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 Paradox of Peace

by Patricia Spadaro

Dove_100_0252We 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 kind of life, and a peaceful person is never passive or a milquetoast—compliant, submissive, or spineless.

Think about these three paragons of peace—Saint Francis,  Mother Teresa (a Nobel Peace Prize winner), and Mahatma Gandhi (who was nominated five times for the Nobel Peace Prize, though never awarded it). Can you imagine any of them being passive?

I had a chance to think about the quality of peace when I was asked by author, retreat leader, and meditation teacher Ruth Fishel to write a short piece on peace to be included in her beautiful book called Peace in Our Hearts, Peace in the World: Meditations of Hope and Healing. Here’s what I wrote:

Peace, like so many things in life, is not always what we think it is. Peace is not an absence of activity and it is not passivity, any more than it is walking away from our responsibilities to retreat to an island in the Pacific. Peace takes purposeful action but from a center point that is open and receptive, for it knows that there is always more to know.

When peace is at work within us, we trust deeply that what is at our door, or in our face, is exactly what we need right now. We ask plenty of questions and then leave enough space to listen for the answers. And we accept that what we hear may reveal a new place inside of us that we haven’t known before.

While peace can step back to listen and learn, it’s not afraid to step forward to speak. Peace can courageously take a stand for something or someone but in a way that doesn’t belittle anything or anyone. When we come from a place of peace, we don’t have to make someone else wrong in order to affirm what is right for us.

In short, peace is passionate, is present, and is therefore supremely powerful.

What’s your definition of peace? And how do you experience the paradox of peace?

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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