A Life Lesson I Wish I Knew At Sixteen

carla coulson, life lessons, self esteem, life the life you love, change your life,

That’s me in middle showing my undies with my two sisters.

Hey Friends,

I had time this holiday to think about some of things I have wasted time on (shhesh the list was long).

But one of the things that stuck out was probably the biggest life lesson I had to learn, self-love.

This may be a little too personal for some of you so please feel free to click off here.

When I was sixteen I lived in Port Macquarie and in theory was having the time of my life. I had great friends, my first boyfriend and a bike that I pedaled from one end of our town to the other, I felt as free as a bird.

In those days I would creep into my brother’s bedroom when he was out (he was the only one with a full length mirror), turn my back to the mirror and angst about the width of my ankles. My bestie had long lean legs with pretzel thin ankles and mine weren’t shaping up anywhere near close to hers. When I was done with my ankles I would turn around and with all my muscle power I could summon I would try my best to create a gap between my legs like the glam girls with long legs at the beach. This was the beginning of many years of comparing myself to others.

On the odd time my mother would catch me, she would tell me that ‘one day you will realize how lucky you are to have strong legs that will carry you through life’.

Hey, I was sixteen as though I was going to listen to my mum!

Not long after my sixteenth birthday my little world fell apart, my dad had a transfer in his job to Sydney and we were all wrenched out of our happy little ‘surfie’ lives in Port Macquarie.

My brothers and sisters were all at different ages, one stayed and the others were young enough to move on but when I hit Sydney my life stopped. I mean literally stopped. I reasoned, I already had life long friends in Port Macquarie, I had been to 3 schools by this stage and no longer wanted to try.

For the best part of the next 5 years I shut down, I made no friends, didn’t have a boyfriend, I refused to get involved with life and skirted around it’s edges, doing the minimum I needed to get by.

Fortunately in my twenties I found a job I loved in marketing and slowly I found a world in the big city were I fitted. I met great people and started a new chapter of my life.

But something was always missing. My self-esteem by this time had taken a battering, the carefree years of a teenager were missing and I did the best I could to cobble together some sort of ‘mask’ that I was together on the outside but on the inside I was still that girl crying in the backseat of the car as my family drove away from my safe place.

I did a dangerous thing, I started to put my self-esteem in the care of others, men.

How I felt about myself was based on how men saw me, treated me, loved me and then eventually left me.

My self-esteem plummeted from one failed relationship to another.

By the time I was 32 I had ‘wasted’ a good half of my adult life not knowing who I was and not feeling the power that you can feel when you believe in yourself.

Things got so bad I could no longer sleep at night, I would drag myself to work, work in a daze and then an exhausted mess head to bed for another sleepless night. I started to take sleeping tablets and things just got worse. This went on for years.

I was lucky, my day of reckoning came and I decided to do something about how bad things had become and found my way to a great bunch (by this stage I needed a whole team!) of healers.

Over time they taught me to value and love myself, to take care of myself, not give everything away to others as I had always done and keep something for myself. I learnt my boundaries and stuck to them.

And then I had an appointment with The Indian Guru. By this stage I was done, I was sick of talking about me, I had re-learnt to sleep (after having wiped out my sleep memory with sleeping tablets) and I felt I could deal with this on my own. One of the kind people who had helped me so much insisted I see the Guru and in one session of 1 hour my life truly changed.

The Guru read my mind and not once did I open my mouth, I cried, he talked and he promised when I walked out of the room I would be different. He moved more energy than a nuclear bomb.

I didn’t even make it to my car before a stream worse than someone afflicted with Tourette’s Syndrome hurled from my mouth. For the first time I can remember I was truly angry, I sat in my car and yelled, screamed and swore. All of a sudden I could ‘see’. Twenty years of angst was gone, those boyfriends appeared weak, frail and un-worthy and in that moment I couldn’t understand why I had wanted to be with them.

But most importantly I could see me. I could see that the kindness was more important than the size of my ankles, I could see that the empathy I had for others was far more important than the gap (or no gap) between my legs, I could see that the goodness outweighed any physical faults and my intelligence was alive and well. My mother after all was right!

I was going to need those strong ‘Munro’ legs for the life I was about to embark on.

From that day forward I have never compared myself to others, I have never looked outwards for my self-esteem but allowed it to be nurtured from inside.

I only realized once I had healed my low self-esteem how much it had held me back, how it had stopped me from living the life that was waiting for me and the difference when your true power flows into your bones and sticks.

I couldn’t hang around my old life for much longer and some of you already know the end to this story but eventually I hopped on a plan to find a new life as a photographer in Italy as told in Italian Joy.

A funny coincidence whilst waiting for a plane to Italy was finding a book by John Gray called How to Get What You Want and Want What You Have, his booked explained what happened to me when I missed out on my teenage years. I was relieved, according to Mr. Gray at different stages of our lives we need different kinds of love and I had missed a biggie. Without correcting it I couldn’t move forward. Hallelujah, there was a reason for all of this.

So dear friends, if you are 16, 20, 25, 30 or 60, the age isn’t important, if you too feel you haven’t yet met the real you or tapped into your true self don’t wait a minute longer. Find someone to lead you out of the maze and allow you to be who you were meant to be.

Remember kindness is more important than the width of your ankles and your mother was probably right!

Love and kisses and I hope this wasn’t too much after a long summer.

