There is not F word. Failure does not exist. — If you accept this for yourself, you will close the gap between knowing how to love yourself and actually doing it. If you take failure as very much needed experience and self-growth, you will be proactive. And self-love is an act of doing.
As a part of our series about “How To Learn To Finally Love Yourself” I had the pleasure to interview Katia Stern.
Katia, known as “The Wow woman”, is the author of an international bestselling book, “You were born Wow” and the co-author of the bestselling book “Success” with Jack Canfield, America’s #1 Success Coach, Founder of the billion-dollar Chicken Soup for the Soul™ publishing empire.
Katia is an empowerment coach, who helped hundreds of women in 25 countries.
Among other accolades, Katia is a Psychology major and has a Masters Degree in International Law, LLM, she is a certified Jack Canfield Success Principles Coach and a certified health coach, IIN.
She is also Canada’s National level fitness bikini competitor and Mrs. Canada Classique, 2020.
Thank you so much for joining us! I’d love to begin by asking you to give us the backstory as to what brought you to this specific career path.
Ever since I was little, I was in search of an answer to what seems to be an easy question: What does it mean to be a great woman — a woman whose model of behavior, appearance, occupation, way of life and philosophy of thinking would suit me the most? A woman I’d want to be like, whose life and activities would inspire and motivate me. On my quest to find that woman, I looked closely and tried on all possible options. Too many, maybe. Only now, I realize that I was looking for the woman who accepts and loves herself. In reality I was looking for myself. My own way, my own path. I never find that woman. I had to create her, my version of the Wow Woman. Me.
My life seemed perfect to everyone else. I was born and raised in Moscow, Russia and moved to Toronto, Canada at the age of 17. Coming from a wealthy, and by communist standards, successful family, by 40, I have achieved my version of success through different educational accolades, including a BA in Psychology and a master’s degree in Law.
I was splitting my time between Toronto, Miami, and Monaco. Had a handsome man with a boat and a Ferrari as a bonus. Amazing talented daughter, 2 law degrees, lucrative business.
But to me, my success was “on paper”. I was never happy with myself. No matter how much I achieved, I never felt “enough”. I never loved or accepted myself.
By 40, things have gotten much worse. My body was not the way I imagined it to be at 40, my relationships did not feel the same, even Monaco didn’t feel like a fairytale anymore. Also, I had to admit to myself that law is not what I see myself doing every day. I felt old, lost, stuck.
I remember how I was waking up in the middle of the night thinking “Is my life over? Is that is all there is?” And cried myself back to sleep.
I was suffocated by my own life and had to find a way out of that nightmare.
As I rushed out of my burning house just steps ahead of a fast-moving smoke, my heart pounding, I knew I was just one breath from death, and suddenly realized I hadn’t really lived. My life would be over without ever having begun. I had lost my passion for joy. Since that “wow, is that it?” moment, I gave myself permission to follow my dreams of becoming a fitness competitor, bestselling author, and Mrs. Canada. And now I help other women find their fire within. It really shouldn’t take a brush with death, to start living!
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you hope that they might help people along their path to self-understanding or a better sense of wellbeing in their relationships?
I love working with women who value personal development and are on the path to self-understanding. Oftentimes, this type of women are “in the helping professions, they are dedicated to lifting up others. They are absolutely amazing in what they do. But they get too busy being on a mission, that they get drained themselves.
Before Covid times, I solved these problems by online coaching. Now, we are even more drained from Zoom meetings and want to get connected in the real world. I have an enormous amount of energy and expertise to share. My woman understands that self-care, a form of self-love, is a business necessity. She understands how her wellbeing is important for her professional and personal life. She is looking for ways to reinvent herself after the pandemic physically, mentally, emotionally without having to spend months of her precious time on more online trainings. So, I created the “Wow Woman Retreat” — space for “the helpers” to get so needed help. I don’t ask women to “marry me” for 3 or 6 months of coaching, I am asking to give me and herself only 7 days. I don’t promise we live happily ever after, but we’ll, at least, have lots of fun. And life is about fun, isn’t it?
