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You Can Make A Difference

Sometimes it’s easy to think that you’re too small, too unimportant, too insignificant to make a difference.  And when you feel that way it can help to lower your self-esteem.

But we can all make a difference with the smallest of actions.  You might know the story of the starfish on the sea but it’s worth remembering.  And if you’ve never heard it before it’s a useful lesson.  It’s based on the writings of an American called Loren Eisley – this is my version.

 

The Starfish Story

In a seaside town, there lived an old man who used to go down to the beach to take his morning walk.  One morning, after a very stormy night, he walked along the seashore and was amazed to sea hordes of starfish washed up on the beach.  As far as the eye could see, in every direction, the beach was covered in starfish.

The man walked on, sadly reflecting that the starfish would surely die.  Nothing could be done to help them.  Further down the beach, the old man noticed a little girl approaching.  Every so often she would pause, and as the old man and the little girl drew closer together, the man could see that the girl was stopping to pick something up and throw it into the sea.

“Good morning,” the old man called as the little girl drew close enough for them to speak.  “Do you mind if I ask what you’re doing?”

The girl looked up and smiled, saying, “I’m throwing starfish back into the sea.  The storm must have washed them up onto the beach and they can’t get back by themselves.  If no-one throws them back they will die.  Wouldn’t that be a shame?”

The old man replied, “But there must be thousands upon thousands of starfish on the beach.  You can only save a few of them.  What difference can you make?”

The girl bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it as far as she could into the sea.  Then she smiled and said, “Why don’t you ask that one what difference I can make?”

 

The truth is you can – and do – make a difference every day.  When you smile at a lonely person, when you say a few kind words to someone who feels beaten by life, when you offer a helping hand.  You don’t have to do anything huge or dramatic to change someone’s world.

 

 

Don’t Apologise For Being You

Too many of us go around constantly putting ourselves down.  We find it necessary to apologise for existing in a world full of people who are far more important.

Well I have news for you.  You are important.  Yes – you, sitting at your computer reading this.

How do you answer when someone asks you what you do for a living?  Do you say, “Oh – I’m just a cleaner” or “Nothing special – I’m a teacher”?  Do you look down at the floor and mutter something about working with computers?  Or look sheepish and apologise for being a stay-at-home mum?

The fact is, it doesn’t matter what you do – doctor, lawyer, Indian chief – you are not what you do.  You are so much more than that.  You are the product of all your experiences and everything you have learned from them.  You have a lot to offer the world, you just haven’t realised it yet.

A Message From The Movies

We are all important.  When I think about this, it reminds me of the film “It’s A Wonderful Life”.  If you haven’t seen it, I strongly recommend you take a couple of hours to sit down and watch it.  It’s generally thought of as a Christmas movie, because the action takes place around Christmas, but you can watch it any time.

It tells the story of George Bailey, one of the good guys in the small town of Bedford Falls, New York.  All his life, George has put other people first, ignoring his own needs.  We follow George’s life until one Christmas Eve he finds himself standing on a bridge contemplating suicide, believing he has ruined the lives of everyone around him.

At this point, Clarence Oddbody, George’s guardian angel, is despatched in an attempt to save him.  If he is successful, Clarence will be awarded his wings and become a fully-fledged angel.  Initially, he distracts George from his suicidal thoughts by throwing himself into the river and appearing to be in danger of drowning.  Good guy that he is, George jumps in and drags Clarence to safety.

But this is just a temporary fix – in order to change George’s view of himself, Clarence has to resort to more devious measures.  He shows George a vision of a timeline in which he never existed.  In this timeline, George’s brother Harry died in a childhood accidentvbecause George wasn’t around to save him.  In turn, Harry does not grow up to be a Navy pilot and shoot down a kamikaze plane headed for a troop transport.  And control of Bedford Falls comes into the hands of local miser Henry Potter.

Horrified by all this, George begs for things to be restored to the way they were.  His wish is granted, he abandons his suicidal plans and the story ends happily.  Oh – Clarence gets his wings!

So the point is – none of us knows how different the world would be without us.  We all matter and we all need to believe that.

So don’t apologise for being you.  Get out there and claim your place in the world.

Don’t Be Invisible

When you have low self-esteem it’s very tempting to try to be invisible.  You don’t feel as good as other people, or as worthy of attention, so you shrink back and try to hide.  You make yourself seem small and hope that people won’t notice you.

