“I think self-love and self-confidence is like money. If you’re an asshole and you gain self-confidence then you will be more of an asshole. But if you are a good person and you gain self-confidence and self-love then you’ll be an even better person. You’ll be able to do a lot of good in the world.”
I’ve chosen to hold onto a whole bunch of memories that have shaped who I’ve become. And most of them aren’t good.
One memory sticks out above most of the others and it goes like this:
I’m in 4th grade and I write a note to Katy who sits beside me. Katy has been my friend since 1st grade.
I want to be funny like my older brother.He loves to joke with his friends that he is #1 and they are all #25 or maybe #33 – some arbitrary number that is far below #1.
So, I write this on a piece of paper:
I am #1. Katy is #17.
I pass it to Katy. And she unfolds the paper, reads it, and smiles. But our teacher has been watching all of this and now she walks over and rips the paper out of Katy’s hand. And as she reads, her smile of satisfaction turns to a scowl of disapproval.
My teacher reads the note to the class. And then she asks me if I know what the word conceited means.
I am 9 years old. I’ve never heard this word. So, I shake my head.
I have no idea what conceited means.
My teacher tells me to go to the back of the classroom and pick-up a dictionary and look it up. She spells it for me. Over and over. As I leaf through the pages, scanning the top and bottom of each page while my hearts thumps in my chest. While all 44 eyes of my classmates watch closely.
I finally find the word and loo-up at my teacher.
“Got it?” she asks.
“Yes,” I whisper. And then knowing that my voice has betrayed me, I nod my head.
“Good. Now read it. Loud. Loud so everyone can hear what you are.”
“In… In-gen-i-ously con-con-triv-ed,” I stammer.
“Ingeniously contrived,” my teacher repeats. “Is there a 2nd definition?”
I nod my head. Just once. I can feel sweat dripping down my back. A hammer begins to pound in my forehead.
“Read it,” she says.
“Having or showing an excessively high opinion of oneself.”
“Having an excessively high opinion of oneself,” she repeats, leaving out the words that might be the truth. “Is that you?” she asks. “Do you have an excessively high opinion of yourself?”
“I don’t know,” I answer.
Because I don’t know. I’ve never been asked that question. I’ve never considered the answer. Am I conceited? Maybe. Based on the way the teacher is looking at me. Based on how all my classmates are looking at me. Probably. Probably I am conceited. And conceited must be bad. Right? It has to be bad.
“You don’t know?” my teacher asks.
“I don’t know,” I whisper.
She holds up the paper, high over her head. “I’d say you are. I have proof right here.”
The bell rings for everyone to go to lunch. The teacher tells me I can’t go. I have to stay behind. But she releases the rest of the kids.
Here’s what my teacher didn’t know:
My brother is the one who gave me the idea to write that note.
I thought it was funny.
I didn’t really think I was #1 or that Katy was #17.
My 4th grade group of friends and I would take part in these weird dramas in which we’d decide to turn on one of our own and ostracize him and make fun of him for a few days. And I was just finishing up being that kid. Just that very morning my “friends” had told me that I could be their friend again. But now I knew they’d stop being my “friend” again and they would again pick on me and make my life as miserable as possible.
That I would carry these moments with me for my entire life and be too embarrassed to even mention it to someone else for over 30 years.
Within minutes of lunch beginning, I broke down into tears and my teacher hugged me and told me she was sorry. She told me she knew I was a good kid and that I wasn’t conceited. She told me it was okay.
But it wasn’t okay. And even though I’m sure she was sorry, the damage had already been done.
For decades I would carry that lesson with me.
Do not be conceited. Conceited is bad.
Feeling conceited would make me bad.
The shame of it is that I extended that lesson by extending the definition of conceited. Somehow, someway, I came to believe that conceited was feeling good about myself Being proud of myself. Liking myself. Loving myself. I believed on some deep level, a level buried far below the level of consciousness, that liking/loving/being proud/feeling good about myself would mean that I was conceited.
So, from the time I was 9-years-old until I was well over the age of 40, this was my belief.
I don’t remember ever hating myself. And most of the time I didn’t dislike myself. But I certainly would internally chastise myself if I ever started feeling good about myself. If was ever proud of myself. If I ever started to like or (God Forbid) love myself. That would mean I was conceited. And conceited meant I was bad.