Do you have a personal story that you can share with our readers about your struggles or successes along your journey of self-understanding and self-love? Was there ever a tipping point that triggered a change regarding your feelings of self- acceptance?
The first part of my life is one big story of struggles. The second, after 40 is an inspirational self-love story.
My own journey of finding that self-love started around age 14 — exactly how old my I remember when I began to realize that, as a woman, I needed to take care of myself in all different aspects. I started using make-up, buying creams, and performing self-made manicures that ended up in blood and wounds. I experimented with my mother’s clothes and my father’s alcohol.
The notion of being skinny and the awareness of calories and diets came into my life through some western magazines that slowly started to be available after the Moscow Olympic Games in 1980. I started counting calories and writing them in a special journal. I tried fasting for days and incorporated some anorexia and bulimia techniques in my daily routine.
Why was I doing it? At 14, a girl is starting to become a Wow woman. She’s looking for her new identity. She’s trying on different versions of herself. She feels grown up, but lacks experience. She needs support, but feels like her parents just don’t get it. They forget that they were that age once.
My loving and caring father once said in front of some people that I’d gained weight. That hurt. So, I made a decision that I was not good enough and not worthy of love. This decision became the paradigm of my identity. If my father, who was my role model, said that, it was definitely true. Obviously, all my life I wanted to improve. So I did everything to be skinny and be successful. The search for skinny ended up with 20 years of bulimia and the search for success brought me a lot of certifications and diplomas to decorate the walls.
First tipping point that triggered change regarding my self-acceptance was my friend’s mother’s suicide.
She found out that her husband was having an affair with a younger woman and decided to improve to look young and feel attractive again. She became a vegetarian, vegan, then a raw food enthusiast. I remember her making juices out of everything green. She quit eating salt. She told me, “Katia, the food is talking to me. It tells me what’s good and what’s evil for me. We have a great relationship.”
Obviously, her body was protesting. It refused to function. It stopped digestion totally. Then her mind started to give up. When her husband took her to the hospital, she took it as an insult. She claimed he wanted to commit her and get rid of her.
One day I was pulling up to their building and saw the police and an ambulance. I also saw a covered body on the ground. There was blood. As I got to the apartment, there was an investigation going on. She had jumped out of the twelfth-floor window. As the police finished their agenda, I was the first one to walk into the room. I’ll never forget what I saw: a neatly laid out pair of black pants on the bed and a white button-down silk shirt. A pair of black high heels were standing on the floor beside the bed. She’d prepared her clothes to look perfect in the coffin.
I was 21 at the time and couldn’t study, couldn’t function properly. It made me think a lot and reevaluate ideas about the search for perfection, diets and self-worth. It made me suffer a lot, but I needed this lesson to realize that perfection is unreachable, and not even needed. Happiness doesn’t mean being perfect — it’s being enough as you are and accepting what is. Only from that place we can make ourselves better.
According to a recent study cited in Cosmopolitan, in the US, only about 28 percent of men and 26 percent of women are “very satisfied with their appearance.” Could you talk about what some of the causes might be, as well as the consequences?
Yes, I can totally relate. I was never satisfied with my appearance. Especially with my body. The face was pretty. But the body didn’t fit into the “standards” in the media. Of course, that was damaging. Most passionately, I hated my hips. I was hiding them under designers’ clothes, did all sorts of expensive procedures, was thinking about a liposuction. Obviously, there is a lot of media and societal pressure on young girls that grow up feeling inadequate. Consequences are drastic- from being unhappy to suicidal thoughts and, oftentimes, actions.
