By Jennifer Mrozek Sukalo
Picture a strong, vibrant, confident, and independent young woman. You might even say she had swagger. You know, that intangible quality a person has who can walk into a room and light it up. Well, that was me, pre-divorce that is.
I got married at 23, a toxic and unhealthy relationship that lasted less than a year. By the time I turned 24, my husband and I were separated and beginning a lengthy divorce process. When the ink on the papers had dried, the divorce proceedings had officially lasted longer than the marriage itself.
By the end of the marriage, I was working three jobs and on the verge of homelessness, all my worldly possessions tucked away in a storage facility, under lock and key. The only thing that kept me from living in my car was my aunt, who took me in.
Do you know what it’s like to come home from work to find an eviction notice on your front door? Well, I do. It’s gut-wrenching, and not something I’d ever wish on anyone.
I was an emotional wreck and I’ll never forget the comment my therapist at the time said to me, “I still haven’t found any reasons to hate you, so why do you?”
I remember the day I hit rock bottom. I felt like Alice in Wonderland, with my world slowly, painfully shrinking around me. It was as if I was paralyzed and couldn’t move. The weight of it all had finally caught up with me.
I had failed spectacularly. The once assertive, confident, positive young woman I had been had vanished. The person I saw in the mirror I barely recognized—an insecure, scared, utterly exhausted shell of a human being.
I felt as if I had been branded with a scarlet letter: a capital “D” on my forehead signifying divorced, damaged, danger—take your pick.
My swagger was gone, and I was sure that someone had stolen it.
I’m not talking about your standard dictionary definition of swagger. I’m talking about the process of truly embracing who you are, stepping into the power you already have, and unleashing your untapped potential. And to do that, I’ve defined SWAGGER in a whole new way.
SWAGGER stands for:
SW – Self-worth
A – Appreciation for your strengths and limitations
G – Gratitude for how your life experiences have helped shape who you are
G – Grounded in your core values
E – Empowered to overcome your self-limiting beliefs and be your authentic self
R – Renewed through a greater focus on your passion and purpose
The truth is that my SWAGGER wasn’t stolen, it had never truly been claimed. Celebrating my scars is one of the most powerful lessons I’ve learned in my quest to claim it and that starts with gratitude.
Let’s Talk Gratitude
Gratitude is the first G in SWAGGER, and it’s an incredibly important part of the journey because of the power it holds.
Gratitude can also be described as “thankfulness.” It’s defined by Psychology Today as “the expression of appreciation for what one has. It’s a recognition of value independent of monetary worth.” Now, the word choice here is intentional. Notice that the definition focuses on appreciating what you have.
Gratitude isn’t about comparing yourself to others or telling yourself that other people have it much worse than you. It is also not about replacing or suppressing negative emotions with positive ones.
When I talk about gratitude, I’m talking about the practice of expressing thanks for the good, the bad, and the ugly, so to speak. It’s about finding appreciation for both the blessed and the horrible things that have taken place in your life. Practicing gratitude is the ability to reframe situations in a way that rewires your brain to find at least some good in every experience, no matter how terrible it seems initially.
I know. It sounds quite impossible to find gratitude for some trauma that you experienced in your life. However, you can do it. The trick is to identify one thing that happened as a result of an experience, that wouldn’t have materialized without the experience, and being grateful for that. In this way, I like to say that gratitude is really about outcome.
Do I want to relive the painful experience of my divorce? Absolutely not! However, I am grateful for having had the experience. If not for my divorce, I probably wouldn’t be here writing this. I wouldn’t be married to my current amazing husband, I wouldn’t have made the same decisions that led me here, and I certainly wouldn’t be the same powerful, resilient, and perfectly imperfect person I am today. Our life experiences shape who we are and how we show up.
Have you ever heard of kintsugi?
Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery using gold. Through this process, once broken and useless pottery is given a new lease on life. Disparate pieces are joined, and the cracks are filled with gold, causing them to gleam and shine. These flaws and scars of gold transform the pottery into works of art.
The cracks become a focal point, instead of something to be hidden. Breaking and repairing are viewed as natural parts of an object’s history in Japan. When the process of kintsugi is undergone, the brilliant gold cracks are celebrated, transforming the previously broken pottery into exquisite and highly valued art. Since no two pieces of pottery ever break in exactly the same way, each new piece that results from kintsugi becomes unique, with its own signature look.
Think of yourself as a piece of kintsugi pottery. Every experience you have is like a crack that forms, creating part of a signature look. Just like the uniqueness of your fingerprints, no one has exactly the same experiences as you. The scars formed from your life experiences are part of what makes you not only unique, but extraordinary.
Sometimes an experience you have in your life might cause you to shatter into pieces. Regardless of that damage, the key thing to remember is that you can be put back together and become even more spectacular and unique than you were before. That starts with choosing not to be defined by your experience, but to be grateful for how you’ve grown and developed as a result of the experience.
Instead of filling the cracks of your pottery with gold, as in kintsugi, you fill the cracks your life experiences create with gratitude. Gratitude is your gold; it’s what transforms you into a work of art that’s waiting to be revealed to the world.
With gratitude as your gold, you can proudly let your blemishes shine. You can own your story and allow yourself to be who you choose to be. Instead of something to be hidden or ashamed of, the scars of your life become part of your beauty, your uniqueness, and your SWAGGER.
Jennifer Mrozek Sukalo is a speaker, author and transformational coach and expert. She is the author of the book series, Claim Your Swagger and the creator, founder, and CSO of SWAGGERU.