And, generally speaking, it works.  You’re waiting at a busy bar, shop or fast-food outlet.   There are lots of other people there, all of them more important than you.  So you shrink back, don’t make eye contact, smile patiently at the floor or pretend you haven’t decided what you want yet.  Nobody notices you until eventually it quietens down and you get served.

Does that sound familiar?

Does it feel good?

I’ve done it myself and it didn’t feel good.  It just made my already low self-esteem feel worse.

So one day I tried a different approach.  It was New Year’s Eve, I was out for a meal with a group of friends, and I went to get drinks from the restaurant bar.  There were several people clustered around waiting to order from the two harrassed-looking staff.  I felt myself starting to shrink, trying to be invisible, falling into the old familiar pattern of behaviour.

Then I stopped myself.  I wasn’t going to do this anymore.  I moved my feet a little bit apart to give myself a firmer grounding.  Stood up straight and tall.  Imagined my whole frame broadening and taking up more space.  And smiled at the busy bar staff as they flew backwards and forwards with drinks.  I was visible.  People could see me.

And sure enough, I got to place my order when it was my turn.  And I did a little happy dance inside.

Sometimes it feels hard to push yourself forward a little bit, to just make people notice you.  But you deserve to be seen.  You’re as important as anyone else and if you act is if that’s true you’ll start to believe it.

So stop being invisible.  Make people see you.

Stop Making Comparisons

If you want to feel better about yourself, maybe you should stop making comparisons with everyone else.

There are about seven billion people on this planet today.  The sad – but also liberating – truth is that some of them are better-looking, more intelligent, and more talented than you.  Whatever it is you think you’re good at, there’s almost certainly someone out there who is better at it.

“Hang on,” I hear you crying, as you splutter on your tea.  “I thought this was supposed to make me feel good about myself.”

And so it should.  Because once you realise that making comparisons is a loser’s game you can stop doing it.  You don’t need to be better than anyone else, just the best version of yourself that you can manage.

Take a look in the mirror.  What you see in there is you, and it’s all you’ve got to work with.  So don’t compare it unfavourably with some media-created image of the perfect human being.  Find the things about yourself that you really like – if you’ve been reading this blog there must be some by now.  Maybe you have nice eyes, or good skin or lovely thick hair.  Pay yourself a compliment instead of comparing yourself with your friend who seems to have it all.

Remember there’s a lot more to you than the outside.  Think of all your positive qualities – are you kind, thoughtful, funny?  What do your friends and family love about you?  Celebrate those things instead of worrying about your perfect sibling.

And so what if lots of people are better at chess, baking, abseiling or whatever your particular interest might be.  You’re better than you were when you started – look at your own personal progress instead of regretting that you’re not a world champion.

Be the best you can.  Do the best you can.  And be proud of yourself and your efforts.

Show Some Love And Feel Great

Love makes the world go around.  Not literally, obviously – that’s something to do with gravitational forces – but in a metaphorical sense it really does.  Most of us have a lot of love in our hearts, and when we let that show the world becomes a better place.  And the love we give out gets reflected back to us.

Just try it.  Smile at people.  Whenever you have the chance, be kind. Pay compliments when the opportunity arises.  See how a small gesture from you can brighten someone’s day.  You’ll immediately feel better about yourself.  I know you’re a nice person but when you show a little love you’ll know it too.

But there’s more to it than that.  When you smile at people they tend to smile back.  Kindness and compliments are reciprocated.  So not only do you make yourself feel good, others do too.

And the really great thing is that this all builds on itself.  As you start to feel better you smile more, you find it easier to be kind, you’re more willing to pay compliments rather than judging people for their faults.  And that can only increase the amount of positivity you get in return.

So here’s my challenge to you.  Make today the day you show the world all the love in your heart.

The next time you go out, smile at every person you pass, even the miserable-looking ones.  Especially the miserable-looking ones – they need it the most.

Find an opportunity to be kind.  It really isn’t that difficult – you just have to help someone.  If you’re really struggling with this you could just drop some spare change into a charity box or donate a few items to the local food bank collection.

Pay someone a compliment.  It doesn’t have to be anything huge – maybe you can tell a friend her hair looks nice or you like the colour of his shirt.  If you don’t feel comfortable commenting on someone’s personal appearance you could compliment their garden – gardeners love that.

Show the world some love, see it reflected back, and notice how great you feel.

