In today’s episode, we travel back in time with Nicole to her 20s and explore the evolution of her self-worth as she grew and evolved as a 20-something.
Starting as a newly graduated 21-year-old teaching English abroad in a foreign country, to coming home to pursue journalism, and finally, as a young journalist slowly finding her voice and worth.
“In School of Self-Worth, I consider myself to be both a teacher and a mentor in this space, and also a perpetual student because my experience of self-worth and my journey of self-worth has shown me that it is a long progression. It is one that evolves and it continues to evolve as you grow and you shift and you change.”
“I remember at that time being so clear that this job is not worth any amount of money, and I would say that’s probably the first time in my life I started to have a distinction around money and worth and value.”
“Because I want you all to understand, really the big theme that was going on for my life is that I never really felt successful. And I also not only didn’t feel successful, I didn’t feel like I was in charge of my success. I didn’t feel like I was driving my success in general.”
“If you are thinking you are stuck in a career, or stuck in a direction, or the way you’re supposed to live your life, know that you have so many gifts that will get you to the next stage, whatever that stage is when it shows up in perfect timing.”
“Back then, I wish I knew that partnership was not an indicator of my self-worth, that I was worthy, that I was loved, and that I could have whoever I wanted. I feel like that was the thing I wish I had known the most, that I could have whoever I wanted, and it wasn’t that it was a privilege for me to be selected by them and in fact, the opposite that it was a privilege for those people to be chosen with me and that we together could create partnership that was powerful and expansive.”
Hi everyone, so we are at the beginning of this really beautiful new journey, where I get to share much more extensive stories with all of you like I do with my clients. And so I wanted to start this journey going through the eras. So what I wanted to share today is what I wish I knew about self-worth in my 20s with my 30s and my 40s coming up after this.
I wanted to share this because we get to go back in time, to sweet tender little 21-year-old Nicole. She was so cute and so full of hope, yet also full of a lot of doubt and fear. I wanted to share this because, in School of Self-Worth, I consider myself to be both a teacher and a mentor in the space, and also a perpetual student. Because my experience of self-worth, and my journey in self-worth, has shown me that it is a long progression. It is one that evolves, and it continues to evolve as you grow and you shift, and you change.
So I thought what better way to really kick off these series, by sharing with you my own journey from that time in my life. So I’m going to take you back to when I was 21 and had graduated from college. I sent myself off to Wuhan, China, to teach English to college students and at that time I had been studying comparative literature in college, and I had plans to be a journalist and had done a couple of internships in different newspapers.
I really wanted to spend some time abroad, I wanted to connect back to my culture, I wanted to do it in a way that was separate from my family. My mom’s family is in Taiwan, and I didn’t really have any family in Mainland China, and I was like I wanted to go over there and have an experience separate.
So I went back there and I became a teacher, and I always really laugh because now so much of my job is teaching. Back then teaching English (Sorry, not Chinese), teaching English was probably one of the hardest jobs I had ever had. I mean, it was one of my first jobs, and I will still say probably one of the hardest jobs I’d ever had. I had no training. I had no background in it. I had never really understood how to develop a curriculum, I didn’t have a curriculum. I didn’t know how to do any of the things that I was over there to do.
So I showed up day after day, trying to teach these Chinese kids English. They were very confused by me because I obviously look Chinese, and I actually spoke Chinese, and I was there to study Chinese, and I would not really speak any Chinese to them in class. So we had a really interesting year where I was teaching English the whole time to these kids. And that was one of my first really big challenges because at that time I wouldn’t say I understood anything much about self-worth; I understood a lot about achievement.
I had achieved my whole life, I had spent all of my years in high school getting the best grades that I could, doing every activity I possibly could engage in so that I would be good enough to get to college; and to the college of my choice. And it got me into Dartmouth College, and so it worked really well. I knew how to apply myself to difficult things and to get better at it in a certain way, especially academics for school. So I did that when I was in high school, and then once I was in college it was pretty intense. You know, because everybody else there was also very smart, also a high achiever. But I did my due diligence, I applied myself. I was able to succeed in school, and I was able to really move myself down a track.
