Save Your Self-Esteem: Swim Away From the New Year’s Advice. Updated 12/31/21
It was a few years ago, and a few weeks into the New Year, when one of my clients made a pointed comment about self-esteem.
And she did it without saying a word.
On that day I was busy seeing clients. And in the late afternoon I came out of my office and walked into the waiting room, where my client was reading a magazine.
She followed me into my office and settled herself on the couch. Then she tossed the magazine she’d been reading onto the table next to me.
We both looked at the magazine cover. And neither of us had to say a word, because we knew we were thinking the same thing.
Another year. Another round of advice about the things we’re supposed to be doing that we’re not.
Another chance for the yearly flood of advice to drench your self-esteem.
If you’re a woman, you’ve probably noticed that unsolicited advice is everywhere, especially this time of year…
- How to be successful
- How to get organized
- How to have your best year ever
- How to get in shape
- How to talk
- How to eat
- How to make decisions
- How to dress
Sometimes I wonder if we’ve gotten so used to it that we barely notice the flood of advice.
But no matter how conscious you are of it, it takes its toll. In fact, it can lead to overwhelm, self-doubt and sometimes even depression.
Years ago I had a personal wake up call about this very issue.
My wake up call: how unsolicited advice affected my own self-esteem.
I vividly remember my personal aha moment about the real power of this kind of advice to make me question my worth.
It was a long ago New Year’s getaway. I was cozied up in a vacation rental at the beach, relaxing by the fire and blissfully watching the crashing waves.
The owners had a stack of magazines on the coffee table, and I started thumbing through the latest issue of Oprah Magazine, which I’d never seen before.
One hundred-plus pages later, I was anything but blissed out. I was kind of tense. Agitated. With that crawling feeling of worry and self-defeat.
I wondered: How had I missed this? What’s wrong with me? Time to improve my life. I’m so behind!
Don’t get me wrong, I have great respect for Oprah. She’s a role model and a beloved icon. And she’s been a real advocate for women.
Yet in the interest of my self-worth and self-esteem, I decided at that moment that I had to steer clear of her magazine.
It turns out that words meant to help can harm your self-esteem and self-worth.
For the most part, I believe that advice givers, in Oprah Magazine and elsewhere, have our best interests at heart. They’re trying to be helpful.
But the truth is, words meant to help can actually harm.
Here’s what I mean: have you ever had one of those “gotcha” moments after reading or hearing advice? You know, that sense of spiraling down, the knot in your stomach, that sinking sensation?
A moment like that can pass quickly and happen at an almost unconscious level. Often you can’t connect the dots or even stop to catch what’s happening. Still, you’ll probably carry away some residual negative feelings as a result of it.
Sometimes, you’re more aware of how words of advice actually impact you.
You might realize you’ve done exactly the opposite of what the advice giver suggests. Then, in the blink of an eye, you’ve uncovered something about yourself that you now perceive to be a problem.
You file it away. No big deal. But those experiences build up over time. And you feel wobbly. Maybe even anxious.
You might feel confused, too, like your navigation is off or something. That’s because you’ve momentarily put aside the quiet wisdom that has always existed within you.
Your trust in that wisdom starts to fade when you’re constantly flooded with advice. Like an eroding river bank, your contours begin to change, and it gets harder to hear that quiet wisdom.
What I Want For Women
My experience with Oprah Magazine seems quaint by today’s standards. In today’s world you’re just a click away from all manner of advice. Actually, you don’t even have to seek it out to be bombarded with it.
So I know it’s hard to tune out the advice. But that’s what I want for you, what I want for all of us: to swim away from the flood of advice, climb to higher ground, and open up to the deeper voice within.
Because the thing is, you already know so much about how to live your life.
Can you imagine what it would be like to listen deeply and trust that wise and soulful voice within?
We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be. –Jane Austen
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