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Published March 23 2014

Linnares: Let go of labels and find your true worth

My heart was pounding as I sat minutes away from stepping on stage to speak in front of more than 600 women at the Women’s Philanthropy and Leadership Conference in South Carolina.

At that moment, I couldn’t help but feel grateful, honored and amazed by how much my life had changed since the first time I had the opportunity to share my ideas with a group of people in the United States.

After my speech last month, a young woman named Naomi came up to me. She was a college student who was born in Vietnam but had lived in the U.S. for many years.

Naomi shared her fears of going to job interviews.

“I am from Vietnam, and I am afraid some people will judge me by my accent and for where I came from. Do you understand?”

Yes, I understood Naomi’s insecurities – more than she could know.

Nine years ago when I moved from Brazil to Fargo, I was invited to a meeting for a non-profit organization.

Instead of 600 women, I was asked to share my ideas with a group of just eight people. I still remember the moment the executive director asked, “Chris, do you have any ideas that you would like to share?”

Dozens of ideas were running through my mind, yet no words came out of my mouth. I was so afraid to speak English that I was bombarded by negative thoughts that made me see myself as an outsider unworthy of using my voice.

Self-doubt can be a form of fear that contaminates faith in ourselves. It can cause us to feel insecure and isolated from others and blocks our path from our true potential.

Even though the U.S. is a nation of immigrants, many studies reveal that low self-esteem and negative self-identity issues especially affect first- and second-generation immigrants.

In Naomi’s case, I believe one of the reasons for her insecurities was that she saw parts of herself – like her accent and ethnicity – as a whole representation of who she was in the world.

With this perception, she ended up labeling herself, just as I had, as an outsider and not good enough.

I admit I am still confused when asked to label or categorize “who I am” in this beautiful country.

I can’t say I am “Hispanic” because the term means “descendant of Spanish-speaking people.” Studies show that many Brazilians don’t even agree with the definition of “Latin” because when this word is not used as a synonym of “Hispanic,” it’s used to define someone who comes from countries where a Romance Latin language is spoken.

I can’t control how others are going to define me, but in order to overcome my own insecurities and identity crisis, I learned to choose and believe in my own labels, my own definition of who I am. In my case, I decided to describe myself in just one simple word: “worthy.”

I am worthy beyond my gender, heritage, ethnicity or any singular beautiful part of me. I am worthy!

I don’t know if this can help brilliant young women like Naomi overcome their negative self-identity and start seeing themselves as part of this mosaic culture.

What I know is that we all live in a great nation that was founded on the belief that “All men are created equal.”

Chris Linnares is an international author, psychotherapist and founder of Women’s Impact. Originally from Brazil, she lives in Fargo with her daughter and husband, Bill Marcil Jr., publisher of The Forum. For more information on Linnares’ work, visit www.chrislinnares.com.