Lies. We tell ourselves lies every day. We go one step further. We make ourselves believe the lies. We embrace the lies, live the lies, and define ourselves by the lies. We are so sure the lies are real that we tell other people our lies because we want others to know our flaws and imperfections. Eventually we stop hearing them—these falsehoods about our worth and our value—and we just accept them as truths.
Rachel Hollis’ book “Girl, Wash Your Face” opened my eyes to the many lies I’ve told myself for years. Lies I have created in my own head about who I am or what my personal deficits are. Lies that knock me down, devalue my worth and make me struggle. Lies that hold me back from self-compassion, self- love and self-acceptance. Lies that I would never let my girlfriends think about themselves but that I cling to inside myself.
Guess what? I’m fighting back. I’m speaking up. I’m leaning into this life-changing book that bitch slapped me and made me wake up. I’m 50 frickin’ years old. That’s a half of a century I’ve walked this planet and for over half of those years, I’ve believed the lies. What a waste of head space and energy. It’s time for a change.
So here goes. I’m following in Rachel’s steps and I’m putting my lies out there. Am I a copycat? Yes. Do I care if you call me that? Nope. What you think of me is none of my business.
I’m not smart.
Growing up, I followed behind a very smart older brother. It sucked. No way to sugar coat the feeling of being the dumb one of the family. My brother and I couldn’t be more different academically.
Him: Math is so easy. It all makes complete sense. How do you not understand that the cosine of the angle is equivalent to the obtuse integral and the sin of the hypotenuse is a fraction of the matrix multiplied by the medium of the congruent arc plus the cubed root of pi. (Yes, all you obnoxious math majors… I know that doesn’t make any sense. Just proving a point here! Go back to your equations and leave me alone).
Me: Math makes no sense. But I like pie.
He couldn’t tutor me because he’d get so frustrated that I “didn’t get it”. We would calmly sit down at my parents dining room table and he would start “talking math” to me. Honestly, all I heard was blah blah blah. Maybe an occasional word like “plus or minus” would make sense but the rest was gibberish. Remember Charlie Brown’s teacher? That was my brothers voice trying to explain Algebra 1 to me. Honestly, math should have counted for my foreign language in high school. Typically, around minute 8 of trying to explain bonehead math to me, my brother would blow up and start yelling “How can you not understand this? It’s so basic. Anyone and everyone can do it!”. Obviously, I would remind him, not everyone.
School was never easy for me. My mom made me take the SAT as a high school sophomore just to get the swing of it. Then, after spending every Wednesday night of my junior year sitting with a SAT tutor, I was primed to take it again. I had all the tricks, knew to pick answer C if I was guessing, knew how to speed read, watch my time, problem solve and use the roots to understand the meaning of words. My mom got up early and made me an egg sandwich with bacon, so I had plenty of protein in my system to help me ace that damn test. You know where this is going right? After all that studying, practice tests and grueling hours preparing, I did WORSE. Yep, that was me.
To this day, I believe my college Physics professor passed me with a D in his class simply because he feared he would have me again the following semester if I failed. My Stats professor told me stop asking so many questions in class because my questions made no sense and confused other students. My wonderful Geography professor offered to give me my map test verbally because I failed every single map test like clockwork. How do you take a map test verbally you ask? “Which direction is the Pacific Ocean Kelly?”. I had a 50/50 chance of pointing in the right direction.
My brother breezed through UC Berkeley and got his MBA at UCLA. I can’t even pronounce all the words in his undergraduate degree. I went to small colleges because I got extra help and wouldn’t get lost in the hustle and bustle of all the academic minded people (In all honesty, not “my people”). I drank my share of booze in college, made memories I’m so glad are not recorded on social media, went on amazing road trips with a pack of sunflower seeds and $16 in my wallet, grew in ways I never knew possible, and met incredible girlfriends I can’t imagine doing life without. I wouldn’t change a thing about my college… except maybe the night my roommate turned 21.
Over the years, I’ve learned my journey, while not as prestigious or glorified as his, is just as valuable. My brain, though not analytical or computational, is brilliant in ways his isn’t. He’s smart but so am I. The truth of the matter is, we are both smart, but in many ways I am smarter than him.
My intelligence isn’t book smart or test smart. My intelligence is people smart. I know how to make people feel comfortable, safe and relaxed. My smart older brother, the CEO, calls me when he needs to think through certain situations to be sure he’s relating well with people. My smartness has nothing to do with scores or stats but I’m smart enough to maintain long friendships with some bad-ass women who I’m blessed to have in my tribe. Smart knows how to pick good friends, smarter knows how to keep them.
My emotional intelligence makes up for my math deficiency and while I can’t solve X axis for Y axis, I can help people become aware of their inner architecture, work through a trauma, practice forgiveness, let go of painful baggage, communicate effectively, improve their self-talk, and practice mindful living. I don’t know the difference in an isosceles triangle and an isotope, but I know how to offer comfort and support to a hurting teenager who has closed themselves off to the world. I don’t know how to reduce a fraction, but I do know how to help others reduce anxiety and overcome fears. I can’t understand the laws of physics, but I do understand how to help couples connect with each other and want to work to save their struggling marriage. My smartness has nothing to do with solving math problems but everything to do with helping people learn to solve their own problems that are keeping them from being their best happiest self.
I know now that my brother and I are both smart, only our smarts look different. As parents, we need to be mindful of this with our own children. Each of my kids learn differently and each has gifts that make them exactly who they are. It’s easy to praise the teenager who get straight A’s or aces the SAT, but our job as loving parents, is to look beyond just the tests or grades to help them see their unique strengths. One of my kids struggles academically but his gifts lie in his approach to life. He may not kill it in the classroom, but he’s an A+ student when it comes to working hard and knowing how to treat others. Praising our kids simply because they get a good report card doesn’t allow you to recognize valuable and important traits your child might possess that will help them be successful one day.
Intelligence and smartness are impossible to measure because there are so many kinds of intelligence. Encourage your child to explore different passions so they discover their strengths beyond the classroom. Celebrate them for being themselves and celebrate their unique wins. Be mindful not to compare them, not only to other children, but to their siblings as well. Cultivate self-awareness and praise skill sets that will make your child successful such has hard working, determination and creativity. Don’t just praise book smart or intelligence, praise the process.
Want to raise successful and smart kids? Let them fail. I’ve failed more times than I can count but each time was a great lesson in standing back up, making a change and trying again. Give your children confidence to problem solve outside the school setting. Make sure that you don’t push your own self-defeating lies on them. Give them the chance to become their version of their best self, even if it doesn’t match your plan of who you hoped they would be. Teach them that making smart choices is more important that just being smart.
If you struggle with seeing what makes you smart and strong, that’s on you. Dig deep and figure it out. Stop comparing someone else’s gifts to yours. Everybody is smarter than somebody else in some way. Look at what you are passionate about or what you do well? Can’t think of it- ask your friends. Don’t let embarrassment prevent you from reaching out. Tell your friend that if they tell you what you are good at or what makes you smart, you will do the same back to them. It’s like giving each other a little boost of confidence and let’s be honest, who doesn’t want to hear your friends gush about all the things that makes you wonderful, amazing, incredible and valuable.
Lean into all that makes you smart. Let go of comparing yourself to others. Find your jam. Embrace your brain. Recognize your gifts. Show up every day. Talk yourself up. Notice your strengths. Change your self-talk. Let go of the lies. Own your story. Be a bad-ass. Girl, drive your bus.