Archive for May 2014

Be Real and Compassionate About Money

nothing-changes-until-you-do-pintrest34May 29, 2014

2009 was an extremely challenging year for both Michelle and me. Among the many issues we faced that year, one of the most painful was the difficult financial situation we’d put ourselves into: we were $105,000 in debt and about $300,000 upside down on our house by the end of that year. There were a number of factors that contributed to this, some of which had to do with the economic downturn and the collapse of the housing market, but more had to do with our lack of awareness, understanding, and responsibility with our money.

I grew up without a lot of money. My parents split up when I was three; it was 1977 and my mom hadn’t worked much in the eight years since she had gotten pregnant with my sister, Lori. My dad made a decent living as a radio announcer, but with him gone, my mom was forced to take care of us, find work, and figure out how to navigate life as a single parent, which, as a Catholic girl from Rhode Island who didn’t have any family in California, wasn’t easy.

My dad, who had been pretty actively engaged in our lives the first five years after he and my mom split (we’d see him every other weekend), lost his job in late 1981 when his bipolar disorder got the best of him. We no longer saw him on a regular basis — he slipped into a very deep depression and stopped paying child support. My mom had recently started working for herself at that time as a wholesale sales rep for a few companies that made fashion accessories. She was trying to get her business off the ground so she could work for herself and have flexibility with her schedule. She was doing the best she could to raise us without much support from my dad — emotionally, practically, or financially.

One of the first and most poignant memories I have of realizing we didn’t have a lot of money is of one night during a major rainstorm in February of 1982, just after my eighth birthday. The rain had gotten so intense that the ceiling in our living room started to leak. I remember initially thinking it was fun as my mom had Lori and me run into the kitchen to get some pots and pans and put them down on the floor to catch the water. In the midst of my laughter and excitement, I looked at my mom. It didn’t seem like she was having much fun. All of a sudden, she fell to the floor and began to sob. Lori rushed over to her to comfort her, and I followed, confused by what was going on. She looked up at us through her tears and said, “I don’t know what we’re going to do.” She then told us we didn’t have the money to take care of the leaky roof on our house. My mom was scared and overwhelmed, and, in that moment, so was I.

Over the next few years, and throughout most of my childhood and adolescence, money (or lack thereof) became a major source of stress, worry, and disappointment in my family. I heard the words we can’t afford it so often as a child that by the time I became a teenager, I mostly stopped asking for things. While my mom’s business did grow a bit, we essentially lived hand to mouth, and it was hard. We had no savings, no college funds, and no financial plan of any kind. We didn’t go on vacation, and when things around the house broke, they often weren’t fixed or replaced. I was constantly aware of what many of my friends had and what they were able to do in comparison to me.

I got into Stanford and was able to go, thanks, in part, to my success in baseball and also to the enormous financial aid package I was offered. While I wasn’t super focused on money, I definitely wanted to have a different and more abundant financial experience when I got older. I hoped one day I would be rich, and part of my motivation to make it to the major leagues was to dramatically change my financial reality. When I got drafted by the Kansas City Royals in 1995 after my junior year at Stanford, I received a $35,000 signing bonus. It was the first time in my life I actually had a little money of my own. I was elated, but also scared—not sure what to do with it. After buying a car and a few other things, paying my taxes, and trying to live on the very small amount of money I was paid in the minor leagues, most of that money was gone within a year. When my playing career ended just a few years later, without having made it to the big leagues or making much money, I was forced to figure out what to do with my life and how I would make money. I had no clue about either.

In the summer of 2004, after Michelle and I had been living together in San Francisco for two years, we got engaged. We were excited about getting married, although scared at the same time. Even though I was starting to make a little bit of money and my speaking and coaching business was gaining some momentum, we didn’t have any money saved. In fact, we were both in debt and didn’t have a financial plan at all. Even with our lean financial situation, given the economic climate at the time, we were pre-qualified for a $650,000 home loan and were told we could “buy” a house without having to put down any money, which is what we did in early 2005.

