By Suma Varughese
And so can you! Repetition of these words helped Suma Varughese counter her lifelong conviction that she could not
There are two components to a healthy self-esteem, according to author Nathanial Brandon. One is a sense of competency that enables you to feel that you can cope with the challenges and demands of life.
The second is a sense of being intrinsically okay. Of being worthy of happiness, love and health. Of deserving the best that life can give you.
As someone with almost zero self-esteem, I had neither. I neither felt worthy nor competent. In fact, I felt so incompetent that I was always sure I would goof things up. I was incapable of helping at other people’s houses when I went out for lunch or dinner. Any new assignment or challenge filled me with tremendous anxiety and worry.
I recall that when I was first given the task of being the editor of Society magazine, I was sure it was a ploy by a malevolent fate to drive me to doom. I was sure I would never make a success of the venture and would crash and burn instead, much like Icarus, the character from Greek mythology who flew too close to the sun on his wings made of wax and feathers!
Even when I took over the editorship of Life Positive, I went through tremendous turmoil. It meant that I had to shift the operation to Mumbai, and a few people were to lose their jobs. “What if I don’t do a good job and those people were to lose their jobs in vain?,” ran the frantic programme in my head.
It was only when I assured myself that I was a long-distance runner and not a sprinter, and that no matter if I took a few spills, I was there for the long haul, that I gathered the courage to take up the job.
In other words, my life ran on the words, “I can’t!” I can’t make conversation with strangers, I can’t dance, I can’t sing, I can’t write poetry... I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.
However, diligent inner work has slowly been dissolving this formidable block and of late, I have been countering this programme with the positive affirmation, I can!
I started learning yoga a few months ago; and of course, the programme ran that stiff as I was, I would not be able to do it. Fortunately, I was clear that I wasn’t here to become a model yoga practitioner but to refurbish my health. That helped, but what helped even more as I wobbled my way through balancers like vrikshasana was the constant reiteration of the words, I can do it, I can do it. The more I said it, the more stable the body became and the more I was able to balance on one leg!
I am slowly using this incantation in other areas too, and a tentative confidence is filling me up. Clearly, I have a long way to go, but now when I think of challenges, I actually feel a zest filling me up. I no longer immediately conclude that I will flub at it. Instead, I explore the possibility that it might actually be fun to try!
I am convinced that this mantra, ‘I can do it’, ought to be taught to children as soon as they start going to school. How much easier and more joyous life would be if they came from the conviction that they were capable of doing what others do. How much less heart ache and pain.
Perhaps, as we move towards the New Age, this will become accepted wisdom and children will grow up with a robust sense of self-esteem. Honestly, there is no better shield that we can give them in this enterprise called life.
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