I’ve always been the type to obsessively worry about what others think of me.
It’s like a ridiculously bitter cocktail made of the worst-tasting mixture of pride, low self-esteem and anxiety.
My inner voice has always been my own worst enemy, taunting and teasing me to believe I’m no good and the whole world knows it. Even when favor shines on my face and a door opens, I question the opportunity and whether or not I’m worth it.
Throughout my life, I’ve tried countless strategies to cope with and address my poor self-image. But I’m telling you, nothing beats authenticity and community for feeling comfortable in your own skin.
I just spent 48 hours with the greatest group of 140+ college students I’ve ever known.
Fish Camp brought together the talents of 25 overwhelmingly committed and caring leaders who organized an unforgettable slate of events to prepare the incoming class of 2024 in what to expect as they transition into this important season of their lives.
That’s a tall order when we’re not smack dab in the middle of a global pandemic – but you add physical distancing restrictions and all-day Zoom sessions with complete strangers to the mix and it starts to feel near impossible.
But y’all, this group demonstrated leadership at elite levels, staying firm, resilient and committed each and every time the rug was pulled from beneath their feet. And goodness, the time was so powerful, despite the fact we were all in different corners of the world throughout it all.
One of the core values of Fish Camp is diversity, and a few of their sessions touched on understanding and valuing different identities and finding refuge in a shared identity as Aggies. Their honesty and vulnerability made this such an impactful moment.
I listened to leader after leader talk about their identity, their history, their struggles and what brought them to this point in their lives. With transparency and authenticity, they opened up on those dark and scary moments that had them questioning who they are and where they were going.
I was there at 18… 22… 29… last week… doubting everything about myself and who I was made to be. Dismissing my value and worth, critiquing every move I made and word I uttered, and questioning whether or not I belonged.
At times I tried to be the clown, loud and raucous to earn a cheap laugh and numb the pain just a bit. Other times I just pushed the anxiety and depression deep into the pit of my stomach and quietly dealt with the pain.
I’ve tried eating my feelings. I’ve tried washing them down with a few drinks. I’ve had medication and just sleeping off my feelings on the list too.
And yes, those things might work for a hot second. But nothing beats owning who you are, seeking out community and taking steps to build a healthier you.
What’s helped me tackle my bouts with poor self-image and mental health?
Before I share, please know everyone is different. My mental health is just that – mine. My brain is wired uniquely and wonderfully for my purpose, and so is yours. I share my story because authenticity is one of my superpowers now, and because it’s how I cope with those sneaky feelings that try to sabotage me.
The first and most important thing is getting in alignment with my purpose. (shoutout to my brother and friend, Dr. DF Arnold for the work he does to help students and professionals seek after their purpose)
If you don’t get in alignment with your purpose, you’re wandering aimlessly with no metric to tell you when you’re hitting the mark and winning. It’d be like playing a game of football without end zones.When we know what we’re doing and why what we’re doing matters, we have a goal and a target to set our aim. When I let my internal motivators drive my external actions, I measure my success and my value on where I know I’m wired to be… and not based on what anyone else thinks.
Things that helped me narrow my purpose were the StrengthsQuest assessment and being truly honest and understanding the ways I deliver value to my community. While my purpose is always being tweaked and refined, my goal of equipping and empowering people to be the best version of themselves never changes.
Other things that have helped me take my mental health by the horns are:
- Physical fitness and weight lifting — There’s a high that comes with hitting a new personal record or pushing or pulling more weight than you ever thought possible. There’s nothing like physical toughness to combo mental strength.
- Eating the right diet for my brain — I’ll admit, I love food… bad food… processed the kind of food that doesn’t fuel my body in helpful ways, to be honest. And while I don’t completely avoid these indulgences, I’ve found a way of eating (more often than not) which helps me clear my head, feel sharper and manage my weight at the same time. Again, what works for me may not work for you… but I’m about 95% keto/carnivore. I eat chicken and bacon for most meals, which allows me to keep it easy.
- Challenging myself through new opportunities — I used to keep quiet and to myself in professional settings. You avoid failure that way… which also means you avoid opportunities to grow yourself. I find that learning new things, keeping my brain firing on all cylinders and taking on new challenges helps me to stay my strongest.
- Owning who I am and being open about it — Posts and conversations about my story and struggles with self-esteem and mental health always help me reflect on how I’ve coped and what I can continue doing to keep myself in a good headspace. Part of keeping quiet in my teens and twenties was because I was afraid that people would judge me and that they couldn’t possibly understand what I was feeling. I’m here to tell you: Everyone is dealing with something! For some, it’s kept in check fairly easily. For others like me, we have to work a bit more thoughtfully to find equilibrium. Talking about my pain and struggles helps to both vocalize that I’m not always okay and to remind myself I’m not alone in the battle.
Working alongside these incredible students this year has been a season I will never forget. They’ve changed my heart and head in profound ways, and have reminded me that my purpose is best lived out working with young professionals on their cusp of greatness.
But more importantly, I watched them build community with over a hundred other bright minds who may not be having these kinds of conversations. They shared a message and vision of hope, and also reminded us all that we’re in this together and the biggest failure is often staying silent.
I’ve been pushing back tears all night thinking about the wonderful ideas and encouragement they offered these freshmen. But to see young leaders powerfully coaching and lifting up their peers on topics that us working professionals should have learned ages ago? It just fills me with hope and pride in the future we’re all building together.
Camp Romack, thanks for the pleasure and privilege of sharing in those moments. I’m forever changed by your wisdom and strength!