Also, as I mentioned earlier, parents may contribute to that feeling of inadequacy by trying to motivate kids to be better. I understand that no parent wants to harm their child, but we should be careful with choosing our methods. I never criticize my 17 years old daughter and focus on how beautiful she is. There is always room for improvement, but only when there is already an acceptance. Interestingly enough, it’s now her mission to get this message across to her audience on social media. She has around 500 k followers on Tik Tok and I love how she is using her platforms to help other young girls become confident and feel comfortable in their own skin. Wish I had somebody my age to help me with my confidence and self-love in my teenage years.
To some, the concept of learning to truly understand and “love yourself,” may seem like a cheesy or trite concept. But it is not. Can you share with our readers a few reasons why learning to love yourself it’s truly so important?
It definitely seemed like an overrated concept to me. What self-love? I loooove myself soooo much! I get manicures and pedicures; I buy Gucci bags and Chanel shoes. I have degrees from the best Universities, I even go to the gym once in a while. Oh! And I don’t eat gluten or dairy… I honestly thought that was self-love!
And that’s what I hear from my clients now. Unfortunately, they are not accepting that it’s not love. It’s more of a lust. It’s not serious, strong or long enough. Self-love is about allowing ourselves to feel different feelings, accept different states, go through different moods. Otherwise, you we are at constant odds with ourselves. We declare a state of war, and become warriors. I often hear women say, “I’m going to fight my fat ass and win this battle,” or “I’ll kill my laziness and conquer my fears.” Do you notice the words? Words define our actions, add meaning and rule our reality. Words show that inner battle with lots of pain and suffering.
Think about this. When you’re at war, you’re fighting against somebody. Usually there are at least two sides in every war. Agreed? So, if you are in that battle with yourself, on the other side of the battle there is your enemy — and that enemy is you. In a war, one side is going to lose. What are the chances it’s going to be you who will lose that battle? If your war is between you and you, aren’t the odds of you losing 100%?
Self-love is about treating our bodies and minds with healthy food, healthy emotions, healthy relationships. Training or clean eating is not torture or act of self-hatred. Discipline is the highest form of self-love. Allowing ourselves to make the best choices for us. Not feeling guilty for our own desires. Not being afraid to look selfish. Knowing that “No” is a complete sentence and no explanation needed. Being honest with yourself and aligned with your desires. That’s self-love. Definitely, its’ not cheesy. It’s the root of most suffering. But the good news: it’s the key to most happiness!
Why do you think people stay in mediocre relationships? What advice would you give to our readers regarding this?
Interestingly enough, when I was getting my BA in Psychology, I wrote a term paper on why women stay in abusive relationships. Of course, there is a difference between abusive and mediocre, but they have the same root. Our favorite subject — self-love, or lack thereof.
Why had I picked that subject? I’d never experienced it in my family. I’d never seen anything like that in real life. Did I predict my future? Did I create it
I was sure, that women who stay in abusive relationships decide to be victims of circumstance. They’re weak and too scared to take action. They choose this type of life. It’s a decision they make. They decide to live like that and it becomes their new comfort zone. They adapt because of the fear that it could be worse. To be honest, I even felt some disrespect toward those who stayed and suffered. I was so sure that if they made a decision to be strong, to be in control of their own lives, things would get better. I was young and had it all figured out.
But I didn’t. I wasn’t aware of one strong feeling; one compelling reason not to make my own move out of my own mediocre relationship with some elements of abuse. The guilt I’d have about raising my daughter without her father. That was probably the worst guilt I’ve ever experienced.
I did not want to take the abuse, but I felt like the decision to leave would be based on my selfish needs, not taking into account my daughter’s feelings about not having a “normal,” full family like I did.
The paradigm of having that “normal” family was haunting me terribly. It was what I grew up with. In my world, I always heard wise and mature women say that you have to suffer to keep the family together — that it’s not about me; it’s about my daughter. And I listened, until I made a decision to think differently. For myself. For the love of me.
So, my advice is to think differently. Whether you have children or not, be true to yourself and ask what’s keeping you in that relationship? Guilt, shame, fears? Any relationship based anything other than love are destined to hurt. Do you like to be hurt? Some people do. It’s your choice. We can’t love or even accept love, if we don’t or accept or love ourselves.