Learn To Accept A Compliment

A compliment is a gift, freely given, from one person to another.  With just a few well-chosen words it’s possible to brighten someone else’s day.

So why do so many of us feel the need to bat compliments away, to thoughtlessly reject a kind gesture?  Maybe we feel we don’t deserve a little bit of praise.  Perhaps we’ve been taught that it’s big-headed to be listen to positive comments about ourselves.  Or could it be that we suspect there’s an ulterior motive behind the compliment?

When my nephew was about four years old he had a lovely new coat.  He loved it, looked very smart in it, and attracted the kind of comments cute children in nice clothes tend to get.  You know the sort of thing I mean.  Elderly ladies would come  up to him saying, “Where did you get that lovely coat from?” or similar.  I thought it would be fun to teach him to respond with a self-deprecating laugh and the words, “This old thing – I’ve had it for years.”

And it was fun – at the time.  My nephew enjoyed saying it, the elderly ladies found it hilarious, and I felt that I’d had a tiny influence on the development of the next generation.

My nephew is now an adult, and fortunately has healthy self-esteem.  He has the fashion-sense and personal style of a typical modern 20-something.  Fortunately he also knows how to accept a compliment.

The trouble is, far too many of us haven’t learned this lesson.  Someone tells us how good we look in something we’re wearing and we grimace while tossing a “Had it ages” back at them.  Or we get excellent feedback on something we’ve done and work and just shrug it off with a “It was okay”.

When we do this, not only are we denying ourselves the pleasure of receiving praise, we’re also rejecting another person’s kindness.  When someone hands you a beautifully wrapped package, do you toss it aside with a few muttered words?  So why do that with the gift of a compliment?

Next time someone takes the trouble to say something nice to you, accept it graciously.  Smile, thank them, and see how much better it makes you feel.  And repay their kind gift by letting them feel good about brightening your day.

Did I mention how great you’re looking?

 

Be Kind To Your Mistakes

We all make mistakes. They’re part of what makes us human. So why do we have such an awful tendency to beat ourselves up about them?
One of the most effective things you can do to build your self-esteem right now is to be kinder to yourself when you make a mistake. Remember that the only way to guarantee you’ll never get it wrong is never to try. Where would the human race be if we all took that approach?

When you make a mistake, instead of jumping straight into self-critical mode, think about how your best friend would respond. Would he tell you what a useless waste of space you are and how you’ve just proved it? Would she make you feel bad about yourself? No – because that’s not what good friends do. So why not be a good friend to yourself?

Remind yourself that whatever you did or said that was wrong, it doesn’t mean that you’re stupid or a bad person – you just made a mistake. Think about all the mistakes that are made around the world every day – what makes yours so much more important? Give yourself a bit of praise for all the good things you do. Then give yourself a bit more.

Ask yourself what actual harm your mistake has caused. Most of the time, the answer is really very little. Maybe your dignity has been a tiny bit hurt, maybe you made yourself look a bit silly, but there’s been no lasting damage. If you’ve harmed or upset someone else then apologise sincerely and do what you can to put things right. Then give yourself a little reward for handling the situation so well.

Think about what you can learn from your mistake so you can take something positive away from the experience. Do this in an encouraging way rather than a critical one – “Maybe I could listen more” is better than “I talk too much”.

Of course mistakes can sometimes have serious consequences for other people’s reputation, their property or even their lives. In those situations it may be impossible to put things right, and feeling bad about your actions is perfectly reasonable. But remember – however awful the consequences of your mistake, it does not make you a bad person. The way you feel proves that.

But for most of us, our mistakes are not that serious. Accept them, do what you can to rectify them, try to learn from them, then move on.

You are not your mistakes.

Winning Isn’t Everything

I had the experience of attending a school morning assembly a few months ago. Things have changed since I was at secondary school – there were no hymns, no prayers, no reading and no litany of misdemeanours.
 
Instead, the head of the PE department gave the students a lesson on the importance of winning at sport.   There was a subtext that winning, even in individual disciplines, is actually a team effort.  However,  the over-riding message seemed to be that winning is all that matters.
 
Regular readers of my posts will not be surprised to learn that this did not go down well with me. How do we motivate people to try if we tell them that anything other than winning is a failure?
 
The teacher illustrated his message by asking who came second in a number of major sporting events and making a big deal of the fact that no-one remembered.
 
