I went to an entrepreneurship conference a few weeks ago and a workshop leader asked each attendee to pick a partner and look at each other in the eye. One person’s role was to talk about their business goals, while the other person listened. Every time the person with the aspirations spoke, the other’s job was to say how crazy the person was for wanting to reach their goals.

“Be as mean as possible,” the facilitator said. I looked at my partner and told her that I couldn’t do it. I did not want to diminish her dreams; I wanted to encourage them.

When most of the attendees began questioning the purpose of the exercise out loud, the facilitator said, “But we say much worse things to ourselves everyday.”

The room was frozen for a moment. Everyone looked around, as if we were all too ashamed to admit this fact. Then like a slow thaw, the women in the room began to shake their heads in agreement that yes; we do talk to ourselves harshly.

The exercise taught me a valuable lesson: never speak to myself in a manner that I wouldn’t dare say to someone I love, let alone a stranger who I just met at a seminar. I am my own worst critic. I have said the meanest and most vile things to myself. I have devalued my accomplishments and minimized my God-given talents. I have criticized and second-guessed many business decisions that I have made. If I’m honest with myself, I’m not very kind to the person I see in the mirror everyday.

So now I have an exercise for you. Go to your closest mirror and take a look at yourself. How would you describe the person looking back at you?

You might say that the person you see is kind, beautiful or smart—all of the things we tell ourselves that we should tell ourselves when looking at our reflection in the mirror. But how many times have we said the opposite—that we’re dumb or unattractive—things we wouldn’t dare say to our closet friends or family. You might think, “I would never say that about myself.” But the truth is that we do a lot and don’t even realize it.

You don’t get the “life-changing” money from a potential funder and you tell yourself that maybe you should give up on your business venture. Your boyfriend informs you he’s not interested anymore and you begin to nitpick every inch of your body. Or, even worse, before you submit your résumé for your ideal job, you talk yourself out of sending it because you think you’re not qualified anyway. We do this to ourselves all of the time.

As a child I had extreme low self-esteem. I always walked with my head down. I hated the way that I looked. I thought I was too dumb to make a decent life for myself in the future. I had aspirations to run for class queen or compete in regional choir competitions, but my fear of failing and insecurities paralyzed any ambition that I had burning inside. The only thing that I thought I was remotely good at was writing and storytelling, and even when I did that, I still felt like it wasn’t good enough. I spent a lot of my free time at home buried in my journal writing down my thoughts or my latest short story. I would agonize over every word and every detail until I thought it was perfect. But I never felt like I succeeded at perfection. It was quite crippling. It prevented me from submitting my work to teen magazines and book publishers. Growing up, I kept telling myself over and over again how bad my work was. And after a while, I started to really believe it. By my senior year of high school I stopped writing on a consistent basis.

However, I began to evolve in college. By my junior year, my self-esteem and confidence grew. This transformation led me to where I am today: a magazine publisher and radio host. At times, the little insecure girl from Memphis comes out questioning my ambition. However, the longer that I live, I’m learning to tackle my inner negativity head on.

For instance, when I got a call from the program director at 89.3 FM in DC asking me to come to the studio to discuss hosting my own show. I was excited and totally petrified. I thought about my slight stutter or the fact that in my mind I sound like a cartoon character instead of having a polished broadcasting voice. Then came the what ifs. What if I sounded stupid live on the air? What if I’m boring? To add to the anxiety, I only had less than two weeks to prepare a live show, research compelling topics and find expert guests. On the day of my premiere, I was almost tempted to keep it a secret until I “perfected” my radio show. But there is no such thing as perfection. It’s something that I’m learning everyday. Knowing this fact keeps my mind at ease when “little DeShuna” tells me how much I screwed up a radio segment or fell short on a grant application.

To counteract that, a few time a day I set aside time to meditate and pray. And whenever some mean-spirited thought surfaces telling me how dare I dream so big because dreams don’t come true for short, Southern girls like myself, I begin to recite positive affirmations: I am good enough. I will be successful. I am wise. I am worthy of greatness. I’m not perfect—and that’s okay. I’m a work in progress, getting better everyday.

As a writer, I believe in the power of words. Words have life. Positive words are like water to our budding aspirations. Without it, dreams would wither and die just like any living creature deprived of water.

The next time you find yourself thinking negatively about your intelligence, your relationship, your career, whatever it is—ask yourself would you utter what you’re saying in that very moment to your best friend or sibling.

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