Middle school is hard on all of us; and this last year of middle school for my 13-year-old daughter has been no exception. It was a year of changing friends; the kind where lunch tables are at stake and reputations are on the line. Her decisions this year have also been less than stellar — I’ll admit I’ve used the phrase “I’m disappointed in you” more times than I can count. I remember the sting of that sentence when I was her age, cutting deeper than anything else my parents said to me.
We sat together the other night, my daughter and I, a novelty these days, now that I am firmly at the bottom of the “Friends, Activities, Electronics, Boys” totem pole. But this night, I felt like she was really listening to me, searching for some inspiration after another ill-fated decision left her grounded for weeks.
How do you tell someone with so little perspective on the “big picture” of life just how important it is to love yourself? And that doing so will impact every single choice she will make for the rest of her life?
In the end, I offered this advice — one that’s taken me years to really comprehend myself: The only opinion of you that matters is your own.
This concept may seem simple enough, but how many people do you know, even as adults, who are still learning to grasp the enormity of what it truly means? It’s nearly impossible not to get weighed down by the opinions of others from time to time, and a certain amount of self-reflection of how others see us does makes sense. Consistently making choices that allow us to hold ourselves in high esteem is no easy task, but it limits the regret and shame we can feel, which only drags us down.
Back in 2013, Reddit issued a poll asking users to share their most “honest opinion” about themselves. As I read through the responses, it wasn’t the words they used to label themselves that caught my eye, but rather the adjectives that came before them. Words like “outwardly,” “inwardly,” and “secretly” jumped out from my screen and made me cringe. “Outwardly,” many people were seen as confident or funny, but their actual opinion of themselves was much more negative.
How we view ourselves dictates most of what we do — more importantly, what we don’t do. It influences how much we accomplish, what goals we choose to go after, and with whom we choose to spend our time. To live your life, and I mean really live your life, free of damaging thoughts and unhinged from any negative value you’ve placed on yourself, can be challenging.
Our opinion of ourselves is deeply rooted in an awareness of exactly who we are and the choices we’ve made — both good and bad. We can try our best to fool others, but at the end of the day, there’s no hiding from our own truth. Shifting and shaping ourselves to fit the expectations of those around us will only limit our experiences in life; but if we have a negative opinion of ourselves, it can be equally as damaging.
I explained to my daughter that night that with the exception of a few choices, I can look at myself in the mirror and feel content with how I’ve chosen to life my life. Do I have regrets? Of course I do — and those have weighed me down for years. Because here’s the thing about holding ourselves to the standard of our own opinion: When we falter and act in a way that makes us or someone else feel humiliated or small, we can’t escape it.
We can’t lie to ourselves. Even if no one else ever finds out about what we’ve done, we will always know the truth. And that can affect so much of who we are.