But here I was, in a foreign country where I really wasn’t familiar with so many things. The Chinese culture that I had grown up in was really Chinese-American culture, not Chinese culture, and so going into Chinese culture was very intense. It was very overwhelming for me. I was really homesick. I was really far away from people that I loved, and I also was trying to do this job. And was only working 14 hours a week, and that seemed so great; that’s not any work at all. It was the most intense experience to teach, to come home, to try to put curriculum together, and to try and actually teach these kids and have them make any progress. They were only two or three years younger than me.
Although culturally, I would say that they were a lot younger because they don’t really date in China, at that time I was there; until they were much older. So there was a really different experience. We’re much more independent; Americans; we are off on our own. These kids were first time away from home; so I was having a lot of challenges around that, and I actually swore to myself by the end of that first year that I would never teach again.
I swore hands down; no way, I will never teach ever again. So I returned to the states after a year and decided to re-pursue my journalism career. Journalism was its own journey around self-worth as well. I had struggled as an intern. Editors and newspapers are pretty much the most direct people you will ever meet, and I had never really spent that much time with people quite that direct. So being in newspapers was also a huge challenge because they would just tell me you’re not making a point here. What’s going on? Or I remember my editor saying you have no voice.
And I was like what are you talking about, I wrote those words, and I really didn’t understand how to get better at it. The only way I understood at that time in my life how to get better was to keep doing something. So keep doing it and you will get better… and even though often it felt like there was no progress, when I was writing or working at the newspaper, over time I did eventually start to get better and I got my first job; full job; as a newspaper reporter at the Anchorage Daily News.
So going up there, I started to experience myself as having more success. They put me on special projects, I ended up covering the senate race for Lisa Murkowski and Tony Knowles, governor Tony Knowles, which was Lisa Murkcaski’s first full senate race. I traveled all around the state of Alaska, covering that race I was sent to cover congress for Alaska; and was around Don Young and Ted Stevens, who are both really big long-term politicians out of Alaska.
I was having a lot of success on the surface. So in my 20s, I went from this time where I really struggled in China, progressed my way slowly over time, up through the ladder of journalism; and yet the interesting part of all of this journey, in my own experience, is that I never really actually felt successful. I was getting a lot of success on the outside, but I didn’t necessarily feel success on the inside. It’s interesting because I think I kept trying to do things that would make me feel successful. I thought ‘okay, now I’m covering a senate race, now I’ll feel really successful’.
Gosh, I was working so hard during that senate race and constantly had crippling self-doubt. I went to cover congress in DC; I got yelled at by politicians; I struggled with that coverage; ‘I don’t even know if I know what I’m doing; or if I’m doing any kind of a decent job here’. And at that time I also had experienced a really deep challenge in my career. So I was covering Catholic sex abuse; I was pulled onto a project about Catholic sex abuse, at the Anchorage Daily News. It was a really big deal; really big project. The principal of one of the local high schools had come forward and said he was abused by a really well-known local priest. I was pulled onto a project and was pulled off my regular beat.
I spent three months on this project. And in this project I really was challenging myself, because I was talking to victims about really deep trauma. I was not doing my regular daily work, and as a journalist, you start to rely on… (and I know that I relied on my self-worth coming from like was I on the front page; was I getting stories regularly). And during that time I was like ‘no, no, no, no, my self-worth was coming from and tied to this big project that I was working on’. So while I was working on this project, I felt actually pretty good. I am, like, working on this great project; people are noticing me; the editors think I am good enough to do this.
We come out with the project; it does super well; like we win all of these awards; all of these accolades; It makes a lot of change in the Catholic Church in Anchorage, and I felt like I was part of something that was really moving the world. I was making changes in the world that were making a difference. And I continued to work on Catholic sex abuse for a while, and I was pulled onto my regular beat. A year after this all began, the main person who originally spoke, the principal, died by suicide. So I was now in the depth of this very, very intense event; where I was now covering his death; trying to talk to his family, all of whom were really upset at us at that time; and then I was asked to go to the memorial service for him where his family would be. I went to the memorial service against my own intuition, I was like ‘I really don’t think I should go’, but my editor’s like ‘no, someone’s got to go, you should go’.