Although I didn’t feel ready to buy a house and didn’t think we were in a healthy financial position to do so (which, in hindsight, we weren’t), my decision to go ahead with it was based almost completely on fear. I was scared that if we didn’t buy a house at that time we’d get priced out of the market given how much home prices were going up. I was scared to disappoint Michelle because she really wanted a house as we were getting ready to get married and hoping to start a family. I was scared to admit my fear and to acknowledge that I didn’t think I was ready for the responsibility of owning a home—both financially and energetically. I was scared to admit that I wasn’t really sure how to make money, save money, combine my finances with Michelle’s, and become the primary breadwinner for our family. My deepest fear was that I would continue my legacy of financial struggle and always live hand to mouth, since that was all I’d ever known.

Over the next few years, I did the best I could to pay the mortgage and all of our bills, expand my business, and provide for our family. Life was intense and exciting—two babies, two books, lots of travel, and an enormous amount of activity. Although things were going well and I was making a lot more money, we kept spending more to keep up with our expanding life and my expanding business. I felt a great deal of pressure and things felt out of control, financially and otherwise. We didn’t have a plan and I still didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing, but there didn’t seem to be time to slow down to think about it, talk about it, or do anything about it. I figured if I just kept making more money, it would all work out.

Then 2009 happened. Not only did I lose a great deal of work to the economic meltdown (many of my corporate clients canceled their events and cut their training budgets), I also invested a lot of money into my business and the launch of my second book. The timing was terrible for us, and by the end of that year we found ourselves in a real mess. And while it didn’t happen overnight, we were humbled by how quickly it seemed like we had put ourselves in such a hole, baffled by how we got there, and totally confused about how to get ourselves out. It felt eerily similar to that moment when I was eight, on the floor with my mom and sister surrounded by pots and pans.

Somewhat miraculously, less than two years later, we were completely debt-free, out from under the weight of our house situation, and on track in a positive direction with our finances. How we were able to do this was based on a variety of things. And while there were a lot of practical things we did and there was a lot of hard work involved on our part, the two most important things we did were on a personal and internal level: we learned to get real and to have compassion for ourselves.

Getting real wasn’t fun or easy, especially at first, and it was quite humbling. We had to look at the reality of where we were, get specific about the numbers themselves, and investigate how we’d gotten there in the first place. Basically, we’d consistently spent more money than we’d made for many years. We also had not done a very good job planning or tracking our finances, which seemed increasingly complicated for us now that we had a family of four, a house, and lots of new expenses, as well as a business that generated significantly inconsistent amounts of income and required large chunks of money to be spent at certain times.

We started talking about our situation, in detail, to each other and to a few important people close to us. We told them about our debt, our house, and our specific challenges. We did this with people we felt we could trust and who might be able to help. It felt scary, embarrassing, and vulnerable, but at the same time, also liberating and empowering. Getting real like this forced us to “sober up,” start taking a deeper level of responsibility, and begin the process of turning things around financially.

We also did our best to have compassion for ourselves and to look for the gifts in the situation. More difficult even than the specifics of what we were facing financially was the emotional impact. Both of us were dealing with an enormous amount of shame, embarrassment, guilt, and more. Michelle felt guilty that she had been so adamant about us buying our house when we did, which in hindsight we realized was one of the key factors that caused the mess we were in. She also felt a certain degree of helplessness due to the fact that she was at home taking care of the girls and couldn’t directly impact our income. I, on the other hand, felt like a loser and blamed myself for our being in this bad of a spot. I clearly wasn’t making enough money and since that was one of my primary responsibilities in our family, I felt embarrassed and like I was letting down Michelle and the girls big-time.

We both realized that the harsh judgments we had about ourselves, which we would sometimes project onto each other, were not only harmful but also were making a difficult situation even worse. We each dug deep in search of self-compassion, did our best to forgive ourselves and each other, and made a commitment to continually look for the “gifts” from what we were going through. We both did a lot of inner forgiveness work, in addition to outward practical work (with coaches, mentors, and others), that helped lead not only to our financial turnaround, but to our personal healing as well.

Money is one of the most emotionally charged issues we contend with, especially these days. Many of us have some real baggage about money that we bring with us into our relationships, our work, and most aspects of our lives. And, because of our feelings of shame, guilt, confusion, judgment, fear, arrogance, and embarrassment about money, we often don’t talk about it in a real way. Our lack of comfort with authentic discussions about money is one of the biggest reasons it continues to be such a source of stress and confusion for so many of us. We also tend to be very secretive about money. As the saying goes, “We’re only as sick as our secrets.”

