Excerpt from Grow a Life You Love
I’m itchin’ for some play
To start this day
What’s getting’ in my way?
How can I say hip, hip hooray?
Hey, hey, hey
Seems like I just did it
Nothing really to it
Gotta just do it
No time to over think it
Just let go and release a twitter, twitter, tweeter, tweet!
I have learned to celebrate more often from Sara Giita Flores, who you have read about throughout this book and who is a Voice Empowerment Coach. One of the emails she sent out to her community about self-esteem taught me how important it is to be celebrated by others. Here is a shortened version of the teaching she shared.
Recently, a student told me she didn’t want to seek outside approval from others, and that she wanted to be able to completely fulfill that need for herself. My heart ached upon hearing this, because I have gone through a lot of twists and turns around the relationship between external praise and self-confidence. I, too, went through a phase of telling myself that wanting any kind of external approval was always bad. I thought that I should be able to 100% feel worthy and confident in my creative expression regardless of other people’s comments, praise, criticism, or silence.
The first facet of feeling good about ourselves is called dependent self-esteem. It encompasses the ways in which we are influenced by others and external circumstances in relation to our achievements and worth. When we enjoy a success or someone praises our work, we feel buoyed up. When we fail or someone criticizes us, we feel deflated. And when we see someone else hitting a home run, we are likely to compare ourselves (and end up feeling crappy.)
I understand we absolutely do need to cultivate an inner sense of worthiness and positive self-evaluation which is independent of what others do or say. Yet at the same time, it is hardwired into our human psyche to want acceptance from others. It is natural and healthy to want to receive praise or acknowledgment from our fellow humans, especially when we pour our hearts into a creative project. This understanding really clicked into place for me when I heard a lecture by Harvard psychology professor Tal Ben-Shahar on three aspects of self-esteem: dependent self-esteem, independent self-esteem, and unconditional self-esteem. Ben-Shahar emphasizes that all three kinds of self-esteem are important, and experiencing them is a necessary part of being human.
However, if dependent self-esteem is our only basis of feeling good about ourselves, we will likely feel lots of painful ups and downs and be lacking in self-confidence. We also need independent self-esteem, which allows us to positively evaluate our own actions and achievements, and to react with resilience and self-compassion when we experience failure. For example, I am cultivating this with my writing. I am conscious of noticing and enjoying the parts that came out really well, and I encourage myself to polish other sentences that need more attention. Unconditional self-esteem, is what Ben-Shahar describes as a state of being in which you internally feel whole and “enough.” (In my own language, I call this “inherent divine worth.”) Unconditional self-esteem is beyond the ups and downs of feeling shiny confidence or deflated self-doubt, because when we are connected to our inherent divine worth, we know that our soul is always worthy and complete. We sense that even through failures and losses, there is a perfect divine order bringing us just the lessons that we need. We are always enough at the deepest level.
These aspects of self-esteem progress in a specific order. First, you must develop the first aspect (dependent) before you can possibly develop the second aspect (independent), and you must have a robust, positive experience of the first two before you can develop unconditional self-esteem. That being said, we don’t leave behind the earlier aspects as we grow into independent self-esteem and unconditional self-esteem. They are all part of a healthy human psyche an experience which must be revisited from time to time. These developmental prerequisites explain why so many creative women I know struggle with acknowledging the worth of their voice and their art. Even if a girl was lucky enough to receive the encouragement, praise, and positive feedback she needed to develop healthy dependent self-esteem, she has still been swimming in the toxic water of never being able to live up to impossible demands to be gorgeous, young, thin, sexually pleasing to men, professionally successful, AND take care of everyone else’s needs without breaking a sweat. When we never got to fully inhabit our worth through the eyes of others, the most potent medicine is to consciously seek out environments where we can be witnessed, acknowledged, encouraged, and praised to build up our dependent self-esteem.
Only when this intrinsic need for being supported and accepted by others is fulfilled, can we cultivate independent self-esteem and unconditional worthiness. When it comes to creative projects, I have found that I need to develop these three aspects of self-esteem for each creative avenue that I pursue.
For example, voice teachers praised me, giving me confidence and ease around how I sound, but when it came to songwriting, I never had that kind of safe, supportive encouragement. It’s been a long and painful road trying to share the songs that I feel called to write, given that I have had to piece together that prerequisite dependent self-esteem in order to trust that what I create matters. Now that I realize how essential it is for us as social creatures to have our creative voices nurtured, acknowledged, and praised with honesty, I am drawn to provide that feedback for my students in meaningful, loving ways.
Receiving this wisdom from Sara was such a huge relief for me. There wasn’t anything wrong with me for wanting to receive praise from people. I wasn’t designed to function well in a bubble all by myself. I understand why being part of Sara’s Voice Empowerment Circles is deeply enriching for me, which has helped me grow in leaps and bounds, beyond my wildest expectations. Since we now recognize the importance of building our self-esteem, both on our own and with others, lets explore different ways to celebrate individually and collectively.
Mare Andreozzi, who participated in the first Grow a Life You Love Program shares how she created an atmosphere of play to help her through a challenging time in her life. She set the tone for her family and friends, which helped everyone heal.
As I was finishing my round of radiation treatments for breast cancer and the winter holidays approached, I felt this scary darkness creep in, heading into the next step of healing. I decided to take matters into my own hands and direct the energy of our household away from the uncertainty surrounding me. I wanted light, levity and laughter instead and remembered watching people lose their inhibitions while in play mode. The perfect vehicle popped into my head! Fooz ball! My husband playfully agreed, and we cleared away the dining room table and placed the shiny new fooz ball table out in the open where everyone couldn't ignore it. Sticking out like a sore thumb, it looked odd and everyone was surprised but delighted when I explained this was my way of bringing fun into our home, and they obliged my request to
play along. In no time the house was filled with giggles and screams. I stood back and realized this gift to myself, benefited everyone while shifting the energy from a heavy contemplative tone of concern for my health, to carefree joy and spontaneity. Since then I’ve loaned the game to friends so they too can play and raise the energy in their home. Currently, it sits in our attic, ready to do it’s magic once again.
Isn’t this a wonderful how Mare eased tension in her life during a challenging time through play and celebration?
A good friend of mine had her sixtieth birthday coming up and was debating about hosting a party to celebrate all the friends in her life. During this conversation, she also revealed to me that her doctor told her if she didn’t change her eating habits, she wouldn’t live more than five years. I loved her so much and panicked, thinking of all kinds of ways I could offer my help to celebrate her in nourishing ways. I said I could help her plan her party, make chocolate banana ice cream for dessert and lead her friends in Qigong. Well, she was so appreciative of my enthusiasm to celebrate her and her friendships that we ended up deciding to also host a creative sharing circle. What a delight to have more than a dozen women gathered in her living room, sharing their art, stories, songs and poems! This was the first celebration circle I led and I intend on offering many more in the future. Celebration circles are a wonderful way to gather people together in community, where we can enjoy our unique talents and cheer each other on to feel really good about ourselves.
Practices to Play with
Share news with a friend and ask for celebration only. This may feel awkward at first because it is something new, but just try and experience what it is like to be celebrated without judgment.
Celebration Circle: Gather a group of people to celebrate their creativity and maybe even an important event, like someone’s birthday or the completion of a project.
Make a date for creativity: In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron encourages us to make a date each week to play with our imagination. Here are a few ideas to consider trying:
* go to a museum * play in water * look through a book of beautiful art
* sit in a park, observing people and animals * take a train to a new place
* explore in nature, collecting or taking pictures of interesting discoveries