So I went, and then I was there and the family shut me down as soon as they saw me. They shut me down, and I just started crying. I was sobbing. We were at a high school, I believe if I remember correctly, and I went into the math room, and I was just sobbing my eyes out. I called my editor, I could barely talk. He’s like ‘are you okay’ and I was like ‘I’m not okay’, and I remember at that time being so clear that this job is not worth any amount of money. I would say that’s probably the first time in my life, I started to have a distinction around money and worth and value; and I couldn’t make sense of it at the time.
I will say looking back, that was a really pivotal moment for me; where I realized that I had to be doing work that was meaningful to me, that made a big difference for me, and then there was also a limit on the kind of work that I would do. So that’s what led me to start covering politics, because I was like ‘I’m done with this, I don’t really want to cover news anymore’.
They put me on a political beat that seemed fine, and actually I had a good time covering politics, and I also knew I really wanted to get out of hard news. I wanted to get out of being in a situation where I could at any moment be pulled back into covering a topic like Catholic sex abuse; or anything where there could be intense trauma and an intense experience for myself. So I moved to the Seattle Times to cover home and garden; my friends at the time joked that I went from covering politics, to covering lamps which was not that far from the truth and I was actually really happy for a while. I got to cover things; I had a really reasonable schedule; I was done by 5. I could go to yoga every day, but I still was actually not totally in control of my own experience.
So we’re getting kind of into my 30s now; so I think I’m going to pause here. Because I want you all to understand; really the big theme that was going on for my life, is that I never really felt successful. Not only didn’t feel successful, I didn’t feel like I was in charge of my success. I didn’t feel like I was driving my success in general. And so that period of my life; I struggled so much. I would also say I really struggled with self-worth around my body at that time; I was I had gained some weight when I was in China, in Anchorage. I was really judging myself based on how much weight I had gained and what my body looked like.
I was kind of exercising in Anchorage but not really that much. I would say; I didn’t take care of my body, probably to the degree that I could have. And I didn’t really understand how to do it. I was an athlete in high school; I played tennis, and in college I hiked a lot, and I would go to the gym; but even then, I wasn’t really sure how best to take care of my health. I tried lots of things; I tried rock climbing; I tried canoeing; I tried whitewater kayaking; none of which really took in college. But at least I was trying all these different things. And then I got into the working world, and I didn’t really understand how to work it, so I was like ‘I think you just go to the gym’; and I would just go to the gym all the time. But I wasn’t really eating particularly healthy, or in a way that felt really good in my body.
So all of it was just kind of chaotic for me, and then on top of it I had grown up in a society that taught me my worth and value was very tied to how I looked. And so I struggled also at that time with my body image, on top of success. I would say that relationships were playing a part of all of this as well. I was in a relationship that I knew I needed to get out of. And yet I stayed there because I felt really secure. He took care of me, and I struggled with the idea that I should end a relationship for no obvious reason, other than it just didn’t feel exactly right.
So, I can tell you, there were a lot of struggles for me and self-worth in my 20s; I didn’t really know who I was. I didn’t know what I wanted, except that I thought I wanted this Journalism career and the challenge with that Journalism career is it wasn’t really panning out like I had hoped or wanted. And yet I was still really determined and clear to stay on it because I didn’t really know that there were alternatives.
I was struggling with my up body image in a serious way at that time. And then I was also struggling in my personal relationships. I was in a relationship with someone who wanted a future and wanted to get married, and I really didn’t feel like he was the one for me, and then I also didn’t really know how to get the kind of relationship that I wanted. I also let my self-worth be determined by whether I was in a partnership; you know a lot of my friends all had partnerships; and so I felt very uncomfortable being single and alone. So I ended up in this relationship, and this relationship served a purpose for a long time, but I really didn’t understand that my worth and my value were really separate of any of these 3 pieces of my life.
And so what do I wish I knew back in my 20s? You know what I really wish I knew? Let’s go to my career first, that my career would change 3 times over by my 40s. That journalism was not the end all be all of my life; it was not even going to be the career beyond the first decade of my adult life. That there was going to be so much ahead for me, and so much growth, and so much change. And that I was actually capable of learning, and that mentality I used to bring to school to just learn and like really be persistent until I could really learn it, and I applied it to journalism; that I would actually be able to apply that to future careers. Teaching yoga, into a future career as an entrepreneur, and that if I really understood that I had all the skill sets that I needed, at that time in my life, to really do whatever I wanted; that I would be so much more relaxed – like back in my 20s.