I neither know nor care enough about sport to accurately recall any of the examples given, so I’ll use one of my own to point out the flaw in this argument. When Jessica Ennis won the 2012 Olympic Heptathlon gold medal, Lilli Schwarzkopf of Germany took the silver. Did you remember that? Probably not, but does that make Lilli Schwarzkopf a loser?
 
Not in my book. I’m guessing a large proportion of the population of Germany remembers her achievement. While she herself was probably devastated to miss out on a gold medal, I’m sure she managed to take pride in the silver she did manage to win. And when she shows her silver medal to her grandchildren, I don’t suppose they’ll say, “Only a silver, Oma? You’re such a loser.”
 
It’s great to win. It’s something to aspire to and to be proud of. I’ll even accept that it’s important.  But it isn’t the only thing that matters.  When we focus on winning above all else we negate the achievements of all but a tiny minority of the population.
That cannot be conducive to healthy self-esteem.

Don’t Try To Be Perfect

Why do so many of us beat ourselves up over the fact that we’re not perfect? And allied to that, why are we so hung up on winning?

Books, magazines and TV advertising all sell us the dream of the perfect body, the perfect home, the perfect life.  But no-one actually has those things.  Or if they do, they don’t believe it.

No-one is perfect.  Not you, not me, not (insert the name of the most beautiful, talented gifted person you can think of here).  That supermodel you admire so much probably has all sorts of secret hang-ups about her looks.  The multi-billionaire investor with the private jet and homes around the world worries about smelly feet and an outbreak of middle-age acne.  Rock stars who fill huge arenas with screaming fans are obsessed with their weight.

The quest for perfection is paralysing.  We’re so desperate to get everything right that either we don’t bother starting or we unconsciously sabotage our own efforts.  How often has it been so important for you to do something well that nerves took over and you messed it up?

Just relax.  Do your best, be your best and accept that it’s good enough.  When you stop looking for perfection you start to see what you really want to change and how you can achieve it.

If you need to be two stones lighter to achieve a healthy weight, make a plan for how to get those two stones off.  Don’t decide you’re going to slim down until you’re stick thin – you’re asking too much of yourself and setting yourself up to fail.

If you think you need to get fitter, start off with a leisurely jog, and congratulate yourself for achieving it.  Don’t go straight into training for a marathon.

And remember, in any field of endeavour, you don’t have to be the best.  Put in the effort that you think something deserves, then congratulate yourself, whatever the result.

You are good enough.  You will always be good enough.  Say no to perfection and start to value yourself.

Choose How To React To Feedback

People love to give us their opinion on things.  Some call it feedback, others are more honest and call it criticism.  It doesn’t matter what they call it, if it’s about you and it’s negative, it can hurt.

But here’s the thing.  You don’t have to take any notice.  Whatever someone else says about you, it’s their opinion, not a fact.

Your Aunt Eileen doesn’t like what you’re wearing – so what?  When did she become the arbiter of all that is good in the world of fashion?  You’re wearing it because you like it, because it makes you feel good.  Isn’t that what really matters?

A couple of years ago, I cooked a lamb tagine for my partner and my mother.  The following day, my mother asked me to sit down, and in her most serious voice said, “I need to tell you something, and I don’t want you to get upset.”  I started to worry.  I started to really worry.  “What’s the matter?” I asked her.  She gave me a very sorrowful look, before saying, “That tagine you made.  It was very nice … but … I don’t think you should serve it to anyone else.”

I have my mother to thank for my cast iron self-esteem!

But seriously, I could have been deeply upset by her veiled insult towards my culinary abilities but I chose not to be.  I thought about what she’d said, and considered whether there was any truth in it.  My conclusion – I liked my tagine, and if she felt it wasn’t good enough to be served to other people that was fine.  It was her opinion and I didn’t have to take it on board.

But sometimes, other people have a higher opinion of us than we do of ourselves.  We think that something we’ve done is not very good, then someone comes along and tells us how brilliant it is.  Should we ignore them then?

No we should not.  If someone tells you they like your hair, or you did a great job, or your garden looks lovely – smile and thank them.  You’re better than you think you are, and someone just took the trouble to tell you so.

You don’t have to take any feedback as truth.  Don’t automatically disregard it either – just take a moment to consider whether it’s justified.  If it is, go ahead and learn from it, if not just let it go.

But if someone says something good about you, why not accept it?  It can only make you feel better about yourself.