This is an excerpt from my new book, Nothing Changes Until You Do, with permission.  The book is published by Hay House and is available now online or in bookstores. 

Leave a comment here on my blog about how this relates to your life and/or any questions you have about it.

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Swing Hard (Just in Case You Hit It)

nothing-changes-until-you-do-pintrest21May 22, 2014

In July of 1992, the summer between my senior year in high school and my freshman year at Stanford, I got invited to play in the U.S. Junior National Baseball Championship tournament in Boise, Idaho. It was a pretty big deal. Some of the top high school players in the country were there, including a 16-year-old shortstop from Miami named Alex Rodriguez. So there we were, a group of pretty talented and confident (i.e., cocky) high school baseball players, but beneath the outward cockiness was a deep sense of insecurity, especially being around other players of this caliber.

The first day we were on the field, they sent us down to the batting cage. We were all standing around watching as each of us took turns hitting. Given the nature of the tournament, the group, and the fact that this was the first time we were on the field together, we were all definitely trying to impress one another. While we were all pretty good ballplayers and relatively impressive, there was one guy on our team, named Geoff Jenkins, who was literally like a man among boys when he stepped into the batting cage.

Geoff was an unbelievably talented player, and I’d played against him in summer ball the year before. He had this huge swing. Lots of coaches and scouts would comment on it, saying,”He won’t be able to get away with that huge swing at the next level.” Geoff was heading to play at University of Southern California that fall and since I was going to Stanford, we were going to be facing one another in the coming years at the college level.

As he was in the batting cage that day, he was putting on such an incredible display of hitting that, even in the midst of our cockiness and posturing, we were all looking around at each other in amazement at what he was doing. At one point, toward the end of his round of batting practice, Geoff swung so hard that on his backswing when he slammed the bat down, he actually cracked the wooden platform under his feet. I’d never seen anyone do that. He had to stop early and come out of the cage. The maintenance crew had to go in and try to figure out what they needed to do-either fix or remove the platform.

As Geoff walked out of the cage with his bat over his shoulder, knowing that he’d just been quite impressive, he had a sly, pleased-with-himself look on his face. One of the other guys on our team said, “Geoff, dude, why do you swing so hard?” Geoff stopped, spit, looked back at him, and, after a long pause, said, “Just in case I hit it.”

I remember thinking, Wow, that’s not how I usually approach baseball, or life for that matter.

Geoff went on to be an all-American while playing at USC and then a first-round draft pick of the Milwaukee Brewers. By the age of 23, he was a starter in the major leagues, where he played for 11 seasons – including winning a World Series ring with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008, his final year. He never stopped swinging hard, and throughout his very successful major league career, he got quite a few hits (1,293 total) and hit a lot of home runs (221 total). He also struck out 1,186 times.

Far too often we hold back and play safe in life – worrying that we might fail, mess up, or embarrass ourselves. Some of this we do consciously, but much of it is unconscious; it’s almost hardwired into us to do whatever we can to avoid looking bad.

A number of years ago, I was running in my neighborhood. In those days, when Samantha was still very young and before Rosie was even born, I used to get up before anyone was awake and go for a morning run. I was coming to my favorite part of the run (the end) and whenever I would get to the corner near our house, I would kick it into high gear, so I could “finish strong.” That morning I was having a pretty good run and was really into the song on my iPod, so when I got to the corner, I took off even faster than normal.

Sadly, I wasn’t paying attention to the ground and didn’t notice a big lip in the sidewalk. I hit it with my foot, and I went down-hard! I hadn’t fallen down that hard in years. My iPod flew out of my hand, my hat came off my head, and I caught myself inches before hitting my chin on the pavement. As shocked as I was to have fallen, as I was lying there on the ground, before I stopped to assess my physical condition, I immediately looked up to see if anyone had seen what had happened. It was a reflex. Once I saw that there were no cars driving by and no one else on the street, I finally took a moment to think about my injuries. I was a little scraped up, although not that bad, and I had bumped my knee pretty good on the ground, but it didn’t seem to be actually injured, just a little sore. I got up, brushed myself off, and, as I limped the rest of the way home, all I thought was, Well, at least no one saw that. It was a painful and humbling reminder of my own attachment to looking good (or, at the very least, not looking bad).

