Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi first discovered the experience of flow as a young boy while playing chess for hours while interned in an Italian prison camp during World War II. Years later, Csikszentmihalyi pioneered the field of Positive Psychology, and in 1990, he published his seminal book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.

Flow is the state in which we’re so immersed in the moment that time seems transformed and nothing else seems to matter. As Csikszentmihalyi discovered, people most often experience flow when their skill level is high and well-matched to the activity’s challenge.

In other words, if you know what you’re good at and love doing—and you devote time to these activities—you’re more likely to experience flow.

Acknowledging what we’re good at is a crucial step toward discerning how we might show up in a way that honors our personal and collective needs and our capacity.

The problem is, if you’re like a lot of my clients when they first come to me, you might struggle to recognize and appreciate what you’re really good at. Perhaps you learned at a young age to brush off compliments, downplay accomplishments, and avoid bragging. When you tell people about a success, you might follow it up by saying—It’s no big deal. There’s still this other thing I need to work on.

As a result, you might have a harder time understanding the difference you’re called to make or how to translate your gifts and callings into paid work.

If you downplay your gifts, I invite you to ask yourself this question:

When you give someone a gift, do you want them to frown, ignore you, or say it’s nothing special? Or would you rather them receive your gift with a smile and a thank you?

The latter, right? I imagine that life feels the same way.

I believe that our abilities, strengths, skills, and talents are gifts that life has entrusted to us, whether through hard work, heartache, privilege, luck, study, experience, or the act of being born.

I believe that we each have a responsibility to reciprocate by acknowledging our gifts and sharing them with the world.

As Robin Wall Kimmerer writes in Braiding Sweetgrass, “This is our work, to discover what we can give. Isn’t this the purpose of education, to learn the nature of your own gifts and how to use them for good in the world?”[1] 

Self-appreciation does not say, I’m better than you! or I’m more special!

Self-appreciation says: Just like everyone else, I am a miraculously gifted and flawed human. I have areas for improvement, and I have gifts I’m grateful for.

Self-appreciation is not conceit. Self-appreciation is the skill of giving thanks for who we get to be in this life.

And as Michelle Cassandra Johnson writes in Finding Refuge, “It is important to think of oneself as a medicine maker, because each one of us has a gift to offer the collective.”

So from now on, when you notice something you appreciate about yourself or when someone offers you a compliment, I challenge you to pause, notice the initial discomfort of celebrating yourself, and say, thank you. The more you do this, the easier it will become to appreciate yourself, experience flow, and find work (paid and unpaid) that matches your gifts.

And if you’d like support understanding how to better use your gifts to show up for change in the world, I invite you to check out my Mentorship for Changemakers.

[1] Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. (Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions, 2020.) Chapter Twelve

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