I remember watching Florence Griffith Joyner, aka Flo Jo, as she sailed across the finish line, jubilant arms in the air and a broad smile across her face. She had just easily won an Olympic gold medal in the 100m race in Seoul. I marveled at her speed, her confidence, and her grace. I imagined what it would be like to be her. She was beautiful, resplendent in her custom running gear, fashion-forward with long painted nails and free-flowing hair. When Whitney Houston’s song, One Moment in Time, would play as images of Flo Jo flashed across the screen, I longed for such a moment in my own life. “One moment in time when I was more than I thought I could be.” My life seemed littered with mediocrity; somehow I would come up just short of glory. I had not found a reason to honor my life.

Over the years, I have had many occasions to compare my life to others, usually when I feel less than. In those times, I tend to focus on my shortcomings, to playback my mistakes, and magnify my errors. I berate myself for missed opportunities and past failures. One day, while taking a walk and lost in my own reverie, I came across a field of flowers. There were gorgeous red tulips and brightly colored yellow daffodils bobbing their heads in the wind. The sight took my breath away.

But something else caught my attention. I was struck by the harmonious existence of these vastly different looking flowers. I could not imagine that these flowers spent even a moment wishing they were other than what they were. They just bloomed in all their own glory. They just esteemed their own beauty. Why couldn’t I live the same way?

I, too, had been seduced by a world that seems to demand we compete. We complete for grades, class ranking, jobs, promotions, attention, even love. The downfall to all this competition is that we become wired to compare ourselves to others. Comparison always leads to dishonor because when we compare ourselves to others, we either become prideful at our contrived superiority or discouraged by our imagined inferiority. At either rate, we learn to tie our sense of worthiness to others instead of celebrating and respecting ourselves for who we are, just as we are.

While I have had many privileges and been blessed with numerous talents and opportunities, my life, in some ways, is different from what I had envisioned. There have been times when I was despondent about the consequences of my choices. I am not the first, nor will I be the last to struggle with these feelings of inadequacy. But this was not a state I desired to remain. Something had to change and that change began with how I chose to see myself. Famed Civil Rights Leader, Rosa Parks may have been at a similar crossroad when she wrote, “I will no longer act on the outside in a way that contradicts the truth that I hold deeply inside. I will no longer act as if I were less than the whole person I know myself inwardly to be.”

After what seemed like a lifetime of competition, I chose to honor myself for who I am and stopped trying to live up to people’s expectations of me, particularly when they did not align with my spirit. The decision was not simple, but it has been made easier because I seem to be hardwired to take the road less traveled. That path is usually bumpy, fraught with uncertainty, isolated, and lacks the ‘security’ of more traditional paths.

As a mere college student, I turned down an opportunity to serve on a county-wide Board because it came with strings I knew I could not abide. At age 22, I declined an invitation to be featured as one of the 30 leaders under 30 in Columbus, Ohio because I would not allow myself to be celebrated by a system otherwise opposed to my well-being. After Law School, I eschewed a good-paying job that would have stifled my passion for justice to bum it out in New York City. At 29, I walked away from an opportunity to be groomed for a senior administrator position to stay home with my child and heal from traumas I was only just beginning to realize.  I could go on. But while I may have missed out on prestigious positions and perhaps, more financial stability, daily, I am finding the courage to honor my life, just as it is.

My life, your life, should be honored whether we were born in a favela or a penthouse suite. Your life should be honored regardless of how you earn an honest wage. You should strive to honor your life because it is only in that honor that you can fulfill your highest potential. When you are riddled with doubt, consumed with your weaknesses, focused on your limitations, you simply cannot tap into the genius which resides in you. You focus not on your value but on the muck in which you are coated.

To honor your life is to esteem yourself. It is to recognize your intrinsic worth and to have respect and admiration for who you are, just as you are. As you honor your life, you give yourself permission to grow, learn, make mistakes, fall, learn and get back up again.

Honoring your life, in whatever state you are in, is to honor the potential within. It is to build your own self-esteem. It is to give yourself a fighting chance at fulfilling your dreams. Honoring yourself is having the courage to grieve, but not give up yourself and your dreams.

At age 50 at the time of this writing, despite my modest accomplishments, I understand that honoring myself is an essential step if I am ever to achieve that perfect moment when Whitney’s voice rings out  “all my dreams are a heartbeat away … and I am racing with destiny.” Mother Nikki Giovanni’s words resonate with me. She said, “Deal with yourself as an individual worthy of respect, and make everyone else deal with you the same way,” Whatever the future holds, I choose to honor my life. Think about it, if you can’t or won’t esteem yourself, why should anyone else?

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