It was silly. It was cheesy. And it was daily.
My father had gone to see a motivational speaker give a talk about self-confidence. He returned home with a fistful of smiling cartoon tiger stickers that had "Hello, tiger. I love you!" written on them and proceeded to apply these stickers to every bathroom mirror in our house.
Every morning this sticker would stare back at us as we brushed our teeth, and my father would make us say to ourselves, out loud: "I love you, tiger." (By the way — all of us were in high school.)
That was our daily ritual, one designed by Dad to make us think about self-confidence as a habit. It was a little embarrassing, sure. But he always used to remind us, "You're your own worst enemy." Believe in yourself and put in the work, he told us, and you can do pretty much anything.
He wanted his kids — all of us, but given the world we live in, especially his two daughters — to know there was nothing we couldn't accomplish if we had three things: confidence in ourselves, passion for the task at hand, and a willingness to work our asses off. But he had two sides to him, two ways he drove that lesson home. There was the logical and rational side, which inspired him to give his children a three-day seminar on the benefits of mind-mapping (I was in the third grade for that one). Then there was the cuddly, emotional side, which brings us back to . . . "Hello, tiger. I love you!"
Self-love-as-mantra came in very handy during my equestrian career. Competitive horseback riding is a humbling sport. No one wins every time, and even after a winning performance, you have to sit back and analyze not only what went right but everything you did wrong. Then you figure out how to fix those mistakes for next time; how to be better. It's a relentless iteration process that will beat you down if you don't believe in yourself, fully commit, and work as hard as you can. Most important, you have to get rid of the fear that you're not good enough, and one of the best ways to do that is to be OK with yourself. To (yes!) love yourself, no matter what.
An interesting fact many people might not know about equestrian sports is that they're gender-blind: men and women literally compete against each other on a level playing field. Depending on your point of view, this may or may not have prepared me for one of my first corporate jobs, at a streetwear company dominated by men. On the one hand, any woman who has looked around a conference room and seen men both above and below her on the ladder knows we're not playing the same game as they are — or at least, playing it by the same rules. But as when I was competing on the equestrian circuit, I knew that my value was absolute, regardless of my gender. The importance of knowing your self-worth in environments like this is paramount. I proactively sought out mentorship, I spoke up, and I solved problems, all with my typical no-bullsh*t attitude. By doing so, I made a seat for myself at the boys' table. None of that would have happened if I were beset by doubt or fear. (Thanks, tiger!)
But my biggest challenges still lay ahead. In 2015, I decided to lean into two of my passions — animals and wellness — to start a subscription dog food company called Ollie. My two business partners and I spent months getting our startup off the ground. The endless hours we put in to draw up the business model, run the numbers, and find investors were yet another reminder of what my father had taught me: if you're going to succeed at something, you're going to have to work hard. So you damn well better love it!
Even so, there were many times I could have come close to giving up. It was stressful to feel like I had to hide my baby bump in front of potential investors. It wasn't part of the plan to go into labor the same day we closed our Series A funding round. It was exhausting, physically and emotionally, to be nursing and pumping, figuring out how to balance my professional life and motherhood, and feeling guilt both at work and at home for the first few months of my daughter Sasha's life. These are the times it can be easy to beat yourself up — to feel like a failure, or that you're just not enough.
But these are also the times it's most important to love yourself. To remember that you are inherently valuable. Knowing your worth is a critical element of being successful — in business, because no one is ever going to give you more than what you ask for, so you better ask for everything you think you deserve (or maybe a little more, to be safe). In life, because it lets you seek out help when you need it, without fear of being seen as weak or somehow less than. That support, from my family, coworkers, and friends, is what got me through the hardest times. That, and learning to love myself.
I recently asked my dad about that old tiger sticker. Did he remember why he'd made us go through that daily ritual in front of the mirror, what the point of it was? He texted me back immediately: "To overcome the pervasive human frailty. We all (most of us) harbor the fear that we are 'not good enough' — self-doubt. There are many actions and disciplines that one needs to take to mitigate the fear. Loving oneself is a small but very important action in that quest."
I couldn't put it better myself. And although I might not use those exact words to explain the importance of self-confidence to Sasha, the sentiment is one I plan to pass on to her.
Well, as soon as she's big enough to see herself in the bathroom mirror.