After finishing school, I was confused about which major to study at university. Given my natural inclination to learn about life, writing, our bodies, wellness, the mind, civilizations, nature, poetry and learning itself, I finally decided to tick the box of elementary education. It was just another tick of just another box on the application form. But on the path of my life, it was tickling the promise of what would later manifest as my greatest strength. Today after more than 10 years of teaching youngsters and adults, I have a deeply contented heart along with life realizations.
The joys of gradually discovering one’s abilities, aptitudes, resilience, decision-making skills, management and persistence built my self-belief. Study earned me the doctoral degree that my heart deeply yearned for. Practice allowed me to become the yoga teacher I dreamt to be. The compilations of lessons learnt about life and the knowledge I gained about my ‘Self’ and about others ended up building my self-esteem brick by brick. I recall every poem I’ve written, every student I’ve touched, every small incident where I acted as my best self, without being full of myself. And I felt my confidence lifting itself each time, right away. It is these incidents that mean the most to me. I redirect my thoughts towards those experiences along with the people I love every time I feel down because it’s the mechanism that keeps me going. And by contemplating them, I feel better and my self-esteem stronger. ‘Education’ is a major reason why I am the peaceful and successful woman I am in her early thirties! And getting to this point, I learnt more than I could have ever imagined.
Education quickly taught me more than the mere methods of teaching, psychology, arts and human development. It lent me a hand to better see and analyze my own imperfections, insecurities and other problematic situations related to upbringing and peer pressure, bullying, stages of development, and more. It taught me that learning should be made fun; otherwise we’d better call it “burning”; at least it feels so in the heart and mind of the student who is not enjoying the experience. I learnt to learn from the darndest places and people. It is the difficult moments in life you least expect your buds to bloom that you have to reflect on by inhaling deeply with eyes gently closed, only to focus on the space between your eyebrows … to create more space and openness and to allow yourself to acknowledge and appreciate the benefits of unexpected situations with grace.
I got to know much better which experiences suit me and which ones I should avoid. I now know what events to take part in, who to hang out with, and what fields I wish to dive into and explore further. Not that I didn’t know what suited me earlier. In fact, I did, I just didn’t always listen to myself. I now know with an indescribable faith and a strong drive from within, that I can choose the situations and people I want to be around for my higher, dignified self to emerge. Doing so, I learnt that what I do in life can in turn touch people’s lives in the most profound ways. My learning and growth is both for myself and others that I honor through the light that combines us all.
I learnt that my self-esteem is armored when I live a meaningful life. Part of my meaning is writing poetry. While I consider it a gift, I haven’t been encouraged to feel good about it. I now know that those who point their fingers at my lyrical way of speech or poetic writings may not be able to appreciate the musicality or literary elements of my contribution to the world. But some do. And that’s now enough for me.
But the lack of acceptance meant I had to fight the many devils and demons in my head that told me I should throw away what I wrote. And it still hurts to this day when I recall the times I would write and write, trying to perfect my prose, and the sputtering of lexical and morphemic words I weaved, which flowed from the heart, mind and soul of the child I used to be, only ever ricocheted off the corner of the trash basket in my room, before coming to a lonely death. I yearned for the kind of praise and sweet validation that would console my younger self: “What you write about is not only important, but many people powerfully and deeply relate to your stories and poems. Stop filling the basket with your calligraphic blend of lead on paper.” Instead I started keeping a journal, protecting the scribbles of pencil hidden next to my bed.
I eventually learnt that much of criticism is an act of transference: people projecting their own insecurities. And it’s okay because we all have them. But not everyone is aware of what hinders us from reaching our full potential. And it is exactly this, which matters on the journey towards a higher self-esteem: being aware of your own feelings and considerate of those of others. I learnt that no one can make us feel bad about ourselves, if we didn’t give them consent to do so. I learnt that protecting my self-esteem requires that I think critically of people’s motives and drives and statements and what’s behind them rather than just accepting them on face value. And I learnt that some will always prefer to manipulate or play with our sensitivities. Certain people will do so harshly or selfishly in an attempt to validate themselves at the expense of squashing the self-esteem of those around them. They try to pull you back again to their side or way of thinking; but once you’ve started moving away to become your authentic self, you can’t go back.
Deep down, a clear realization emerges from within you. All of a sudden, you stand up tall and say, “I honor my creative intelligence and the cycle of unnecessary suffering, their judgments and my insecurities no longer suit me. You accept what is and let go of what you cannot change. You realize you can “love” without feeling compelled to like or be around ‘them’. You learn that in the act of authentically sharing your stories and listening to others lies a tremendous healing gift for the whole community to recreate its true self. My self-esteem rises with every clear thought of who I am and want to be. I eventually learnt that I am, in fact, beautiful, even though I doubted it for so long. I learnt I am whole, just as I am. I learnt to be happy. That is what I am. I learnt to see the beauty in my poetry and to be vulnerable and brave to share it with the world. And those are the kinds of kind affirmations I believe actually does our self-esteem a great favor.
So, be aware. Be safe. Be loving. Be true. Be defiant. Be respectful. And be free of others’ insecurities! Most of all, be yourself. And make sure you live a life where you can always be the best you can be.
Jana Bou Reslan is the founder of ipoetry.info, which promotes spoken-word poetry as a tool for self-expression, helping the youth voice their issues creatively and nonviolently, off the streets.