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Shell Parsons
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Brilliant post Carla. May I first start by saying that we had identical haircuts when we were little!!! I remember comparing myself to my super slim sister and best friend and even though I didn’t need to lose weight, I started dieting. But somewhere along the way, through the weight highs and lows, I learnt an important lesson. Although my body image mightn’t be great and I need to lose weight (for health and comfort), I have a great self image. I know that I am a loyal friend, a decent person who is worthy of the good things that… Read more »

Lynn
Guest

Wow, I wish we could all have an hour with that Indian Guru! I’m with ya, I feel like I’m halfway there – I’m a great friend with great friends, zero drama in my life, in a loving relationship – but the weight issue is always there… I’m trying to think about it as a health rather than beauty issue, but I feel mostly good and it’s hard to imagine how much better I’d feel if I dropped the pounds. Btw, I normally discount much of what I read on the Goop site, but this article deserves a re-read –… Read more »

Nikki @ Styling You
Guest

Such a beautiful post Carla … and now you get to use those legs running around Paris to bring so much joy to your clients who get so much from spending an afternoon or day with you capturing memories!

Natasha
Guest

Carla, thanks so much for this post – it made me a little teary as I can really relate to so much of what you have written. This is a topic about which I have been thinking an awful lot lately … I waste so much time feeling self-conscious and comparing myself to others. I keep thinking that I should really stop but it’s a habit that’s very hard to break given that it has been formed over so many years! Thank you for showing that it is possible to get through the other side and be truly happy within… Read more »

Abe Khamis
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Abe Khamis

It takes a lifetime to come to these realisations. My 16 year old self would have certainly benefited from your experience. Thank you Carla for your candid honesty and willingness to share yourself. Love, and lots of it!

Sande Chase ~ A Gift Wrapped Life
Guest

Hello Carla, My friend since I was 7 is here taking care of me until my treatment starts today so I was telling her about my Paris trips and of course told her about the wonderful Carla. You have that ‘thing” girl that radiates positivity and joy, and that is what I told her, and how down-to-earth you are even with all your success. And how I just adored spending time with you and Vicki and Handsome Husband! You may look at those years as wasted but somehow they contributed to the joyful life you now lead and I know… Read more »

Melody A.
Guest
Melody A.

What a direct and heartfelt essay of your life that mirrors so many girls and women’s lives and how we give others too much control over our souls and hearts. I became a widow 17 months ago and my husband loved me since I was 17 and all the changes that occurred for both of us was just accepted as part of living. But now, this body image deal has made me pause, as men are looking at me and do I care, should I care what they think? This is most likely my own insecurity coming out as the… Read more »

Melissa Gaggiano
Guest

Yes, I am constantly comparing myself to everyone else. I make things, dolls and photos and then I think ‘what’s the point’. I’m stuck today.

Sharon Santoni
Guest

Dear Carla, what a generous post to write! Honesty like that takes a lot of courage, specially in our oh-so-perfect blog world! I think that everybody compares themselves to others, for some it is a thing that happens now and again, for others it can last for years. What I know for sure is that all you have experienced has made you who you are today, and that each time we have met, it is your open, caring and non-judging character that comes shining through … and that those qualities are certainly part of your talent as a photographer: as… Read more »

Felicity Menadue
Guest
Felicity Menadue

Dearest Carla,
You are so special and beautiful! I love reading your heartfelt words and I relate to so much of it too.
Time spent with you is always quite magical and I feel blessed to have met you. You really make the world a better place.
With much love and a big hug,
Felicity xx

Katherine
Guest
Katherine

Great message and one that we need to share with our daughters/ granddaughters. Why is it that for many women self acceptance and love doesn’t happen (ever) or until much later in life?
I used to work in retail fashion – men exited the dressing room admiring themselves in the mirror; women mostly made comments about loosing weight, putting on the right undergarment for the outfit to make it look better, getting their hair restyled. It was telling and predictable.
Time to give ourselves a break and be our beautiful selves.

Katherine
Guest
Katherine

Oh – and by the way….. the haircut is the ‘Campbell Soup kids cut’. There was not a time that my sister and I looked cuter than when we had that haircut.

Maria
Guest
Maria

What an amazing journey. Thank you for being so candid and sharing your story. It is truly inspiring.

Paula
Guest

Great as usual! We all have personal struggles at a young age. For me it started with my sister being oh “so cute” and -thanks God- I learned very early my lesson about men as I felt in love in my 20’s with a crazy, self-centered, womanizer… This lesson told me to go away from what hurts me. The only problem was that it took me years before I was able to believe in love and men again but 4 years ago I found a real pearl. In fact we learn from life, from people but most of the time,… Read more »

The Vintage Contessa
Guest

I LOVED YOU FROM THE GET GO! NOW,who is the MUNRO in the family…………your MOM? My step MOM is a MUNRO from PORTSMITH, England!!I just noticed her LARGE LEGS for the first time since I have been caring for her after heart surgery at 81!She is doing GREAT.But she too has large legs………..I thought to myself thats because she likes to walk about 3 miles a day!!!The way she has bounced back after this surgery is AMAZING……I had the same surgery 5 years ago and did not BOUNCE back like her!!I was 50.Enough about me………… STUPID MEN………thats all I can… Read more »

Tamara
Guest

Dearest Carla, Your courage in sharing what you experienced in your teens really touches my soul and resonates with me as well. Following our hearts and finding our true nature is indeed all part of the healing process and you have shown how to do it well. Namaste.

Kerry Melgaard
Guest
Kerry Melgaard

Dearest Carla,

What an inspirational post.

You are the most amazing person and I know that being with you in person is the most exhilarating experience.

Your beauty shines from within and you make people around you feel beautiful. That is a gift.

Some people go through life without “seeing the light”.

If you can make a difference in one persons life then you have succeeded.

You have made a difference to so many lives, least of all mine. I still have your handsigned books on my coffee table to see everyday.

Thank you for your friendship Carla.

Love Kerry xx

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