The Razor’s Edge of Self-Esteem

by Patricia Spadaro

Self-esteem’s a funny thing—a fine balancing act. You’ve got to believe you are wonderful just as you (because you are) AND you’ve got to keep on trying to improve yourself (because you can reach higher and be more).

That’s perhaps the ultimate razor’s edge of life—balancing confidence with humility. Knowing when to stand up for yourself and when to back down because you have something yet to learn. Taking care not to beat yourself up whenever you make a mistake and, at the same time, not becoming so arrogantly close minded that you shut out the message and the messenger who has been sent to teach you a thing or two about yourself.

As tricky as it can be to balance both sides of the equation of self-esteem, it’s refreshing too. Knowing that self-esteem and humility are necessary partners in your life gives you permission to honor the wonderful in you AND honor what is still waiting to be awakened.

Truth is often a paradox, and that both of these states can coexist within us at the same time—the wonderful and the as-yet-unawakened—is one of life’s greatest truths.

The Zen of Self-Esteem

The Zen masters knew a thing or two about the tricky paradox of self-esteem. The teacher Shunryu Suzuki simply expressed it this way to his students:  “All of you are perfect just as you are . . . and you could use a little improvement.”   (I don’t know about you, but that makes me smile and I see a playful twinkle in Suzuki’s eyes as he said that.)

I found the same sentiment put another way in a novel I read recently by Michael Koryta, where one of his characters, a high school football coach, talked about the balancing act this way:  “The attitude you needed to win football games was a difficult balance. Confidence was crucial; overconfidence killed. Success lived on the blade’s edge between.” 

In the game of life, it’s no different, is it?

Some tips for the balancing act:

If your pride (your ego) is hurt, acknowledge that and try this:

  • Ask yourself: Would I do better and feel better if I admitted that I have something to learn in this relationship, professional setting, or way of interacting with others?
  • If so, what specific advice is this situation trying to teach me so I can become better at navigating situations like this?
  • Stand up, close your eyes, spread your arms as wide as you can, and consciously open to the message or lesson waiting for you. What do you hear or see?

If, on the other hand, you feel yourself melting into a puddle from the heat of your own self-criticism, try this:

  • Remind yourself that the problem that’s happening right now does not define who you are. The labels people have given you—and the negative names you may call yourself—are not the real you.
  • Imagine a line on the floor, the fine line of self-esteem separating self-condemnation on one side and arrogance on the other. Physically take a step to stand right on that line as a way of reinforcing to yourself that you choose to wake up to the inner reality that is you and get back into balance.

Share your ideas here. How do you remind yourself of the paradoxical truth that you are wonderful AND you still have some things to learn?


The Power of Stillness

by Patricia Spadaro

lilies4aStillness creates strength.

Does that seem like a paradox to you? It did to me the first time I encountered that concept, but that’s because I was convinced of this myth:

Myth: Staying busy and constantly running to do more means I am strong—and successful.

The Truth: Stillness creates strength (and busyness does not always equal success).

The adrenaline surge you get from moving at fast speeds can give you a high for a while, but movement alone will not keep you at your peak. Hours of activity must be balanced with space for stillness.

Why? Constant busyness without taking time to renew yourself—your body and your spirit—is like driving a car that’s almost out of gas and pretending it is full. You can push the petal to the metal for a few more miles, and even run on fumes for a bit, but then the engine sputters and spits—and splat, you’re stranded.  (And when it comes to our bodies, it’s not always a simple matter of filling up the tank and we’re on the road again. If we push our bodies and minds too hard for too long and don’t balance our work with rest and renewal, it may take a while to get up and running again.)

Better to fill up your internal energy before your tank is empty. And one of the best ways to do that is to simply be still.

Not easy to do in these jam-packed days when our minds are more like jumping beans or, as Eastern wisdom describes it, like monkeys who can’t sit still. The incessant chase, and chatter, won’t stop unless we realize what the great sages taught centuries ago: the stillness we most need and long for is stillness of mind. Constant mental agitation, cogitation, worrying, planning, questioning, and then more worrying—these can tax our energy resources much more than we realize.

Invite a Creative Pause

There is a time for action and there is a time for stillness. A time to take in new ideas and a time to be quiet and listen to your own inner voice. That’s what the sages tell us. Take, for example, this advice from the ancient Chinese book of wisdom called the I Ching and its commentaries:

“ ‘Restlessness as an enduring condition brings misfortune.’  There are people who live in a state of perpetual hurry without ever attaining inner composure. Restlessness not only prevents all thoroughness but actually becomes a danger if it is dominant in places of authority.” (Wilhelm/Baynes, p. 129)

  • In the ebb and flow of your week, do you allow your mind to rest—without the demands and dictates of your lengthy to-do list? Do give yourself permission to just be—to savor the moment and not worry about what you want to have happen in the future or are afraid will happen?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to affirm with the great Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore each day: “There are tracts in my life that are bare and silent. They are the open spaces where my busy days had their light and air.”

Being still is not just essential to staying sane; it’s a key that opens the door to your inner creativity. Tending to details and taking action are important, but to be really effective we need to insert a pause in our day. Those pauses for “light and air” are interludes where you can open to the inner promptings that are trying to bubble up from the wellspring deep within you.

If you don’t welcome those moments of stillness, how can you hear the whispers of your soul, telling you of the endless possibilities that await you?

Some thoughts to help you reflect on creating space for stillness:

  • How have you experienced the paradox that stillness is what gives you more strength and power
  • How can you intentionally create interludes of stillness, of “light and air,” in your day? (Quiet time alone, meditation, listening to calming music, playing an instrument, doing yoga or Chi Gung, walking in nature, visiting a sacred place?)
  • How can you help the important people in your life make time for the stillness they need too?
  • Do you have a favorite inspirational quote that reminds you of the power of stillness?

Beating the Doldrums

by Patricia Spadaro

Put a little wind in your sails… The dreaded doldrums. We’ve all been there—feeling stagnant or stuck, down and out or depressed. Did you know that that word doldrums also describes an area of the world just north of the equator where the trade winds meet. It’s a place that can be either very calm […]

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The Paradox of Peace

by Patricia Spadaro

We all talk about wanting more “peace” in our lives.  But what is peace? In many ways, peace is a paradox. Peace is soft and it’s strong. It’s open to listening and it takes a stand. Sometimes we think that “peaceful” means having no challenges, upsets, or obstacles in our lives. But that’s a passive […]

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Honor Your Own Style

by Patricia Spadaro

Life is never a one-size-fits-all formula. If you are to develop and give your gifts (that’s why we’re here, isn’t it?), you must honor who you are and celebrate your own voice. That means embracing the paradox that while it’s important to value the mentors and role models who guide us, we must also rely […]

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Creating Spaces in Your Togetherness – Part 2

by Patricia Spadaro

Are you honoring the paradox of dependence and independence? We honor ourselves when we ask for the support we need. And yet there are times when life compels us to rely on ourselves because flying solo is exactly what we need. The following story from the Hasidic tradition of Judaism highlights why self-reliance is indispensable. […]

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Creating Spaces in Your Togetherness

by Patricia Spadaro

Honor your relationships by honoring yourself—a different approach to relationships that can make all the difference. Relationships, like most things in life, are paradoxical. Healthy relationships require an artful swing between dependence and independence, togetherness and solitude. Even in the closest of connections, where mutual support should come with the territory, it’s essential to strike […]

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