What if we weren’t so concerned with messing up or looking bad? This is about being willing to take risks, be bold, and “swing hard” in our lives. And although this concept is pretty simple and we all understand it, like many things in life, understanding something is quite different from actually practicing it. In other words, it’s much easier said than done.

Being bold, while scary and challenging at times, is essential to living an authentic and fulfilling life. Boldness is about stepping up and stepping out onto our “edge”-pushing the limits of what we think is possible for us. It’s about living with courage and passion, and letting go of our attachment to the outcome along with the perceptions and opinions of others (including our gremlin). Living this way is not only thrilling, it’s how we consciously evolve as human beings.

Will we swing and miss sometimes? Yes. Might we fall down and embarrass ourselves? Of course we will. But, as Wayne Gretzky famously said, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.”

This is an excerpt from my new book Nothing Changes Until You Do, published with permission. The book is published by Hay House and available now online or in bookstores. 

Leave a comment here on my blog about how this post relates to your life and/or any questions you have about it.

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Testing is Not Trusting

May 15, 2014

In a session I had with my counselor Eleanor last week she said to me, “Testing is not trusting.” I realized in talking to her that much of what I’ve been calling “trust” is actually me simply “testing” new attitudes, techniques, and approaches… hoping they will work out, but fearing that they won’t (or at the very least wanting some kind of guarantee that they will.) Maybe you can relate to this?

In this week’s video blog, I talk about this dynamic and the important distinction between testing and trusting. When we expand our capacity for authentic trust, we can experience a deeper level of peace and confidence, and we’re able to create success in a much more elegant and genuine way.

Watch the video below and leave a comment here on my blog about how it relates to your life and/or any questions you have about it.

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Remember Your True Value

May 9, 2014

My new book, Nothing Changes Until You Do, just came out this week!  I’m really excited about it.  In this video blog post I talk about a few of the core themes of the book and tell a few stories about how we can have more compassion for ourselves… and remember our true value!

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Life’s Easy… It’s Dealing With Ourselves That’s Hard

nothing-changes-until-you-do-pintrest16May 8, 2014

(For this week’s audio podcast, click here.)

With my new book, Nothing Changes Until You Do, just released I’ve been reflecting a bit on the whole experience of writing this new book and now putting it out into the world.  As with my previous two book writing and launching experiences, it has been exciting, challenging, fun, vulnerable, and growth-inducing on so many levels.

This experience, however, has been quite different in many ways.  Maybe it’s because I’m a few years older and have a little more perspective or maybe it’s because the focus of this book is on our relationship with ourselves, but what I’ve learned this time around is that it really is all about me!  What I mean by this is that writing and promoting a book are actually relatively easy things to do, it’s dealing with myself that’s the hardest part.

I think this is true with most of the things we do in life – even the most challenging ones.  It’s usually our own fears, doubts, insecurities, attachments, and resistance that makes things difficult, not so much the things themselves.  Whether it’s our jobs, our relationships, our goals, our physical health, our finances, or anything else that’s important to us – regardless of the specific circumstances we’re facing, when we make peace with ourselves and what’s going on, life tends to flow with more ease, joy, and grace.  When we’re not at peace with ourselves or life, it doesn’t matter how “good” or “bad” things may be circumstantially, we suffer.

Three of the main themes of my new book are also three of the main things I’ve been learning in the past year as I’ve worked on this book.  I’m no longer surprised when this happens (i.e. I end up learning exactly that which I’m attempting to teach).  I realize this is all part of the process for me and I actually enjoy and appreciate it.

Here are three core lessons for how we can make peace with ourselves at a deeper level:

1)  Have Compassion For Yourself – Self-compassion is one of the most important aspects of life and growth, but is often something we either overlook, think is “soft,” misunderstand, or simply don’t know how to practice.  There are three key elements to self-compassion.  First of all, mindfulness and awareness for how we’re treating ourselves.  Second of all, a sense of kindness and forgiveness towards ourselves.  And, third, a realization of our common humanity with others (i.e. remembering that we’re not alone in our experience).  As I was writing the book and as I’ve been promoting it, when I’m able to be gentle and kind with myself and reduce my self-criticism, it has been way more fun and I’ve had much more success.

