Back in 1990, Kim Coles was on top of the world. The comedienne had just snagged what she still considers the gig of a lifetime, winning a role on the inaugural season of the sketch comedy show In Living Color. “There was a big ramp-up to the premiere, and it was a success right away,” Coles recalls. But her excitement was short-lived. After the first season, Coles was released. “The embarrassment, the hurt, the shame,” Coles says of the feelings she internalized. And those on the outside only made it worse. “I went to a party and a girl walked up to me and said, ‘Excuse me, didn’t you used to be Kim Coles?’”
Coles felt what many of us experience when we doubt our worth in the wake of a setback. For months, Coles bought into this perception: “I would think, ‘If I don’t get another television series, am I still valid? Am I still me?’”
What Coles learned during that time is it’s easy to love yourself when things are good and dreams are fulfilled. But when life lets you down or goals aren’t quite met, self-love can sometimes give way to self-loathing. Coles says she realized she held lots of love for the “future” Kim Coles, who she imagined landing her next big break. But her love was lacking for out-of-work “current” Kim Coles. Then she had an epiphany. Rather than wait for the next TV show to define her worth, she would practice self-love whether she worked in television again or not.
There is a difference between accepting yourself during your current situation and resigning yourself to things staying the same. Francine Ward, a California-based self-esteem coach and copyright trademark attorney says you can love yourself as is while still wanting to be better. Ward adds, “If you don’t accept yourself now, you won’t accept yourself later.”
And Coles did just that. The 48-year-old looked inward at what she already possessed to help redesign her life. “I thought, ‘I still have gifts,’” she says, a sentiment proving to be a major turning point in her life. Today, Coles combines her comedy with motivation, talking to crowds about how they too can celebrate their true potential (kimcoles.tv). Her message, G.I.F.T.S., is an acronym for her journey toward self-acceptance and can help others progress on their own path toward cultivating self-love:
G Gratitude. Appreciating what’s going right in your life is one of the best ways to take the focus off what may be wrong. This involves acknowledging those unique skills and talents that give us an advantage. “As far back as high school, I decided I wanted to be the funny girl,’” she recalls. By reminding herself of her ability to excel in comedy and public speaking, and recognizing not everyone shared her talents, “I began to view myself as a commodity,” she adds.
I Intention. Once you remember your gifts, come up with ways to use them immediately. Coles had no control over someone hiring her, so she took control. “I thought, ‘I could do a one-woman show or standup,’” says Coles, who discovered she had more options and power than previously thought. And someone, somewhere will rely on your distinct abilities and skills. “When people need you, you think, ‘I’m worthwhile just as I am with a unique contribution to make,’” says Pamela Everett Thompson, a psychologist and life coach based in Atlanta. Whether it’s identifying new career options like Coles or volunteering, know where and how you can positively affect others.
F Forgiveness. You have to forgive yourself for not recognizing your gifts earlier as well as forgive others who consciously or inadvertently overlook your value. Also, acknowledge your shortcomings. It’s OK to admit there’s something you want to change. Pretending everything is great can do more harm than good, says Thompson. She adds, “You use so much energy when you try to hide problems from yourself.”
T Triumphs. Recognize there will be triumphs. In 1993, Coles won the role she affectionately calls “the sparkling jewel of my career”—Synclaire James on the sitcom Living Single. When you celebrate the triumphs, remember that just as failures and setbacks don’t define you, successes should not define you. And of course, no one will feel good all the time, notes Ward.
S Self-Love. Once you discover your gifts, find a way to display them, forgive yourself and others for not appreciating them, and detach from your failures and successes, Cole says, you will attain self-love. But when we believe we don’t deserve happiness until we’ve achieved our goals, we’re practicing self-loathing, says Ward. The concept of self-love is about recognizing your value at all times. It’s being OK with yourself before, during, and after you set out on your journey.