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Sarah Longbottom is familiar with the hurdles one has to overcome to embrace being who you are. Through NgÄ Rangatahi Toa, a mentoring programme of which she is the founder and executive director, Longbottom works with disenfranchised teenagers in South Auckland. NgÄ Rangatahi Toa harnesses the explorative power of creative arts to provide vulnerable youth a space in which they can transform their own lives. âThrough our programme our kids build a sense of purpose and direction.âAs for why Longbottom turned to creativity to empower youth, she explains that it was the obvious choice. âTo be who you are, you have to be well. Creativity is an outlet that allows you to be who you are,â she says. âWhat we do is all about love, kindness, and compassion. But first itâs self-love, self-kindness and self-compassion.â
Longbottomâs journey began with herself. âI realised I wasnât practicing love, kindness and compassion to myself, so I was limited in how much I could authentically inhabit these values with others. As soon as I started cultivating unconditional positive regard for myself, then it became very natural and easy to have this as the baseline to the way I move in the world,â she says.Â A good place to start is to stop concerning ourselves with how others see us, says Longbottom. âThat poison of comparison is bred into us at an early age. The world we live in seeks to fix our identities from very early on â we are relentlessly told who and how we are supposed to be and, like it or not, we internalise these limitations,â she says.
âThrough NgÄ Rangatahi Toa, creative arts are employed in a therapeutic and cathartic manner to explore the stories we tell ourselves. A lot of our kids have been surrounded by negativity â at school, in the community â and they have internalised this perceptionÂ of how the world sees them. We create an environment for them to reinvent themselves.âBeing accepting of the fact that everyone has self-esteem issues is just as crucial to self-kindness and self-compassion. âEveryone has self-esteem issues. Itâs part of the human experience,â believes Longbottom. âFor me personally, and what I try to instill in my staff, is donât hate on that part of you that feels unworthy, donât run away from it.â
Instead, Longbottom says itâs important to be aware of your feelings and be curious. âBe aware of the world we live in, the messages weâre bombarded with on a day-to-day basis through the media. Accept and love this as part of who you are, and have a deep understanding that youâre not the only person feeling that way.âÂ Longbottom freely admits that she struggles with self-esteem issues herself. âIt would be easy to hate on this part of myself (which I do sometimes), but I think the practice is to look at, accept and love that part of myself. When I do, my self-doubt seems to lose its power, and I can be who I am with more ease.â