By Rie Allen Linton
In the news recently there was a story about how very successful people had made an egregious, stupid error in allegedly cheating the college admissions system to get their offspring into colleges that are considered some of the best in the land. People at the top of their field had colluded with others also at the top of their fields to cheat the system. Does this mean that they disliked and distrusted their seemingly perfect lives or is it simply that they themselves doubt their own self-worth or that of their children?
Lent is a time for examining ourselves but perhaps it is also a time of recognizing our own privilege in being children of God. We often think of self-love as striving for perfection. Loving one’s self is simply accepting our humanness and hoping to improve our humanity. Alexander Pope said “To err is human”. It might just be the single most important sentence in our human development. Few would argue with Pope and yet, we often forget that one simple sentence. We spend our personal reflections hung up on self-criticism. It may seem like we are trying to better ourselves but by focusing on self-criticism, we simply are living self-defeat.
I sincerely hope this does not come as further shock to you but you are not perfect either. Once we accept that one fact, then we are free to grow and flourish, to bloom in our life’s garden. In an essay published on Psychology Today’s website, Dr. Emma M. Seppala stated the dangers of being overly critical with ourselves. “[Self-criticism] keeps you focused on what’s wrong with you, thereby decreasing your confidence. It makes you afraid of failure which hurts your performance, makes you give up more easily, and leads to poor decision-making. It makes you less resilient in the face of failure and also less likely to learn from mistakes.”
Research illustrates how we can become our own worst enemy. Men and women respond differently to unsuccessful ventures. Men tend to blame circumstances while women look inward. Let’s be honest. Sometimes it is someone or something else that is affecting our success and sometimes it is us. However, how we respond, regardless of the cause, determines our self-love. We all have a little voice in our head that talks to us. Whether you call it a conscience or the echo of a parent, self-talk is a very common phenomenon. It can be very productive but it can also be destructive. Do you talk to yourself that same way you talk to your best friend? Most of us don’t.
Self-compassion is a seldom heard and even less seldom used device for increasing self-love. Self-love and feeling self-worth is not based upon perfection. None of us are perfect. It is based on treating ourselves as a friend. Researcher Kristin Neff believes self-compassion is the key ingredient towards developing resiliency, a trait I believe imperative to surviving life. Neff suggests writing a letter to ourselves in times where we think we have made huge errors. She herself as a personal mantra for those periods of high stress in which self-love is not present: “This is a moment of suffering. Suffering is part of life. May I be kind to myself in this moment; may I give myself the compassion I need.”
Kindness to one’s self is another great tool for improving our feelings of self-love and self-worth. All too often we spend our time trying to achieve material success while losing sight of the need for creating the soul’s success. Our inner voice needs to be loving and encouraging, not overly critical. Stress is not fertilizer that helps us grow. Once the challenge of stress is met, it can provide some benefits but only if we apply our success, let our inner voice applaud us instead of berating us.
Much of the discussion regarding the college entrance scandal has centered on the unfairness children of privilege have in the current system. If we are to be honest, most of us forget the very basic constructs of our faith in believing people of privilege have an unfair advantage in everything. I do not come from privilege and I live each day wondering how to pay for the next one. Yet, our doctrine tells me that I also am a person of privilege – the privilege of being God’s own.
When we accept Alexander Pope’s simple sentence, “To err is human”, and I mean really accept it, then we can blossom and grow internally and in life. There is a reason we say the general confession – we are not perfect. Developing self-compassion leads to accepting ourselves for who we are and what we can become. Once we do that we can then accept others and move the world forward in love. The potential of each human being is endless! Self-esteem tends to focus on performance and none of us are going to perform perfectly in all settings in all situations for all times. Our potential to love, though, is as endless as God’s grace.
Perfection is highly overrated. Life is not about being perfect. The best life is the one lived with acceptance and joy, the one based not upon the world’s definition of living but upon doing what makes you happy and shares God’s love with others. We are successful when we pursue what has meaning for us. Each day is a journey. Walk your steps today with self-acceptance and show yourself some self-compassion if you stumble. After all, to err is human but to get back up and try again, trusting in God’s promise… That’s really being successful.
Rie Allen Linton is a lifelong Episcopalian having lived in three provinces, five dioceses, and countless parishes. Currently a member of Church of the Nativity, Huntsville, AL, she is a graduate of EfM, Cursillo, member of DOK, ECW, Girls Friendly Society Advisor, former LEM, LEV, organist, chorister, altar and flower guild member, church school director, youth minister, newsletter editor, and parish homeless coordinator. You can find her blog at www.n2myhead.wordpress.com.
image: William “Rick” Singer, founder of the Edge College & Career Network, departs federal court in Boston on March 12, 2019. Singer pleaded guilty to fraud charges. Steven Senne/AP