2)  Surrender to Life as it Actually Is – Surrendering isn’t about giving up or giving in, it’s about making peace with what is (even if we don’t like it.)  A big paradox in life is that until we can be at peace with what’s actually happening in the moment (i.e. letting go of our resistance and of our obsessive focus on how things should be), we’re not able to make the changes we want or to experience the joy we desire.  During the writing and editing process, as well as in the ramp-up and launch process with this book, whenever I’d resist, judge, or fight against what was happening, I’d suffer.  However, when I was (and am) able to allow things to be exactly as they are, it has been remarkable to me how easy things have flowed.

3)  Take Ownership for Your Life – Ownership is about taking full responsibility for our lives and for what shows up around us.  This can be tricky for a few reasons.  First of all, we live in a culture that loves to blame and make excuses, so we’re swimming in that ocean all the time.  Second of all, there are a lot of things that happen in and around us that we don’t have direct control over (other people, economy, weather, and many circumstances and situations).  However, we always have a choice about how we relate to what’s going on and how we interpret the things happening around us and even within us.  When we take ownership for our lives we let go of blaming and excuses (or we notice as soon as we can when we’re heading down that negative road.)  And, we make a commitment to ourselves that we’re going to create the life we truly want – not simply react to life as if it is “happening to us.”

These are all fairly simple concepts, but like many things I write and speak about, understanding them is quite different than practicing and embodying them (i.e. they’re easier said than done.)  When we’re able to have empathy and compassion for ourselves, and remember that truly nothing can change until we change, we’re reminded that we’re the source of our own pain, joy, difficulty, and success.  It’s both sobering and liberating when we embrace the idea that it truly is all about us.  And, paradoxically, when we get this and live this way, we actually end up releasing ourselves from a great deal of unnecessary stress and make ourselves available to show up for others and for life in an open, authentic, and empowered way.

Let me know your thoughts about this and how this relates to you.  Leave a comment here on my blog – let’s engage in a conversation with each other about this.

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Today’s the Big Day – My New Book is Officially Released

May 5, 2014

Today’s the day! My new book, Nothing Changes Until You Do: A Guide to Self-Compassion and Getting Out of Your Own Way, is finally out and available! If you pre-ordered it, you should have already received your copies in the mail (or you will very soon.) And, if not, you can get copies of the new book for yourself and others today!

I feel grateful, excited, and vulnerable as it officially goes out into the world today! As you know, this is my first book in five years and is something I’ve put my heart and soul into over this past year – well, really, my whole life.

The book is filled with stories, lessons, and insights from my own life and from the lives of others – all focused on how we can have more compassion, more acceptance, and more love for ourselves (and thus more compassion, acceptance, and love for everyone and everything in our lives.)

It’s divided into 40 short chapters, each containing anecdotes, ideas, and techniques designed to inspire and empower you. You can read the book straight through or one chapter at a time in any order – making it easy to digest and implement the insights you gain.

I wrote this book to help you:

  • Make peace with yourself, others, and life
  • Breakthrough the traps of self-criticism and perfectionism
  • Accept yourself and those around you with compassion
  • Live with courage, passion, and vulnerability
  • Remember how powerful and resilient you are

When you order copies of Nothing Changes Until You Do today, you’ll receive the following free bonus gifts:

Access to the livestream of our book launch event this Friday night, May 9th, at 7 PM PT! You’ll be able to watch the live video feed of our book launch event. I’ll be giving an interactive talk, reading from the book, and answering questions. You might even be able to ask a question yourself via the livestream! If you live here in the Bay Area, feel free to join us in person!

Video of my live keynote: Love Yourself, and The Rest Will Follow

Audios of three exclusive interviews with me and:

– Kristin Neff, Ph.D, on Self-Compassion

– Robert Holden, Ph.D, on Self-Acceptance

– Glennon Doyle Melton, on Self-Love

Audios of two guided meditations created by me – focused on fulfilling your own needs and embracing your emotions

Access to my live teleseminar: Nothing Changes Until You Do – a virtual seminar about the core themes of the new book

And, as a special bonus when you order 3 or more copies, you’ll receive:

A free downloaded copy of my brand new audio program, Speak with Impact: 7 Secrets to Delivering Memorable Presentations

And, if you’d like to order copies of Nothing Changes Until You Do for your entire team or organization, feel free to contact us and we can discuss special discounts and offers for bulk orders.