When I talk about self-love and understanding I don’t necessarily mean blindly loving and accepting ourselves the way we are.
Many times, self-understanding requires us to reflect and ask ourselves the tough questions, to realize perhaps where we need to make changes in ourselves to be better not only for ourselves but our relationships. What are some of those tough questions that will cut through the safe space of comfort we like to maintain, that our readers might want to ask themselves? Can you share an example of a time that you had to reflect and realize how you needed to make changes?
Absolutely! Self- reflection is necessary, but very often unbearable to accept the truth. We tend to avoid reality because it’s hard to admit that we’ve been doing something “wrong” for years or that there is something new, unknown and uncomfortable has to be done in order to get new desired outcome. Obviously, none of us wants to feel like a failure. So, we chose not to play the game.
And it’s fine not to play, not to compete, not to win. Not everybody is an Olympic champion. But only if that’s not your dream to be that champion. If you are, then blindly accepting yourself is not going to get you on that pedestal.
One question we should ask ourselves is — Am I honestly happy with the way things are in the particular field? Do I want to improve? Or it’s somebody’s expectations of me and I should let go of those expectations and accept myself as is? Where is the fine line between self-acceptance and the need for growth? Close your eyes and ask yourself: What do I want? What do I really want? If here your answer and that makes you feel lighter and bigger inside, than go for it. If you shrink, it’s a “no”.
The toughest question I asked myself was if was happy with my body when I look at my photo form behind and faced the naked truth. Is this what I dreamt of? Is this even me? There was no alignment between who I was inside and outside, and no connection between my body and mind. I cried for a couple of weeks and then I realized I had to make some real self-love happen.
So many don’t really know how to be alone, or are afraid of it. How important is it for us to have, and practice, that capacity to truly be with ourselves and be alone (literally or metaphorically)?
Being happy with somebody is a nice bonus to being in love with yourself. It would be strange to expect to give something to another person, if you can’t even give that to the most important person in your life — you. Women oftentimes keep going in circles, looking for the Mrs. Perfect. days, months, years. Why? Because, in most cases, they are looking for that Mrs. for the wrong reason — out of fear to be alone. And, when you are in fear, you are on low vibrations and, by the Law of Attraction, you attract a partner, who is also on those low frequencies. But that’s not what you ordered!
So, my advice, based on my own story and hundreds of my clients, until you’ve mastered to be Mrs. Perfect, don’t even go looking.
How does achieving a certain level of self-understanding and self-love then affect your ability to connect with and deepen your relationships with others?
Once you in acceptance of yourself, you know how to accept others.
When you release self- judgment, you are not as judgmental of others.
If you let go of any expectations of how you are supposed to be, you don’t expect anything of others.
When you start trusting yourself — you trust others,
And when you manage to surrender to life, you surrender to the Universe and become abundant.
Can you imagine living like that? Without fears? Without expectations? Understanding and loving yourself and, therefore, connecting on a totally different level with your partner, children, collogues? It’s very liberating, trust me on this. Surrender.
In your experience, what should a) individuals and b) society, do to help people better understand themselves and accept themselves?
From my experience, people don’t take 100% responsibility for their zone of control. We can master our thoughts, chose our emotions and created outcomes. Very often people blame the events — government, weather, parents, schools, teachers for what’s happening to us. We spend so much time complaining about the circumstances instead of doing something about it. Also, we take tend to control other people’s behaviors, without first managing our own. That’s where we lose power and self-confidence. It’s not possible to control other’s people’s feelings and emotions. Yes, even if it’s your husband, believe it or not.)
Actually, when you practice that 100% responsibility rule, not other people, nor the Society would be able to influence you in any way. You would be totally independent from what people think of you, because it’s not in your zone of comfort. But since we are not robots and live in the real perfectly imperfect world, I think the society is putting too much focus on what’s wrong with us. Of course, different industries use our pain points and weaknesses to sell magical products to improve us — make us more beautiful, skinny, smart, enough. But we are enough as is. Because we were born Wow!
