Thank You Oprah!

OprahOprah disclosed in the upcoming April 2013 issue of ‘O’ magazine that she is “functionally illiterate” in mathematical or technological skills. Thank you so much for coming out! Many of us feel confident in one or several domains but find ourselves challenged to the max in others.

That certainly is the case with me: math – OK; tech – only average (it depends on the task); directions and instructions, especially about physical things like dance steps or golf swings, or foreign languages – “functionally illiterate” as Oprah says.

The problem with areas we don’t excel in is that often we become ashamed of our so-called shortcoming. We’re apologetic. We get embarrassed because we seem extra slow to pick up a task others find a breeze. To compensate we find excuses not to do certain things. But often there is that nagging “What will they think of me?” or “Are they making fun of me? mentality that erodes our self-confidence and self-esteem.

Why? Because we identify with our actions, rather than remembering that we are something more than what we do or don’t do or have. It’s so important to remember to be kind to ourselves in areas that are a challenge. Calling ourselves names does not help.

We all have assets and liabilities; strengths and weaknesses. It’s time to embrace all aspects of ourselves instead of hiding our perceived foibles. To openly proclaim our disabilities will help us all see that we are all the same.

Here are some tips about how you can befriend your disabilities:

1. Remember that everyone has abilities and disabilities, whether physical, mental, or emotional. Own them both proudly to remember that we are all the same. Repeat 100,000 times, and especially when you start to feel ashamed, embarrassed, etc., something that contradicts your old thinking. Maybe it’s “I’m fine, even if I can’t…” or “I am not my abilities” or “I am not what I look like…” “Everybody has a disability.”

2. Deal with the emotion that comes up for you when your mind locks and you can’t do whatever task in front of you. Emotions are just pure energy in the body, so if you feel scared – frozen – shiver and quiver with gusto for literally a minute. If it’s anger, stomp around, push against a wall, or yell into a pillow. If you feel sadness, find a safe place and have yourself a good cry.

3. Contradict those sabotaging messages. Instead of telling yourself “I’ll never be able to grasp this” or “I can’t do math,” tell yourself, “I can do this, one step at a time and at my own pace.” Praise yourself for persisting and every tiny victory in areas that are particularly difficult for you.

4. Speak up when you get lost. Ask for extra instruction. Say “I have trouble grasping what you are saying right now. Could you please say that again, explain that to me again, show me that again….”

5. Break the seemingly overwhelming task (like balancing your checkbook) into a series of small doable steps. Do it, even though it’s difficult, shivering as you do to help you stay present and focused. Persist. Practice extra long and hard. With practice we can push through our obstacles, even though they don’t seem easier over time. Or we can choose to delegate those tasks to others (with their permission) and help out in other areas when you see that someone is flailing.

6. Bring your disabilities out of the closet and talk about them as fact. You’ll be amazed at how much closeness these kind of self-disclosures bring. If someone makes a joke about it, say something along the lines of “I just wanted you to know this is extra hard for me, but I’m committed to learning/doing … my best.”

When we need to do something that is difficult, we have a choice. We can own them, ask for extra instruction, and practice extra long and hard. With practice we can push through our obstacles, even though they don’t seem easier over time. Or we can try to delegate those tasks to others and step forward when others are flailing.

Either way, it’s time to embrace all aspects of ourselves instead of hiding our shortcomings.

Hooray to Oprah (and to me!) for our open admissions. Is there anything you struggle with that you are willing to come clean on? Tell us.


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