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How to Find Your Unique Strength

Photo by Hannes Caspar
We grow primarily through our challenges, especially those life-changing moments when we begin to recognize aspects of our nature that make us different from the family and culture in which we have been raised. ~Caroline Myss

When Oprah Winfrey interviewed Jane Fonda for The Oprah Magazine, these two amazing women touched briefly on the subject of caring about what others think of them.

Oprah: I’ve read that, like me, you’ve always struggled with the disease to please.

Jane: I used to walk into a party and think, Oh, my God, will I be interesting enough? Will people like me? Will I be pretty enough? Do I fit in? Now I go into a room and think, do I really want to be here? Are these people I want to spend a few hours with? It’s a big shift.

Oprah: How did you make the shift?

Jane: Hard work. Growing up.

Jane didn’t elaborate on her answer, and I’m not qualified to speak for her. But I think we can all relate to how she used to feel.

I can imagine a young Jane Fonda walking into a Hollywood party and comparing her figure, her face, her hair, even her dress to the other starlets. She admitted being worried that people wouldn’t be interested in what she had to say and she worried about fitting in — which meant that she was allowing them to set the standards for what she needed to be in order to be accepted and liked.

The opinions of these other people mattered more to her than her own because she hadn’t “found her feet” yet — a phrase I use to mean feeling confident enough in myself not to be swayed by the opinions of others.

I visualize this by picturing myself at the beach, standing out in the ocean where the waves break. If I pull my feet up off the ocean floor, the waves knock me around and I have no control. I go where I’m pushed. Once I “find my feet” by standing on them and sinking them slightly into the sand, they anchor me to whatever spot I choose.

I don’t wish to be pushed around by the opinions of others either. The standards and opinions of other people don’t matter to me because I have found my own. Their judgment of me — whether positive or negative — is just a passing wave. Although some make me feel buoyant and some try to knock me down, I stand firm.

But there was a secret to finding my feet. I stopped comparing and contrasting my similarities to others. I don’t even try to judge myself in most of the categories we all share, because these similarities make us all very small fish in a great big ocean — too insignificant to matter. I don’t worry about who is prettier, thinner, younger, richer, or smarter. Instead, I focus on how I am different.

After all, the things that make me different are the things that make me Kate. The things that make me Kate are the things that make me unique.

The things that make me unique also make me a big fish in a small pond of people who share some of those differences. And in a small pond, it’s easy to keep my feet, because there are no currents trying to force me in a direction I might not want to go.

Recognizing and honoring these differences is what helped me define myself and discover the issues I care about.

  • While most people love a sunny day, I prefer rain.
  • I would rather watch a depressing drama than a silly comedy.
  • I’ve spent my life working my way down the ladder of success.
  • I believe malls and suburbia ruined America.
  • I prefer to buy everything I need second-hand.
  • I think Gene Hackman is the sexiest man in the world.
  • I love to sit and mull over a puzzle – from sudoku to human behavior.
  • The smaller my living space is, the happier I am.

In short, I’m an introverted swamp gypsy who advocates simplicity, minimalism, thrift, and the virtues of small versus big in almost everything.

Figuring this out helped me discover my “right livelihood’ – which is shutting myself away in a dimly lit corner, connected to the outside world only by power cords and an avatar, and writing about the things that matter to me. (But I haven’t figured out the Gene Hackman thing yet.)

I imagine that as Jane Fonda grew into the woman she is today, she found her feet. I suspect she came to realize she’s not the blonde bimbo she might have seemed in her Barbarella days, but an intelligent, feminist, political activist with a point of view and the courage to state it. (Whether you agree with her politics or not, I hope you can admire her courage.)

And I would guess that the attributes that make women excel in the ocean of Hollywood starlets are not the attributes Jane particularly admires. By focusing on the attributes she does find compelling based on her own set of values, she has found her uniqueness … found her worth … found her feet.

So focus on what makes you unique.

Find your differences and you’ll find your strength.

Escape the turbulence and vastness and anonymity of ocean life and find yourself a quiet, peaceful pond with a few like-minded creatures.

Find your feet.

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About the author

From Kate Carpenter: I became a simple living groupie in college when I read Living Poor with Style by Ernest Callenbach in 1972. I started writing about it in 1998. I left the rat race to do it full time in 2010. I love stripping life down to its fundamentals without any distractions or complications blurring the focus. My goal every day is to make something simpler, smaller, or more clearly understood. Life shouldn't have to be so hard!

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5 thoughts on How to Find Your Unique Strength

  1. Guy

    I came across this article on Zite. Loved it. Thanks.

  2. I just discovered this blog, and I’m looking forward to future columns about living simply. I also find that the more simple my life becomes, the more peace I have.

    Kate, as I was reading your post, I was thinking about how treating ourselves with compassion is really the simple yet hard task that helps us be ok with who we are and where we are. It’s so much easier to do that for others, but we are our own worst critics.

  3. Thank you for this great, inspiring post, I have too often found myself comparing myself to others and that only leads to one thing in my opinion – Not feeling good enough.
    I’m going to try the techniques above to find and strengthen my differences, and be proud of them :)

    Lyndsay

  4. Thank you for sharing.

    I really needed to read this. So much wisdom compiled into a single article.

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!

  5. I loved your post. Especially the opening quote. I’m finally at the stage in my life where I’m only now beginning care less about the opinions of people that I don’t value.

    You also inspired me to finally post a piece that I had been holding in my drafts for months. Thank you for the inspiration!
    http://www.simplecareerlife.com/2013/01/letting-go-and-choosing-what-to-care.html

    Kensington

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