As an eighteen-year-old girl, I am plagued with comparing myself to others and most of the time feel that I am less smart, less beautiful, and less talented. Even though I’m an A student in college and have been told I’m physically beautiful, this knot in my gut tells me I’m not good enough. It didn’t come from my parents because you couldn’t ask for a more supportive family. I’m doing it to myself and am really ready to be free of it. But how?
—C.D., Maui, Hawaii
Our consumerist culture is largely to blame for the feelings of fierce competition and fixations on beauty that so many young women (and women of all ages) struggle with. It is fine to want to excel at things and also to enjoy looking your best. But constant comparing that results in negative feelings about yourself and a knot in your stomach indicate that you have overlooked the true basis of self worth. You will need to remind yourself that your worth is not based in beating out the competition or being the most beautiful girl in the room. Your worth is based in your capacity to extend and receive love. That is how you will be valued by others and how you will value yourself. When all is said and done, it will be all that ever mattered. Sometimes people don’t realize this until the very end of their lives. You would be lucky—and wise—to realize this at the age of eighteen.
My relatives, sisters and brother living in Texas, want me to visit during the holidays, which would involve a long plane trip, being there for only three days, then flying back. While it would be nice to see them and I do love them, I really don’t feel like doing this. Instead I would like some quiet time alone. I have been working very hard lately and feel that I need this vacation time to catch my breath. I don’t want to disappoint them, but I would like to spend the time in my own way. How do I deal with this in a way that will not cause either guilty feelings should I decline their invitations or resentment on my own part if I do as they wish? Thank you.
If you come from a place of love when explaining your situation to your relatives, you may find their understanding is such that no guilty feelings arise on your part. If they do not seem to offer understanding for your absence, you may still feel peaceful about the matter, knowing that you deeply care for them and that you spoke from your heart about the need to take care of yourself at this time. I would also recommend sending them each a very thoughtful gift and personal note.
I have a successful career as a professor, yet I have lost interest in everything I’m good at and that society rewards me for. I am drawn instead to a much more simple and spiritual life—meditation, walking in nature, helping others in need—but these activities produce no income. All my friends tell me I would be a fool to walk away from all that I have built over twenty-five years. So I go through the motions of my career for security even though it has become empty. What advice do you have?
—A.A., Santa Barbara
It is one of those poignant realities of life for some of us that just when we are getting really good at something, we lose interest in it. As Leonard Cohen aptly says in a verse in one of his songs: You lose your grip / And then you slip / Into the masterpiece.
For many people, when they have truly lost their grip, they find themselves freed of the need to impress anyone. They are no longer anxious about their abilities, and it is precisely then that they might go on to produce their finest masterpieces. But some people’s natures demand that they move on, try something new, give up all security, shake it all up again. That willingness to free fall into the unknown can produce a different kind of masterpiece. Take some time for quiet and feel into which possibility your body seems most relaxed in contemplating. If you are true to your nature, you can walk either path—staying or moving on—with dignity.
Alternatives invites you to send your questions to Catherine. Please email them to: [email protected].
Catherine Ingram is an international dharma teacher and author of Passionate Presence and In the Footsteps of Gandhi. She leads retreats and public events called Dharma Dialogues, which remind us that love is the only power that lasts.