Beyond What Makes You Unique
If you remember, ep. 008 was about understanding your uniqueness: embrace what makes you different, and recognize and respect what makes others different.
But what if you aren’t sure what makes you unique? What if you feel like you don’t know yourself very well? Then we need to help you get to know yourself.
There’s More To You
There’s a lot more to you than just your reflection in the mirror; you are a combination of your personality, your interests, your attitude, your values, and MUCH more.
At first, during your tween and teen years, you try on different personalities like hats or sunglasses, to see how they fit and if they reflect you. You explore your interests, doing new things or joining your friends in something. You test out different attitudes and feel out what mood matches you. You assess what values and beliefs you want to continue holding onto.
During these years, your sense of self takes shape and continues growing, changing, and refining — which is a great thing, as humans we’re always capable of evolving and learning.
Sometimes though, you might feel like you don’t know you or understand you; you can’t figure yourself out. You might feel lost, or like you don’t have roots because you haven’t yet grasped who you are.
Or you might tie your sense of self to external validation, also referred to as “reflected sense of self,” meaning, you see yourself how others see you, you’re a people pleaser, your self-esteem is dependent upon approval from others.
External validation is something I’ve struggled with most of my life. I tried to change myself, suppress or even hide parts of myself, thinking that would make people like me more. I spent a lot of time trying to fit in or be someone else, just to be accepted. That charade was hard to keep up, and the validation I sought never lasted.
I had to figure out and embrace the true, authentic me. Knowing and accepting who I am, and who I am not, is liberating. I’m still working at it, but I have a much deeper understanding of myself than ever before.
Tools to Get To Know You
You can’t have a strong sense of self when you don’t know who you are and you keep looking to others to tell you. So let’s talk about Tools to help you develop your awareness.
Dr. Amy L. Eva, from the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, identified five ways that can help you improve how you feel about yourself.
- Stop comparing — You are YOU, not her. You being you is all you need to be! No good comes from comparing yourself to others. Thanks to social media, though, more tweens and teens are comparing their looks, their likes, even their lives when they see what others are doing, especially without them #fomo. If you notice that you feel bad about yourself when you see posts from a certain account, please–stop following them. And if that’s how all social media makes you feel, I recommend a reset–take a break from social media for at least a few days (literally delete the apps from your device). Notice the difference, the freed up space in your head where comparison used to live. Try it. Let me know how it goes.
- Practice self-compassion — have you heard of this term? Sometimes people call it grace. Self-compassion is about recognizing your weaknesses or mistakes, and instead of judging or being critical of yourself, being kind to yourself, accepting that you’re human, and loving yourself unconditionally. Dr. Kristen Neff is a self-compassion expert, and says we should treat ourselves with the same kindness that we would for a good friend who was struggling. We are all imperfect and we all have room to grow, so embrace you as you are, right now.
- Get movin — exercise is more than just for physical health — it’s for your mental health as well! Dozens of international studies show that physical activity improves self-esteem and self-concept in tweens and teens. We need an entire episode about the benefits of physical activity, until then, keep yourself moving, sweating, playing, practicing, training every day! And keep trying new things! By challenging yourself and focusing on what you can do and what you’re capable of, you’ll feel stronger, healthier, and empowerful!
- Play to your strengths — What are your talents and interests? Not what other people are doing, what do you want to do? If you’re not sure, that’s okay! Start trying new things –activities, sports, classes, skills– to see what you enjoy. You could also take a career interest quiz, or even the VIA Character Strengths Survey to identify your core values that’ll give you a better idea of what you lean toward (I’ll link it on the show notes post for this episode). When you’re involved in things that interest you, you’ll grow confidence in your abilities and you’ll learn more about yourself.
- Give service — research shows that service, especially for people you don’t know, actually improves your self-esteem. When you give service to others, it creates an opportunity to see from someone else’s perspective and practice empathy. Look in your community for ways you can help lift others. If you aren’t sure who’s in need, check out opportunities on JustServe.org or non-profits on DoSomething.org. Being selfless makes you more self-aware.
I’m gonna add another Tool to this:
- Spend time with yourself — make time to be alone with yourself, free of distractions, to be mindful, meditate, breathe (see ep. 005), or just get more in touch with your thoughts. Write in a journal about what’s on your mind, your goals, successes AND failures and what you learned, or things you’re grateful for and why (see ep. 003) for more on that.
When you know who you are, you don’t need to look to others to tell you. When you understand and accept yourself, you don’t need validation, you don’t need to prove anything. You can just be you.
I’ll close with quotes from some fellow fabulous females:
“Your self-worth is determined by you. You don’t have to depend on someone telling you who you are.” —Beyoncé
“Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we’ll ever do.” —Brené Brown
“Find out who you are and do it on purpose.” —Dolly Parton
Get To Know You Poster Printable
To help you with this, I created a “Get To Know You” worksheet for you to print out and personalize — thoughtfully complete each prompt. Then you can post it on your wall where you’ll see it, remember it, practice it, and believe it — that’s the important part.
Here are several of my favorite books that illustrate this:
Exclamation Mark by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson
A Bad Case of the Stripes by David Shannon
Movies that explore this are “Mulan,” “Moana,” and “How to Train Your Dragon.”
If you have a topic suggestion, I’d love to hear from you! Send an email (tweens get the OK from your parents) to hello@EmpowerfulGirls.com .
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