What Really Matters: Self-acceptance as the Key to Success
If I could go back and tell my teenage self just one thing, it would be: “Relax, stop trying so hard! You’re good enough just as you are.” If I’d known then what I know now, I’d have forgiven myself when I faltered, stopped self-limiting thoughts in their tracks, learned to accept the reality of a situation, and sought mentorship rather than keeping my insecurities and anxieties stuffed inside.
Of course, hindsight is 20/20. The teenage me was a people pleaser. I lived in search of praise. I wanted nothing more than to be viewed as valuable by those around me. I needed constant validation and acknowledgement. If my achievements went unrecognized, they didn’t count. I got good grades for my parents, I played piano for my teacher, and looked forward to parties with friends because they validated that I was liked and socially involved. I may not have recognized it at the time, but I lived my life in search of the validation from others.
Looking back, I can see the fault in my logic. My constant yearning to be seen, my need to be valued and my collection of accolades didn’t make me happier. If anything, these things only perpetuated my insecurities. I spent countless hours feeling guilty, shameful and inadequate. It wasn’t until I found myself completely stressed out and at the end of my rope that I was finally able to self-reflect and make a change.
I understand the traps of adolescence, because I spent years entangled in them. My experiences are at the heart of what I do. Helping young people acquire the skills they need to accept themselves, manage challenging emotions, stress less and navigate skillfully through the turbulence of adolescence has become my life’s work.
Today, I live for me. I no longer need to look to others because I’ve learned to accept myself, just as I am. I finally “get it.” The things that make me different are what make me. As an educator in the field of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), I work daily to help young people set goals and live their lives guided by a sense of meaning, not a sense of duty or a fear of disappointment. Finding meaning in our complex world can be hard, but it only takes a conversation to get started. Often, a simple question is enough to inspire my students to recognize their talents, acknowledge their faults, embrace their fears and learn to take action. Soon, before I know it, a typical classroom fraught with tension and stress transforms into a community of compassion and understanding. The key to supporting student well-being is helping teens to learn who they are, what they value and how to expand their perspectives to become compassionate and contributing citizens to the world in which they inhabit. Begin by reaching out to the teens in your life. Start with a simple conversation, you may be surprised just how far it gets you and possibly, be one of the biggest gifts you can give them.
Need Guidance? Try these Conversation-Starters. There are no right or wrong answers, just honest ones.
- Name three personal values that define you.
- What fears hold you back and what are you willing to struggle for?
- Share a story of a time that you had a conflict that was resolved because you were able to demonstrate a willingness to accept difference of opinion.
- Describe three things in your life, today, that make you feel grateful.
Theo Koffler is an award-winning social entrepreneur and founder of Mindfulness Without Borders, whose strategic long-term initiatives advance social and emotional competencies in educational, healthcare and corporate settings. Author, public speaker, philanthropist and Instructor at The University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Education, Theo actively advocates for youth mental health. She recently launched RETHiNK, a digital curriculum that helps strengthen social and emotional wellness in youth, preparing them with the skills they need to succeed in life. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
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