By the time she called me, my friend was desperate. As an avid gardener who loved to cultivate delicate, expensive blooms, she usually had no problem keeping her plants healthy and vibrant. But for some reason, she couldn’t keep her favorite flower from withering away.
It was dying, and she didn’t know how to save it.
I asked her to bring the plant for a visit. Once she arrived, I examined its discolored, undersized leaves and drooping stems. I heard her gasp as I began the slow process of stripping the earth away from its roots.
“Is it really that sick?” she asked.
“Sometimes,” I said, my fingers still gently working the too-soft, dark roots free, “The problem can’t be helped from the surface.”
The expensive plant was suffering from an infection in its roots. To fix it, I had to expose the problem to the air and remove the diseased parts before we could repot the plant and let it grow.
In some ways, we are all like that plant.
Often, the fears and insecurities that prevent us from flourishing have roots that we can’t see on the surface of our lives. And yet, all of us have beliefs about ourselves that trace back to nearly forgotten rejections, some of them so long past that we’re no longer aware of the part they still play in our lives today. We might not sing because a childhood choir teacher told us we weren’t very good; we might not let ourselves try at something because a family member told us we would look foolish in the attempt.
Everyone has endured hurtful criticism at one time or another. Regardless of your past, these negative ideas about ourselves are as damaging as that toxic bacteria; they’re eating away at our confidence and willingness to reach beyond our comfort zone. Self-doubt can be crippling; it can prevent us from pursuing a dream, pushing for a promotion or speaking up when it counts.
Growing up in a rural Korean village in the 1950s, I was always derided for being born a girl. My gender was considered a curse on my family. My true love was martial arts, a pursuit allowed only to men. I was constantly derided for my passions and told that I would fail; I was rejected, abused and put down on a near-constant basis.
My experience is extreme, but it is in no way an isolated occurrence. Every person faces the challenge of other peoples’ expectations in their life. Sadly, sometimes these instructions have little to do with who we really are. In fact, many people provide advice as a way to control or gain power, addressing some lack in their own life.
Yet, even knowing this, how often do we allow those around us to tell us who we are and what we can expect from ourselves? How many times in a day do you defer to some belief about yourself?
Despite the oppressive nature of my village, I managed to become the first female grandmaster in Korea and establish my own studio.
Here are the five truths you will need to accept as you heal your roots and reconnect with your true self.
You are unique.
There is no one else in the world who is exactly like you. Don’t let another person’s opinions affect your self-image or motivations, because their perspective is incomplete. You may have good advisors, but at the end of the day, you are the one who knows yourself best.
You have more strength than you know.
In life or death situations, you can accomplish anything. How many stories have you heard of desperate mothers lifting cars off of their trapped children or of people pushing the odds of human survival? We are all linked into a universal life force — one that allows us to overcome our perceived physical and mental limitations.
Don’t confuse feeling weak with being weak. Fear plays a part in any healthy person’s thoughts. You can acknowledge its presence and then move past it, ultimately leaving it behind.
Thoughts determine your reality.
If you allow negative thoughts to dictate your self-image, you will always be bound by the limitations others impose upon you. Take a more deliberate approach to mental filtering; recognize intrusive, negative thoughts when they come and respond with positive affirmations. Say, “No, I can accomplish what I intend to do. If others can reach their goals, I, too, can make my dreams happen.”
Language is a powerful tool. Don’t let your language about yourself limit your progress. It’s not always easy, but I guarantee the practice of positive thinking and speaking will yield a difference in what you are able to manifest.
You have the power to make your dreams a reality.
Without determination, any good intentions will stall because they lack the energy necessary to make it a reality. Remember, procrastination is just another symptom of self-doubt. Even five minutes of action a day toward your goals can move you away from paralysis and into success.
The good news? The more you do, the less likely it is that you’ll sink back into your comfortable, unfulfilling patterns. Take one step today. Two steps tomorrow.
Find what brings you joy.
Do you know what makes you happy? I’m not talking about what makes your family happy, or earns you a paycheck, or the expectations you have set for yourself. I’m asking if you know what brings a smile to your face and makes you feel alive.
No matter who you are, no matter what hardships you face, you alone have the power to determine how you will respond to the challenges you encounter and by what values you will live. Every successful person you will meet knows this to be true.
The truth is that you are free to take action, starting right now, in this moment, toward making what is important to you a reality.
Let’s get started.