“This book is filled with quick, compelling, and actionable ideas. Mike Robbins uses his personal experience to help all of us see how we can take small steps toward a better life. Reading this book will give you a new way to think about how you interact with the world.”

Tom Rath, New York Times bestselling author of Eat, Move, Sleep and Strengthsfinder 2.0

For more information and to order copies of my new book right now, click here.

Today is a big day and I feel excited and deeply appreciative to share it with you.  Thank you for your continued interest in my work.

P.S.  In addition to picking up copies of my new book for yourself and others, if you’d like to help spread the word about it, especially this week during the launch, I’d be honored and grateful. We put together a book launch assets page which contains info and resources to make it super easy to share. Feel free to check it out and let the people in your online networks know. Thanks!

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Make Peace with Your Body and Appearance

86610e3598568673abca1bfa55e976d0May 5, 2014

This is an excerpt from my new book Nothing Changes Until You Do, posted with permission.  Published by Hay House and available online or in bookstores.

I was in the bathroom one morning a number of years ago getting ready for my day. As I was shaving and taking care of my morning routine, my gremlin was actively and negatively commenting about a number of specific things related to my appearance. That nasty and critical voice in my head said, Look at you, you look awful! Your hair is thinning, you’re gaining weight, you have dark circles under your eyes, and those worry lines on your forehead keep getting deeper. You’re clearly not taking good care of yourself.

I was doing my best to ignore my gremlin, finish up in the bathroom, and get on with my day. As I was in the midst of this process, there was a series of loud bangs on the door—boom, boom, boom!

“Daddy!” said my then two-year-old Samantha. “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy—open up!”

Samantha, who has always been quite passionate, was going through a phase where she was barging into rooms, particularly the bathroom, all the time—so I’d been well trained to lock the door whenever I went in there.

“In a minute, honey. Daddy’s shaving,” I said.

Samantha continued to bang on the door and said, “Daddy, open the door! I have to tell you something important.”

“I’ll be out in a minute, sweetheart,” I said, hoping she would just go away (although I knew there was little to no chance that would actually happen).

“Daddy,” said Samantha, “it’s really important.”

I let out a big sigh, and with a towel wrapped around my waist, shaving cream on half my face, and a pretty bad attitude, I begrudgingly opened the door. “Yes, honey, what is it?” I asked, impatiently.

I looked down and saw Samantha standing there completely naked with a huge grin on her face. She looked up at me, spun around with a little twirl, and, with her arms outstretched, said, “Daddy, look how cute I am!” Then, quite pleased with herself, she gave me a big hug and ran off.

The irony of the situation was not lost on me. Although I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or cry, it hit me in a profound way that Samantha’s relationship to her own body and appearance was quite different and more empowering than mine.

Being hypercritical of my appearance, unfortunately, is a somewhat common experience for me and is something that I’ve struggled with significantly at times in my life. Some of the deepest pain and self-loathing I’ve ever felt has had to do with my feeling ugly and not good enough physically. I’m sure there are a variety of external factors that have contributed to this to some degree—growing up with parents who didn’t feel good about themselves physically and who both talked about that quite a bit; being focused so intensely on the shape, size, and function of my physical body as a competitive athlete for almost 18 of my first 25 years on the planet; and being impacted by our media and culture, which seem to have an insatiable obsession with appearance, beauty, and body perfection. However, at the root of these issues for me (which I think is true for most of us who struggle with this) is a deep sense of feeling fundamentally flawed.

A couple of things have added to the complexity and confusion of this particular issue for me over the years. First is that I’ve gotten mostly positive feedback about my appearance. I’ve never really been significantly overweight. Nothing is physically “wrong” with me, but I still feel unattractive. Which leads to the second bit of added confusion: I’m a man. Body image stuff, as we often read about, is portrayed mostly as a “women’s issue.” However, it has been a major issue in my life. At times I’m not sure what’s worse, feeling bad about my body and appearance, or feeling embarrassed that I feel bad about my body and appearance—both of these experiences have produced feelings of shame, guilt, sadness, anger, and conflict within me. And I know I’m not alone. This isn’t something that only affects teens, celebrities, or women—it’s something that people of all ages, body types, races, genders, backgrounds, and professions struggle with.