Of course I see now that feeling good about myself isn’t conceited. And loving myself isn’t conceited either. Of course it isn’t! But I was so ashamed of what happened that day way back in 4th grade that I never even thought what it did to me. I didn’t allow myself to think about it. And because I was too ashamed to analyze that day, I never questioned the truth I attached to all of it. And I never thought about the damage it had done to me – the damage it continued to do to me. Every.. single… day of my life.
I doubt Katy remembers that day. And I doubt my teacher remembers it.
By the way, that teacher was a great teacher. One of my favorites, which probably helps explain why that day affected me so. She is a great lady. I still see her sometimes. She’s an old lady now. But still as sweet as ever. She would be mortified if she knew how that one day had such a major impact on a little boy, who would grow into a man, who never allowed himself to feel good about himself.
Now, I want to be clear…
I know there were plenty of other things that also helped shape who I became. Some good. Some bad. In fact, I could spend more time writing about at least 2 other incidents that also affected my self-confidence and my self-love. And I know that what happened in 4th grade and what happened at other times as I was growing up are not the root of why I “chose” to hold them inside of me. I may never figure out the root. And, in the end, I don’t think it matters that much.
I could have just dismissed that day in 4th grade. But I didn’t. And I have no idea why I didn’t. But I do know that now, I am old enough and wise enough to look at it all and choose to let it go. I now know that there is a huge difference between conceited and self-love. And I know that self-love is a good thing. It’s necessary for happiness.
And I think that the lack of self-love is a major factor in everyone’s unhappiness. I’m convinced of this.
A few months ago I was talking to V and I asked her something like:
“What if feeling good about myself makes me an asshole? What if self-love turns into self-confidence and that then leads to arrogance and being conceited?”
I was truly concerned.
But V just shook her head and smiled. “You won’t become an asshole because you aren’t an asshole. In fact, I think self-love and self-confidence is like money. If you’re an asshole and you gain self-confidence then you will be more of an asshole. But if you are a good person and you gain self-confidence and self-love then you’ll be an even better person. You’ll be able to do a lot of good in the world. And besides, most people who act arrogant or conceited aren’t actually conceited. Most of the time – deep down – they dislike themselves and they are just trying to cover it up.”
My God, what an answer! And how it rang with truth – deep in my heart and soul.
Hearing V say that finally made me completely get it.
It’s absolutely okay to like and love myself. It’s absolutely okay to be proud of myself and to think I am good and worthy. It’s not bad. It’s not conceited. It’s good. It’s called self-love. And it will lead to happiness. My own happiness, and also the happiness of others.
This is a lesson so many people in the world need to learn. It’s not only okay to love yourself, but it’s a gift to the rest of the world to love yourself. None of us can fully love anyone else until we love ourselves. We can love. We can love like crazy. But we can’t reach all the levels of love without loving ourselves.
This isn’t some Kumbaya bullshit either. And it’s not something that can be dismissed.
Think about some of the biggest issues facing our society and the world. They are either born from not liking oneself or being conceited, which can be argued is actually not truly liking oneself. (But I’ll acknowledge that it’s possible some people are truly assholes and are conceited super assholes… but the majority of assholes – whether they seem conceited or arrogant or not – are actually just trying to cover-up how little they think about themselves.) But think about the problems in the world as a whole. And think about our individual problems.
Drug and alcohol addition. Weight issues. Suicide. Other addictions to pornography or sex or social media or whatever. Most, if not all cases, are born from not being happy with ourselves.
I don’t like myself so I will post constantly to Facebook and then when someone likes my post I can feel good about myself for about 6 seconds.
I can’t stand to be myself so I will drink to change who I am and how I feel.
I will escape myself and change myself because I cant stand who I am.
Society doesn’t want us to like ourselves. Because then we’re happy without needing society’s help. Don’t believe me? Watch 20 minutes of television and count how many commercials sell their product by showing us that we will be happier with their product. It’s all about gratification from an outside source. And it’s usually all about instant gratification. Why? Because we are so starved to feel better about ourselves that we can’t wait more than a few minutes to feel better.
Well, it’s all bullshit. And the sooner we all realize it the better off we will be and the better off the entire world will be.
I am good. You are good. I am unique. You are unique. It’s okay for me to love myself. And it’s okay for you to love yourself. In fact, it’s so much more than okay. It’s the key to leading a better life. And it’s not conceited or arrogant. It’s not bad. It’s a good thing.
Want to be happy? Who doesn’t? Then look inside and practice self-love. And then let that love spill out into the world.