I listened to one of George Zalucki’s audio programs when I was 18 and it changed my life. As an educator for sociology and psychology, he shared an experience of how our minds and our self-image are easily influenced by outside forces. He said that in education, if you take a sample of students and tell them that great things are expected from the, that they’re capable, they’re marvellous, then that group of students would perform that way. However, if you took a different group of students with the same basic IQ and told them that you were concerned about their learning capabilities, that there are indications they’re not going to cut it, then that group of students would deliver exactly what you suggested to them.
“Most people absolutely destroy themselves with their self-image.” – George Zalucki
I had an incredible epiphany in that moment! I realized that at a larger scale, that is you and I… I recognized that my entire self-image was formed in my youth. The thoughts that I have about myself today are a reflection of my experiences, the influencers in my life, and what I’ve exposed my mind to in the past. George shares that more often than not, the self-image we develop is a negative one. It’s often shaped when a parent, or a teacher, or an older sibling tells us we can’t do something. You don’t have the talent. You’re not smart enough. You’re a boy. You’re a girl. You’re black. You’re a minority. You’re overweight. Or any other number of ridiculous reasons as to why what you’re working to accomplish is wrong.
That was true for me. And that was true for my good friend Megan, too. I met Megan this year through my fellowship with Venture for Canada. I was blown away by Megan’s confidence! She’s one of the most transparent, authentic, and open minded people I’ve ever met. Yet, candidly, I was surprised when I heard her story.
Knowing how paramount our youth is to building one’s self-image, I imagined Megan would be reserved and quiet. But that description couldn’t be further from the truth! This sparked my curiosity. Why was Megan able to face tremendous adversity and oppression, and still manage to see herself today with confidence, poise, and power? And how can others who’ve been through similar crisis’ of identity, who’ve been told they’re not good enough, and grew up believing they’re worthless and unlovable, take responsibility for their self-image and thrive?
Fortunately, Megan was generous enough to share with me just that. We discussed that no matter where you start, everyone has the ability to build an empowering self-image and become the champion of their lives.
“Everyone goes through different struggles. And it’s those struggles that make up who you are. Until you own that about you, you can never reach self-confidence.” -Megan Heesaker
We live in a world obsessed with symmetry. And in that world of symmetry, Megan doesn’t match. Self-identified as cis-gendered and a lady-lover with masculine gender expression, our world has thrown it’s unfair share of oppression and adversity her way. When she was six years old, rocking her bowl cut, she was confronted in a restaurant bathroom by another girl. The girl demanded that she leave the bathroom immediately because she was obviously a boy in a female bathroom. To this girl, Megan didn’t match and wasn’t accepted. She represented many others who also believed that what Megan was doing wasn’t right, and she shouldn’t be herself.
This is an incident that may seem inconsequential to some. Yet, at the tender age of six, at a time where our minds are open like a sponge, ready to accept any ideas that come our way, this example of oppression is significant. As George Zalucki demonstrated, Megan was in the midst of building her self-image. However, when she accepted these ideas as being true, she built a prison, not a paradise, to play in. Megan’s traumatic experience forced her to submit to social norms. She grew her hair, wore tighter shirts, and started to make the fact that she was a girl explicitly clear.
It wasn’t until sixteen years later, when she was twenty-two, that she finally once again accepted herself for who she truly is. Sixteen years! Sixteen years of living in a disempowering state. Of thinking that she didn’t belong. And of holding herself back from true self-expression. I’m writing this post because I was so inspired when I learned that it ONLY took sixteen years. Too many people will allow the experience they had when they were six, ten, fourteen or any age, shape their self-image for the rest of their lives. Those people never experience true self-confidence, never believe in themselves, and as a result will never live up to their full potential.
How We Shape Our Self-Image
Firstly, notice that I wrote, “how we shape our self-image” not, “how others shape our self-image.” You and I are responsible for shaping our self-image. Our thoughts about ourselves are based upon our belief system. And our belief system is based on the patterns of our minds, our definitions, and the interpretations of the events that happen to us. We develop these patterns and definitions by ascribing themes to those events and we make them mean something. No one else can make anything mean anything, except for us. As much as it’s easy to blame and make excuses, that little girl didn’t shape Megan’s self-image at six years old, she only influenced it. Megan was responsible for ascribing meaning to the event. As a result, her thoughts that she had about herself in that moment became habitual thoughts over time. Those habitual thoughts created her beliefs, which in turn formed her self-image.
I want you to see yourself in Megan’s example. Personally, I can see how I shaped a disempowering self-image image in my youth because of one or two main events. Can you see that for yourself? Can you identify the events that you mistakenly attributed the wrong meaning to? Take the time now to think about it. Because if you don’t, you won’t be able to attribute new meaning, forgive those people, and begin the process of developing an empowering self-image.