And the same is true of anybody; is that if you are thinking you are stuck in a career or stuck in a direction, or the way you’re supposed to live your life; that you have so many gifts that will get you to the next stage. Whatever that stage is. When it shows up in perfect timing. So I wish I knew that about my career. I wish I knew about my health, that I was going to head into the strongest era of my life when I was in my mid to late 30s; and that in my mid to late 30s I started writing a fitness column for the Seattle Times and during that time I was so strong. I was doing everything you could think of. I was really trying all kinds of fitness. I was Crossfitting a lot at the time. I was hiking; I was doing yoga; I was really phenomenally strong. Way stronger than I ever was in my 20s and so I wish I could tell that sweet mid-20s Nicole, that her health was not going to be determined by how she looked. That she was going to learn that her health was determined really by how she felt. How strong she felt. How resilient she was and that she was capable physically of so much more than she ever thought possible. So I wish I knew that in my 20s.
And then with relationships – (Oh we’re going to have to do, definitely a couple of full episodes on relationships). But I really wish that I had known in my 20s that my self-worth was not determined by my partnership status in particular. I wish that I had known my self-worth was really independent of that; and that I could have a goal or a dream of a partnership. And that I could also really stand on my own two feet independent of that partnership. And not judge myself for that. I always judged myself when I was single in my 20s. I was single for a long time in high school and in college, and I always really wished I had partnership, and was jealous of people who had partnerships, and didn’t really know how to have partnerships; and healthy partnerships. I didn’t know how to have healthy partnerships, I would say even until my 40s.
So back then, I wish that I knew that partnership was not an indicator of my self-worth; that I was worthy, and I was loved, and that I could have whoever I wanted. I feel like that is the thing I wish I knew the most. I could have whoever I wanted. And it wasn’t that it was a privilege for me to be selected by them, and in fact, the opposite that it was a privilege for those people to be chosen with me; and that we together could create partnership that was powerful and expansive.
And you know, you have to go through all of those experiences in your 20s to really see that. I still look back on sweet tender Nicole, in her 20s, and the struggles that she went through and I don’t wish to change any of them; and I hope you all know that. I never wish to change the past. I really don’t. There’s so much that I learned from the things that I went through, the experiences that I had in that time in my life, and I look back and I wish I could at least feed Nicole; in those really low moments; where she’s alone in her apartment; I used to be watching the OC back in the days, drinking wine and feeling really sad and sorry for herself. That she had so much a ahead in her life that was really great, and that she was not only going to have so much ahead in her life that was great; she was going to have amazing teachers, amazing community, amazing people who would come in and help lift her up into a place where she felt so confident, clear and strong about the life that she’s living.
So those are the things I really wish I knew when I was in my 20s. We’ll be getting into my 30s again; broad strokes around these eras and really useful for us to see that evolution. I feel like for women in particular in this country, we all go through these evolutions; 20s in general I feel like the insecurity and lack of self-birth can be so, so high; and very evident in many different ways. You know as you’re trying to earn your way up the ladder and whatever job you have. You’re following a job ladder that you’ve been told will make you feel successful and feel happy, and what I really wish I knew probably above all in that time is how much life would change. And that really the way to live life, to feel joyful and successful, is to learn to start to choose your life. To really feel in choice about everything that you do; and what does it take to feel in choice. And that’s a conversation we’ll definitely be having over the course of time in School of Self-Worth because understanding what choice is; experiencing choice; having choice in your life; is one of the most powerful things that you can do for yourself. One of my teachers’ teacher said (Dorothy Wood is one of my teachers’ teacher) and what she always said is “People don’t change. They make new choices.”
So we’ll be in that conversation, in that discussion many times over in school of self-worth. I’m so grateful to have you here. If you are curious about anything that I shared about, check out the links in the show notes. Where we’ll be sharing little tidbits from conversations over time. We’ll be linking to all the other episodes as we talk about what I wish I knew in my 30s and then also into my 40s about self-worth. All right, thank you all. Well if you like this one screenshot it; share it; write comments and write a review for us. That makes all the difference in the world for people finding this show. Thank you so much for being here.