I had a request from a reader who was interested in hearing more about my own journey and about what prompted me to write this book. So here it is! This is going to be a 3 Part story. A trilogy of my little life, I suppose. The first part of the story is about my own Inner Critic Know-it-all (the ICK, for those who know the book!), and how we (the ICK and I) developed our funny little relationship together. While this is the first part of my own story, it actually corresponds with Part 2 of the book, which talks about The Present.
The second part of this story is about how I created a version of myself that I really liked. This covers Part 3 of the book, which talks about The Future and how to find and create yourself.
Lastly, I will touch one how and why I added Part 1 to the book, which discusses the importance of finding peace and understanding with who you are today no matter who that may be.
Part 1: The ICK and I
So I may have been a bit of an odd kid. Cute and sweet, don’t get me wrong, but looking back, I was definitely a bit different than my peers. Let me tell a little story to help paint a picture here so you understand why I say that.
In kindergarten, we were asked what we wanted to be when we grew up – as usual. But what a big question, I thought! There were so many choices! Of course, they encouraged us to think of anything – we could be anything in the world that we wanted to be. And I remember thinking, well, I want to be something that NOBODY else in the world is. I want to be unique.
I knew that making this huge decision was going to be a longer thought process than I had time for that day to finish our journal assignment, so I gave my obligatory answer of “vet” that day and then we all moved on. But I kept thinking about it. What could I be that NOBODY else was? Within a few days, I remember very clearly my personal “aha” moment. I, or a friend (I really can’t remember, c’mon it was kindergarten) must have made a mistake in school when we were doing something. A teacher then said, to cheer us up, “Don’t worry, everyone makes mistakes, nobody’s perfect.” Well. What do you know. I found my answer! Nobody’s perfect. I, right then and there, vowed to be perfect. This was my goal. I was going to be the only perfect person, ever.
Well, I can assume you all know how that turned out. The saying “nobody’s perfect” exists for a reason… my kindergarten brain didn’t quite get that, nor did it understand that perfect was also subjective. So this led to an early life of following the rules, being very dedicated to school, listening to my parents and teachers, and so on. My parents and teachers sure liked this.
Now, of course, this also fed my little ICK to grow into quite a substantial little beast, where nothing was ever good enough (go figure – it wasn’t perfect). Gradually, in a few years I realized that this wasn’t the healthiest way to exist (duh). I realized that being so hard on myself all the time wasn’t making me feel very good. These super high standards were maybe not all they were cut out to be. Needless to say, my mood was a little bit low –despite my achievements. So this is the story of how my ICK grew into a perfectionist voice at a young age. It was very hard on me for quite a few years, telling me I was never good enough.
The next part of this story begins with the fact that I also read a lot of Reader’s Digest as a kid. Weird again, I know. But my parents had them lying around all the time, and I often ran out of books to read, so I read what I could get my hands on. I remember picking one up around the ripe age of 11 years old (about 5th grade) and seeing an article titled something like “The Biggest Secret to Living a Happy Life.” I though, sure, I could use that. So I started reading. This article spoke about new research indicating that the single biggest influence on your happiness was what your inner voice said to you. And I thought – what inner voice? Is that a thing? Does that make me crazy if I have an inner voice?
I kept reading. The article started to give some examples of things that the inner voice often says. I started to realise – not only did I HAVE an inner voice; mine wasn’t being very nice to me. Then the article gave some examples of nicer things to say to yourself instead, and examples of more gentle ways to speak to yourself. It said that if you started to make these small changes, you would start to feel better in time. It said to keep trying to do this even if it felt strange. So I gave it a try. I thought, hey, why not.
And, wonders never cease, did it ever WORK. In only a few days, me, myself, and I started getting along like nobody’s business. Suddenly we started working together, supporting each other, and being gentler in how we spoke to each other. I started to realise my quest for perfectness was indeed a bit strange (odd how some childhood thoughts stick with us for so long), and I changed my approach. The ICK had to take a back seat, and I found my True Inner Voice. We (yes, me, myself, and I) took more chances, and we started to think about the life that we wanted together.
Luckily, I got a chance to defeat my own ICK at an early age, before it fully developed and ingrained itself into my whole adult life. This is one of the reasons I think a book like “How to Like Yourself” should be in the hands of young people – the sooner you develop these kinds of healthy habits, the better! The longer that ICK stays around and gains power, the harder it can be to turn it around and change your relationship with it over time.
Part 2: Finding/Creating Myself
So soon after this revelation (at the wise age of 11) regarding my relationship with my ICK, I started to become a bit more outgoing. Because I had given myself permission to make a few more mistakes along the way in life, I also took more chances. The more chances you take, the more are likely to succeed. So I made more friends, and generally became happier over the next few years (except for a few life events along the way, but that’s another story).