How We Can Reshape Our Self-Image
Why was Megan able to build back up her confidence when so many others will give up hope and live their entire lives in a box? How did she go from oppressed, to empowered? The answers are in the application of these two concepts, forgiving those who influenced your self-image and engaging in new activities.
Nobody had the right to do what they did or say what they said when they influenced your self-image. They had no authority or any right to do it to you. But, they didn’t create the meaning, we created the meaning! When we realize that, we’ll be able to forgive all those people who suggested we were limited in any way. Until you do that, you’ll be engaged in something that is incomplete and you’ll have a real challenge wiping your slate clean.
Megan described that by not accepting the event, and forgiving those who influenced your thoughts and beliefs, you’ll get caught up in a negative feedback loop. I know men and women in their fifty’s and sixty’s, that to this day, continue to play the toxic tapes of their youth over and over again! They never forgave themselves, and they never forgave those who participated in the event. For decades, these people have been stuck in their disempowering beliefs. Don’t let that be you. Forgive and move on to engaging in new activities.
Once you’ve forgiven, you can now spend your mental energy focusing on what’s right about you and who you want to be. Get a vision of where you’re headed and stay focused on the person you can become. When you do that, you’ll start to get engaged in new activities. This is the real substance of changing your self-image.
In order to build an empowering self-image, you must be willing to get out of your comfort zone. Which incidentally, if we truly knew what a comfort zone was, we’d be all to eager to jump out! The comfort zone is so inconsistent with our capabilities as a human being. Our true nature is to achieve, to excel, to stretch, and to reach! This is exactly what Megan did and what I want to challenge you to do.
In the summer of 2013, Megan cut her hair. Up to this point she had built her entire self-image around fitting in, looking like someone else, and submitting to social norms. This action (a new activity), changed her life. She felt more like herself than ever before. And was reminded of that spunky and confident kid she used to be. Her story inspired me with this truth that I now want to share with you,
“It takes time to figure out who you are. But I think it takes even more time to be comfortable with who you are.” – Megan Heesaker
If you focus on a new event, possibility or activity, your old disempowering self-image will sort of dissipate in the process. When you engage in new activities you’ve now extended your domain of possibilities in direct proportion to your willingness to venture out!
I want you to notice how you feel inside when you read about your comfort zone. Do you feel excited to jump out? Or, do you feel anxious, scared, or straight up disgusted by me for even bringing it up? If you’re feeling the latter, it’s OK. Know that I, and most of the world, feels the same way. Getting out of our comfort zone scares us! That’s why I want to encourage you to find the right support network. Often, before we can empower ourselves, we need to find others who will empower us, first. That’s what I did, what Megan did, and what I recommend to you.
“Support is critical when you’re in the midst of a crisis and especially when you’re ready to emerge from one.” – Megan Heesaker
Instead of pushing people away when you’re shaping your new and empowering self-image, Megan encourages folks to bring people in. Finding a community that will support you (your “Winning Circle” also my next post 😉 ), whether that’s friends, family or other, is critical in getting started and progressing longterm in your new activities.
You’ve now set yourself up for a phenomena. You can now become successful in some new things you’re trying. That is how you restructure your self-image! Self-image is based upon what you believe and you cannot lie on top of a fundamental belief. So if we believe ourselves incapable because of our past events, then who we are is incapable, until I have some new experiences I can succeed at. Then I can have some new input and some new data to help me form new beliefs.
Finally, when you’re in the process of building new beliefs, and you catch yourself thinking your new self is beyond your reach, remember Megan’s story! Today, I’d describe Megan as raw. Completely authentic. With all pretense stripped away, her confidence allows her to deeply connect with others. She’s vulnerable, which allows you to be vulnerable. She’s doesn’t need to moderate her behaviour, which allows you to be yourself. But it was only through developing an empowering self-image that Megan was able to experiencing this state of full self-expression. And it’s only through full self-expression that Megan is able to continuously touch the lives of those lucky enough to know her.
If Megan can do it, you can too!
An empowering self-image is fundamental to giving the champion enough confidence to solve big challenges. Without it, you’ll never have the belief in yourself to persist past obstacles or even give yourself the space to try.
- Identify the 1-3 events and people from your youth that influenced your self-image. Write it out. Understand that you gave those events meaning and take full responsibility for your beliefs about yourself. Now, forgive those people and prepare to move on.
- Get an accountability buddy, buddies, or whole community! There’s no better feeling than knowing someone’s got your back. They will get you started, keep you going, and cheer you on as you make progress on your new activities.
- Get engaged in new activities! If you have a disempowering self-image be like Megan, decide today what new hobby you’ll practice, or skill you’ll learn. Will you become successful at guitar, Spanish, salsa? The possibilities are endless! Decide today and take the first step right now towards building your new and improved empowering self-image.
Till next time, stay on the offensive. Aggressively pursue a better version of yourself. And what remember what Jim Rohn said, “you cannot change the destination of your life overnight, but you can change your direction.”