doesn’t serve me anymore.
What about you? Do you constantly dismiss yourself? If you feel you are not good enough, or cannot find your passion, you might be underestimating what you are good at and what you have experienced. Take a moment every day to write 3 things you like about yourself, include things you know how to do, things you have overcome, or things that come natural to you. Do you feel resistance? Do you draw a blank? Make this a daily practice for at least two months, and ask your close friends to help you if needed. Once you get past all the negativity, you will find an ocean of loving kindness is waiting for you, deep inside of you, you just forgot you had it.