“Paint Your Ox”*

“i notice everything i do not have

and decide it is beautiful”
– rupi kaur


The words of this poem have been haunting me all week. Their truth has pierced me as I’ve found myself, for no good reason, being extremely unkind to myself lately. I sat on a different bicycle in my cycle class this week that had a different view from what I normally see of myself. Instead of seeing the strong body that has lost 39.5 pounds since mid May, I saw all the parts of me that were moving around that I wanted to be gone!

Why is it that I do not attribute beauty to so many of my own qualities?

And this is not just a beauty problem. It runs pervasive in our culture. We are so used to seeing the world through our unique perspective, offering our gifts and strengths into the world, that we no longer see them as strengths. They seem common to us. The really good qualities, the strong qualities, the intelligent qualities are those possessed by others.

I work with people using personality assessments to write their resumes. Over and over again people spend more of their energy trying to hide what they see as negative. I’m not a detail oriented person and so that must be what they want and so I spend lots of energy proving that I am a detail oriented person. This only gets you a job that is not a good fit for you.

Just because you possess a trait, have a certain quality, possess a certain perspective does not immediately mean that it is common. We have to stop spending more time working to improve the things we do not see as valuable, the things we see as a deficit, and spend more time improving, growing and embracing what we do have to offer the world.

In her book, Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert tells the following story:

“I once encountered a man in India who owned nothing of value but an ox. The ox had two handsome horns. In order to celebrate his ox, the man had painted one of the horns hot pink and the other turquoise blue. He then glued little bells to the tips of each horn, so that when the ox shook its head, its flash pink and blue horns made a cheerful tinkling sound. 

This hardworking and financially stressed man had only one valuable possession, but he had embellished it to the max, using whatever materials he could get his hands on-a bit of house paint, a touch of glue, and some bells. As a result of his creativity, he now possessed the most interesting looking ox in town. For what? Just because. Because a decorated ox is better than a non-decorated ox, obviously!” (p. 157 *which is also where the title for this post was taken)

We all have an ox, we just have to figure out what it is and know how to paint it. We have to stop naming traits beautiful, intelligent, important just because we do not possess them.

  • Find someone who can speak honestly about your strengths. Take a personality assessment, ask for a job evaluation, etc. Name your ox.
  • Find out how to best paint it. Work with a coach to develop your strengths, to name and claim what it is you have to offer and what you value in the world. Seek out leadership development opportunities and experiences to develop your strengths. Clearly name what kind of work, what kind of opportunities, what kind of relationships are the best fit and work to make those the reality in your life.

Now, stop being so critical at the image in the mirror, in the negative comments of others and get busy painting that ox.

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