Don’t Sell Yourself Short


When I was younger, much younger, I had two mental lists. The first list was of everything I wanted, and the second list was of everything I believed I could have or could get. The second list bore only slight resemblance to the first. That should not have been the truth, but it was. That first list was not a truth for me because I did not believe that those things were within my reach or that I was capable of gaining them. That, I believe, is the exact definition of selling yourself short.

As a young adult I had an absolutely miserable self-opinion and my body image was not much better. That was at the base of all my problems. People always said, “just be yourself.” But what good is that when you don’t know who you are? Even that would not have been such a great problem if I had someone to bounce things off. That meant I needed someone in my life who would be non-judgemental and give me good advice. I actually had such a person but I was so fearful that I could not get up the courage to talk my mind to her.

This person in my life, Pat, was one of the more beautiful and intelligent women in the community I was living it at that time. I mention that because I was living in Italy at the time and in a rather small community of Americans living over there at the time. Pat was kind, compassionate and understanding. I could have confided anything in her and gotten good advice in return but my insecurities did not allow for that and so I suffered.

In my senior year in high school I was smart enough and had good enough grades that I was able to secure early admission to Boston University. I don’t know if things like that happen anymore, but at the time it meant I had my letter of acceptance from B.U. in November of my senior year while others had months of waiting in front of them. But when I got to B.U. I failed miserably. Why? I did not believe in myself and once again my insecurities did not allow for my owning up to my shortcomings and asking for help from my advisor. Of course I flunked out of college. They didn’t throw me out. I left because I knew I was failing and didn’t know what else to do. I resolved that by joining the army, not the greatest idea in 1968 but not the worst either.

The things I have just spoken of are classic examples of “fear of success.” It sounds like an oxymoron but it is not. I could not handle success so I made certain I torpedoed any success I was having by some sort of ridiculous action. Let’s say, for example, I was dating that gorgeous blonde. I would inevitably allow my insecurity to take control and say something that made her want to run for the hills which of course meant an end to the relationship, such as it was.

While I was at B.U. my advisor one day said that I should have gone to Harvard. I thought he was kidding me, of course, because I definitely was not smart enough to go there. But he wasn’t and so I set up an interview. I was usually good at interviews but I was so intimidated by where I was that at the end of the interview the man told me that I should never even consider going to Harvard ever again. Many years later I went to, and graduated from, graduate school at Harvard but that is another story. I does show, however, how much I was selling myself short. Rather than take what the interviewer said as a challenger, I took it as fact.

Earlier I mentioned a fear of success. The other half of that is a fear of failure.  I was projecting.  I was always going to worst case scenarios and thinking that failure was the only possible result.  What didn’t occur to me was that it was okay to have failures along the way as long as I kept with it until I succeeded.   I had a course at Harvard once that I got a C+ in.  That is an unacceptable grade in graduate school and the course does not count towards the degree but that 2.7 does get figured into your GPA.  That stopped me dead for a while.  But once I got my wits back about me, I pushed onward, wrote my thesis with a lot of help, and graduated.  Decades later I recognized, fully, what I was capable of if only I allowed for failure.

I heard someone say recently, “don’t worry if you are shooting for the moon and miss.  It just means you will end up among the stars.”  And so much of life really is that simple.  Relationships failure, we fail in school, work, sometimes stumbling just walking down the street.  We feel foolish briefly but we move on.  In the long run, regardless of what happens, I know I will be all right.  Not everyone is going to like me and accept me as I am and that is all right.

I wrote this because I was inspired by a young man today who had just left a toxic relationship and was feeling badly about it none-the-less.  I advised him that he can have anyone he wants and that he need only continue on as he is.  I didn’t mean that he can simply go out and point to any woman and she’ll be his, no.  I mean that when he meets someone he truly likes and is compatible with that he is the quality kind of guy a good woman will want to be with.  That’s the “don’t sell yourself short” part.

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