One of my first friends in Sayulita was a well-traveled, 50-something entrepreneurial woman from Austin, Texas with a very fascinating life story. She’d lived in France with her dog (and spoke to him in French in order to keep in practice with the language). She’d owned her own successful little business for years and had really become a go-to person in her field. And in her spare time, she was a musician.
During my first two weeks in town (before she headed back to the states for a musical festival), we spent a lot of afternoons sitting at the local coffee shop, having dinner at various beachfront restaurants, and chatting about everything from travel to writing to business to life to music.
She was lovely company.
One day, while we were drinking our chilled coffee drinks in the afternoon heat, she told me about her brief fling with a young surfer – a man in his twenties who loved music and was staying in the same rental complex as she was.
I think I teased her about being a cradle robber and told her to “go girl.”
But then something sad happened.
“Who knows why he’d want to be with me,” she said.
I paused, confused and saddened: “Well, you’re bright. You’re fun. You obviously connected on the topic of music.” (I said this or something similar.)
“Yeah. I have to come to terms with the fact that any man who wants me right now wants me for my brain. They certainly don’t want me for my looks,” she laughed.
She was referring to her weight. It was a topic that had come up before. In the last couple years – as some tragic things happened in her life – she’d gone up several dress sizes. And it seemed to be constantly on her mind.
Behind that laughter was a whole lot of self-loathing.
They certainly don’t want me for my looks.
I looked her in the eyes and challenged that assumption:
Why couldn’t someone be attracted to her? Why couldn’t someone want her for her looks? Why couldn’t she be sexy, particularly down here in Mexico – a culture that seems to appreciate curves?
“Oh, well, I guess…I guess you’re right.”
The conversation turned quickly into a discussion on cultural definitions of beauty. But I think there’s an important lesson here. One I shouldn’t just skip past.
We need to stand up to and challenge our assumptions.
This isn’t just about our looks, about feeling fat or unworthy or unsexy. This is about how we think…how once we have a belief (even if that belief is flawed), we rarely ever question it. We rarely ever challenge the underlying assumption.
(Because, let’s be honest, we’re too busy feeling bad to question whether we should be feeling bad.)
It’s so rare that we ask “why not?” instead of assuming that the status quo, the beliefs we hold about ourselves and the world, are right.
A few days later, this same lovely friend told me that she could never travel the world full time.
Again, I asked her why not.
She told me she should try to create a community in Austin. She should try to be responsible and grown-up.
Another friend chimed in: “Why should you?”
And it turns out that this idea, this underlying belief about who she should be, came from mean things her ex-husband said to her. Not from her own heart or her own mind. Not from real responsibilities (she did not have children, ailing parents, employees, etc.). Not even from therapy or working through something in her life.
Now, let me pause here to say that I don’t think everyone wants to live like me. Not everyone wants to be on the move. Not everyone is excited by the prospect of being somewhere utterly new and different all the time. And that is completely okay.
The reasons that you do or don’t do something should be your own. Not your ex-husband’s. Not your nay-sayers’. Not your negative self-talk’s.
So instead of listing all the shoulds, instead of putting ourselves down, instead of striving for someone else’s version of perfection…
What if we started asking why not?
When your negative self-talk says you’re not pretty enough for that guy. Ask it: Why not?
Think you couldn’t possibly start your own business? Why not?
Think you’re too young to go after that dream? Why not?
Why the [insert chosen expletive here] not?
So many of our assumptions about ourselves and our lives are just plain wrong…as in the case of my friend, who is one hot mama with a whole lot going for her.
There are enough nay-sayers in the world already. We don’t need to nay-say and shame ourselves.