Fast-forward to 11th Grade. I was pretty happy with the way things were going, generally, but felt like something was still missing. I didn’t feel like I was my “full self.” I remember finally identifying what I was longing for – it was to be like those “extroverts.” I wasn’t exactly extroverted – but I wasn’t exactly not, either. I had friends, I talked to people easily, I was involved in a lot of things; but I wasn’t that person that you meet a new group of people and you instantly know they are someone you want to talk to and be around. People gravitate to them. They’re usually so nice, and open, and friendly, and lovely. I wanted to be that person; not just their neighbor you notice a little while later. I wanted to know why I couldn’t be them. Why not me?
Well, I decided that the problem was I had never tried it! Like any new skill, you have to actively practice and develop it. To move from the “idea” of something to the present practice of it. For instance, if someone wants to learn to swim (infinitive verb), they go swimming (present participle verb). If someone wants to learn to dance, they go dancing. Therefore, if someone wants to go be an extrovert, they go extroverting! So I did. I decided to practice extroverting to build a skill in the same way that you would if you want to learn to swim or dance. You don’t just wake up one morning a swimmer or a dancer because you wished you were – you practice and you get better at it over time!
So I waited for an opportunity to really make this change. It came in the form of a program called Encounters with Canada. This was a program I was chosen to attend by the Principal of my school (okay, you caught me, I was still an overachieving kid – leftover tendencies from my perfectionist childhood), where kids were chosen to attend from schools across Canada, and spend a week together learning about Canadian history and culture in Ottawa. I even met a girl from the Yukon! It was all very exotic at the time. The bonus for me with this situation and my extroverting goals was that no one knew me there. Whoever I showed them I was, I realized, was who they would believe me to be. How would they know otherwise? The perfect practice ground for extroverting – I could work on my skills. So I became Extrovert Cheryl and tried on that skin for the whole week I was there. And let me tell you. It felt fantastic! I realized this was my True Self, and I had uncovered a piece of who I was that had been hiding in the shadows of insecurity and lack of opportunity and support for change.
Shortly after, I hit grade 12 and then was out of high school – off to the races! I was now at University, which was, again, a perfect opportunity to practice my extroverting goals full-force. I rocked Frosh week, made tons of friends on my floor, and took chances and risks I might not have previously taken. The following year, I became a frosh week leader, and then later I became a peer mentor, and then continued on to challenge myself with my public speaking skills to later go into teaching. Practice makes perfect! Or, as we've learned, almost-perfect.
With the support from my True Inner Voice, and my realization and recognition of the need to not be perfect (after realizing that absolutely and truly it is not physically possible – also because it is largely subjective), me, myself, and I took some awesome chances and opportunities to get out there and just be US (or ME…It’s hard to find the right pronoun when writing about this topic).
Over time, I developed who I really wanted to be, with practice and support from MYSELF :). And I’ve still got further to go, of course! But what a fun journey to be on.
Part 3: Why There Needs to be a Part 1 to the Book
Part 1 of the book talks about forgiveness and making peace with where you are in your life before you move forward to tackle the ICK and to find your True Self. The reason this part of the book comes first is thanks to many of the students I have seen in counselling over the years.
When using traditional CBT (Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy) with clients, the CBT approach generally has you jumping right away into your inner thoughts and tackling them, challenging them, and asking you to find more rational and balanced thoughts. However, what I found when using this straight CBT approach with clients was that they kept coming back to me telling me that they had this feeling that they were “lying to themselves” or that this process felt fake and forced for them. The reason for this was that there was a piece of them that truly didn’t believe that they deserved to be happy and that the ICK was actually right about them. They felt that their ICK actually had a point when it was being cruel, because they were feeling guilty about the way they were and the way they felt. They felt guilty for feeling sad, for feeling “less than” they were “supposed” to be. So we had to make sense out of where in their lives through their past first before we could move forward into their present and future. You can’t move forward until you’ve stabilized the ground that is under your feet today. This is where Part 1 comes in, where you will also read in the book about Personal Yield Theory – a theory that outlines exactly why you are who you are, and why that is okay. Because it IS okay, and YOU are okay. And it is all part of a journey.
So thank you to my counselling clients – without you, this book wouldn’t make half as much sense as it does now because of the lessons you helped me learn; lessons that I also apply in my own life that help me make peace with my own journey – whatever speed that journey maybe be travelling. This book can now effectively lead people through their own journey, from start to finish, in a way that makes sense and doesn’t leave anything out.
I hope that my stories have enlightened you all a little bit as to my own personal bits of my journey – and if you have any questions, feel free to shoot them my way by following the links on the Contact Me page!
Cheryl M. Bradshaw