Most people I know have complaints about their bodies and how they look—whether they admit to them or not. There’s nothing wrong with us wanting to look our best, take care of ourselves, and be fit. However, billions of dollars are spent each year by advertisers telling us we don’t look good enough and need improvement. In return, we spend billions of our own dollars collectively on various products that are supposed to reverse our aging process, regrow our hair, smooth out our wrinkles, whiten our teeth, help us lose weight, make us look and feel better, and so much more. All in all, it sets up an unhealthy dynamic that is based on fear and scarcity. We buy into the idea that we have to do anything and everything we can to keep up, fight the natural aging process, and stay young, fit, and beautiful for as long as humanly possible. It can be exhausting and scary.

Over the past few years, I’ve started to get more real about my own struggles with my appearance and my deeper feelings about my body. Thanks to some great support, inner work, and healing, I’ve made good progress in this arena—although it still ebbs and flows for me and there is more work to be done. I had what felt like a pretty big breakthrough in 2012 when I decided I was finally ready, after a number of years of avoidance, to update the photos and videos on my website. My last photo shoot, which was in 2008, had been so upsetting and traumatic that I hadn’t been interested in doing it again. But by 2012 the images and videos on my website were dated and it was becoming problematic.

My hair started thinning when I was in my late 20s. For someone who was already hypercritical of his appearance, this was a scary and painful development. In addition to my own body issues, hair loss had been a big thing in my family, as my father had lost his hair quite young and it caused him a great deal of pain and suffering. So in both my family and our culture at large, hair loss for men is seen as a very bad thing. Even though it’s quite common, it’s something people (especially other men) often comment on and make fun of. Losing your hair isn’t really something you can hide or cover up all that well—it’s out there for the whole world to see. By my early to mid-30s, it was becoming pretty obvious, and it was a source of deep pain, shame, and embarrassment for me. Most of the reason I hadn’t gotten new photos taken had to do with my hair and my lack of acceptance about it. Although I’d been consistently shaving my head since mid-2011, something about getting these new photos and videos done made me feel vulnerable and scared in a way I wasn’t sure I could handle.

I reached out to some of the people closest to me to ask for their support, and I found some good professionals to help with the photos and videos. Although I was pretty freaked out, I scheduled a photo shoot and also planned to take a look at some video footage of some speeches I’d recently given. The process of getting the photos taken and the videos filmed wasn’t the hard part for me; it was looking at them afterward. Going into both the photo shoot and the speeches I knew were being filmed, I focused my attention on how I wanted to feel, not on how I wanted to look. I also did whatever I could to be kind and loving to myself, even though I was feeling self-conscious.

I had Michelle and also Melanie, who works with me, look at the photos before I did—so they could send me the ones they liked best (and hopefully get rid of some of the bad ones). That helped and I was actually quite pleasantly surprised by how they turned out. The videos, on the other hand, were more difficult, as I had to watch myself speaking for hours on end in order to pull out the clips for my speaking demo video and for various pages within my website. My gremlin had a field day with me at first, but after talking to my counselor Eleanor about it, she suggested that I focus on how I wanted to feel while I was watching the videos, which helped shift my perspective and made the viewing/editing process a little easier.

Although it wasn’t my favorite thing in the world, the whole process ended up being a lot less painful than I expected and the net result was that I was able to launch a new website with updated photos and videos of myself, that fall—which was a huge deal for me on many levels.

As I contemplate future photo and video shoots, I still feel a bit scared and daunted. However, these feelings are less intense based not only on this past experience, but also on my personal commitment to making peace with my body and appearance. When I come from that place of peace, things are much different and more enjoyable than when I come from a place of criticism and judgment (i.e., the world of my gremlin).

What if we could befriend our bodies and not treat them like enemies we’re trying to beat, conquer, or at least keep at bay? What if we could remember how accepting and celebratory we were about our bodies as young children? The key to all of this is not about losing more weight, finding the right workout program, getting the best products, or buying better clothes. It’s really about us making peace with our bodies, and, on a deeper level, making peace with ourselves.

It’s essential for us to forgive ourselves and to also forgive our bodies. In many cases, we have done, said, and thought really negative and damaging things to and about our bodies over the years. With a sense of healthy remorse and a deep sense of empathy, we can begin to forgive ourselves for how we’ve treated ourselves in the past. At the same time, we can practice forgiving our bodies for not being “perfect,” which no body ever is or will be. 

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