Then I’m not living it. Neither are you for that matter. It’s a personal thing of course, but I’m convinced that 2016 is THE year. Not for anything particularly earth shattering, but in my case, to stop talking about stuff and flipping well get it done.
For me, 2015 was a year of emotional chaos and drastic change. During that time, I had periods of strength and weakness. There were times of complete joy and utter despair. Times when I conquered fears, but others when I let fear rule my head and my heart. It sounds dramatic and sometimes it has been. But it’s just the same sort of stuff that people deal with all the time, every day of the week, unless you are dealing with far more serious stuff, like war, poverty, displacement and death. I am thankful that these are not my problems, for now.
The turn of the year has enabled a full stop and a new paragraph. A new way of thinking. It’s nothing more than a trick of the mind, but it’s one we can all do because we have that power. And it basically boils down to self-esteem. Not confidence which is a different thing. Self-esteem, according to Wikipedia, is defined as a term in sociology and psychology which:
‘reflects a person’s overall subjective emotional evaluation of his or her own worth. It is a judgement of oneself as well as an attitude towards the self.’
Pretty obvious stuff huh? Except the chances are, if your self-esteem is low, you will judge yourself harshly, often attributing that opinion to others. It’s more difficult to separate this when you are feeling crap about yourself, and any minor slips that people with high self-esteem just shrug off (e.g. missing a week at the gym), end up as major character flaws. Acknowledging to yourself that you have low self-esteem is hard enough on its own.
Yet, that is exactly what I have. Having the chutzpah to write about your life on the internet does not mean you have high self-esteem. Nor does brazening it out to do things like run a race that you’re not really fit enough for, or talking to strangers in pubs. Incidentally, Wikipedia defines chutzpah as the Yiddish word for audacity, deriving from the Hebrew for boldness, insolence or cheek. I’m not Jewish, but I love that word and I do have chutzpah in spades. You can be bold without having high self-esteem.
In the last week, I’ve been struck several times by the difference between all of these things. (Yeah, I’m nearly 44 and it’s taken a while, so what? Get over it, I am about to.) First of all, on Friday, watching the documentary Amy about the singer Amy Winehouse, who died in 2011 from an alcohol overdose, aged 27. I won’t go into the details; the world watched her soar, crash and burn, all the while chased by the media.
It’s a terrible, tragic tale of talent wasted, the surface story being that drugs and alcohol fucked her up. But to me, the truth was more simple. People with high self-esteem don’t normally get fucked up with drugs and alcohol because they don’t need to. And yes, some happy, well-balanced people will get addicted to things that are bad for them, but much less so. It takes quite a bit of work to become an addict of anything. The need to keep numbing the pain is an ongoing, consistent thing. You need to keep at it for a long time, consuming at levels that most ‘normal’ people would baulk at.
Amy Winehouse had virtually no self-esteem, despite an incredible voice and song writing talent. There are a myriad of reasons why, some hinted at in the film. You saw it when she sang with Tony Bennett, a hero of hers, where she had no confidence at all and he had to coax her gently to sing with him. Or when she is recorded talking to a friend, noting with surprise ‘boy, I really can sing!’ This was after selling millions of albums and winning awards for her music. In the end, the only person who can help you get clean is yourself. And if you don’t believe you are worth saving, you are fucked.
The second thing was, surprisingly, an Argentine tango workshop I attended on Saturday afternoon on confidence for followers (typically women). It wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but it was great. It started with the theory of tango, which is about three things: learning the steps, being a considerate dancer on the floor, and finally, self-esteem, including awareness of your good points and what you need to work on. We had to build trust in following by walking around with our eyes closed, led by our partners.
The interesting bit was when we had to dance around the hall by ourselves, and we had to complement ourselves out loud saying things like ‘oh, that was a beautiful box step’, or ‘I’m making a lovely ocho’. Of course we all pissed ourselves laughing, being Scottish, but she told us off and we were to do it again without laughing. It was tough to do, but the difference was palpable. Our heads were then held high as we walked around with self-belief. In the embrace of the dance, you look down, or even have your eyes closed, but it was about imagining our heads held high. Having the belief to make mistakes and feel comfortable about that. Our final exercise was about having the confidence to refuse a dance (politely) if we didn’t want to, which is harder than it sounds. By the end of an hour, we weren’t any better at dancing, but we had more self-belief. A surprisingly empowering afternoon.
My last example comes from the response across the world yesterday to the death of David Bowie. One of the things that struck me amongst the outpouring of grief and deluge of tributes on the internet, was that in the act of being himself, he gave other people permission to do the same. His creative ‘weirdness’ and individuality helped others who felt like they were different. He gave solace to people who felt different or outsiders and stopped them from going crazy.
Nowadays, the internet does that for some people – there are all variations of gender, sexuality, music and style that were mostly hidden in the 70s and a long time after. Even now, unless you live in a community of artists in a big city, it’s hard to be out there and different to the norm, the norm being be straight, get married, have kids, work until you retire, buy stuff and look like everyone else. Many of us live in communities that are socially conservative and we want to fit in and be accepted.
It’s all very well to live in Hollywood and be Caitlyn Jenner, but trans people, for example, will still raise an eyebrow at best, and at worst, be abused in societies like mine. In the 70s and 80s, it must have been a nightmare. People like Bowie were a beacon of hope for all the misfits and dreamers out there.
He certainly had chutzpah. But to be who he was, and remained, he almost certainly had high self-esteem, that is a positive judgement of himself. Yeah sure, he liked his drugs and alcohol, but they didn’t take his spirit because he believed in himself more.
When you start from a place of low self-esteem, this is a hard journey. ‘Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all’ sang Whitney Houston, before she died in a bath, full of drugs, after an abusive relationship. She should know.
Even now, there are loads of us out there, feeling different and weird every day and not sure what to do about it. I know the answer: embrace the fucking weird. As a mildly repressed Scotswoman who cringes when she reads internet articles about radical, critical self-love (even though I know they are probably right) I understand that is the only way to good self-esteem. You will probably need to embarrass yourself. A lot.
As Frank n Furter might say, ‘Don’t dream it, be it.’
Until next time,