When I moved 1,300 miles across the country at age 21, I didn’t know a single person in my new hometown. I had never visited. I didn’t know the names of the most popular sports teams or the capital city or what restaurants had been on Food Network.
I followed my husband to graduate school, finishing my own degree long distance over the next few months. I was happy in so many ways, but it was also hard – those first few months of marriage were among the few when I wasn’t vibrantly busy, and I had given up jobs, scholarships, editorships, and other accolades I had worked on for years to move to this new place.
As I began my job search without a single contact or lead, attempting to define my value to others behind a computer screen in a downed economy, I felt especially demoralized.
But it was during this trying time that I discovered one of the most important mottos for my life in the words of a stranger.
As I continued my job search, I began conducting informational interviews with local businesses and universities. One day, I met with a local university leader. I shared my frustration with him about the job pool – that all the positions I came across seemed far too underwhelming or too overwhelming, and that I was afraid to try for the more advanced positions since I didn’t think I’d be given a chance.
He shrugged and told me something offhand that has never left me: say yes to yourself. Let others say no to giving you the position, but don’t disqualify yourself by not trying.
Say yes to yourself.
After reflecting on that statement for months, I realized he had captured something I had long struggled with but never put into words before: I often said no to myself before I could be brave enough to give someone else the chance. I was scared to be vulnerable. I said no to myself – to trying and hoping and moving forward – before I could even attempt to succeed. And by doing this, I was ruining my own dreams; it didn’t matter if others said no to that job or outfit or offer. I was already doing that work for them by not saying yes to myself.
Now, years later, I’m fortunate to work in a job I love, where I’ve said yes to things I didn’t think I could do and experienced both educational failures and some smashing successes. But I’m learning that the only real failure is to tell myself no – to tell myself that I’m not smart enough or good enough or strategic enough or accomplished enough and thereby stay tepid in a world that needs strength.
So I’m learning to say yes to myself. Yes to self care in a world that glorifies self sabotage and dieting and sleep deprivation. Yes to being a wife and a professional and a future mother and a community member and a writer and a church leader and a wannabe stylist all at once. Yes to being kind and patient – including with myself. Yes to the things that scare me and will make me grow. And yes to self worth.
As women, girls, mothers, future mothers, future leaders – how often do we tell ourselves no before we can even give ourselves a chance? How often do we berate or downplay our own appearance, our intelligence, our humor, our choices? How often do we allow shame or numbness to paralyze us instead of taking up the charge to do good and be great as daughters of God?
Let’s change today. Let’s say yes to ourselves. Let’s say yes to what makes us breathless with possibility.
So if others say no, so be it. You will have conquered the greatest battle by trying and failing and trying and changing and still going on imperfectly and beautifully. You will feel a fire in your bones that no one else can take away from you because you believe in yourself. You will see your infinite worth. You will see that you are powerful. You will see that you have much to offer the world and yourself.
Write that short story. Compete in that math contest. Make that speech. Take that break. Lean in or power down or opt out or make a new way. Do it all or nothing or some beautiful, messy mixture of all the things in between.
Say yes to yourself – you’re worth it.
How will you say yes to yourself this week?