Here is the main question of our discussion. What are 5 strategies that you implement to maintain your connection with and love for yourself, that our readers might learn from? Could you please give a story or example for each?
Listen to your real desires. What do you want?
Write down ALL the things you want to achieve, do, and try. Be careful here. Don’t write the things you NEED to do; write down the things you WANT to do! Those that will let you feel the Wow the ones that make you feel alive and happy, and the ones that bring you joy and contentment. You know what they are because you’ve always wanted to do them, but you’ve been waiting until that perfect moment. Let’s pretend this is the perfect moment. Just write it down.
That’s how I made a decision to compete in the fitness competition at 42. I wrote that daring goal down and crossed it out, because my brain was telling me “Stop it! What are you doing? Are you crazy? Who are you to do that?” But then I wrote it again and just left it there. Next time I looked it, it didn’t feel that impossible of a goal.
Make a decision to trust your own intuition in making decisions.
Just accept the idea that everything is always working out for you. And don’t expect to know what’s right for you a 100% — 51 is just enough. Don’t overthink. You are always right!
I could not possibly know that I was making a right decision leaving my daughters’ father. We don’t ever know anything. The rewards came in later. Best decision of my life.
There is not F word. Failure does not exist.
If you accept this for yourself, you will close the gap between knowing how to love yourself and actually doing it. If you take failure as very much needed experience and self-growth, you will be proactive. And self-love is an act of doing.
When I didn’t pass the NY Bar Exam to become a lawyer in NY State, I was devastated. Turned out to be the best thing that could happen to me. It prevented from climbing the wrong ladder for another, who knows, 10–15 years.
Change you inner critic to inner coach.
When we were little, our parents may have yelled at us, got angry and grounded us for days after we did something stupid like jump of a tree. And we took it as criticism, as us being not worthy of love, not being good enough. The real parent’s communication was, “I love you. I don’t want you to get hurt. I want you to be healthy and happy.”
Your inner self-critic, like you parent, is giving you that anger part of the message. I’ve learnt to understand that underneath that anger, there are three layers of message that never got delivered — fear, specific requests, and love. I’ve trained myself and my clients to talk to the inner critic from those hidden positions of fear, care and love. For example, instead of beating myself up for skipping my workout, I explain that being protective of my wellbeing, put in a request to follow my self-care schedule and remind myself that it’s not punishment, but self-love. all for love and not as punishment. It’s a game changer. Instead of inner critics we get to have the best coaches. Coach that doesn’t judge, but loves me with all my flaws.
Do more of what you want, do less of what you don’t want.
I know it sounds a bit unrealistic, because guilt kicks in.
How can I spend less time cooking and cleaning and more time for my own self-care if I have responsibilities for my family and children?
In reality, it works the other way around. When your set your priorities, ditch guilt and start spending more time, money and energy on what you love doing, you become light, easy going, joyful. You are more productive, make more money and delegate that cleaning to somebody else. Of course, I’m generalizing, it may be cooking, driving, or else, but you get the idea. It’s a win-win situation. You are happy and you make everyone around happy.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources for self-psychology, intimacy, or relationships? What do you love about each one and how does it resonate with you?
You may be surprised, but I don’t like recommending books or resources. Except for my book, of course). You can find it on Amazon “You were born Wow!”
But jokes and self-promotion aside, I find that women are so lost in those books and self-paced courses. In the very beginning of my transformational journey, I found myself drowning in the ocean of knowledge. If knowledge was the answer, all phycologists and coaches and Nobel prize winner would be happy. Well, that’s not the case. Why? Because there is a huge gap between knowing and doing.
In search for help, people receive instant gratification in buying the product. But what happens then? We skim it through, we go through all the models in one week and what? Do we take actions? No. So it’s like if it would be enough for me to read a book about bodybuilding and waiting to be on that stage in Hollywood. No, I had to train my everything off in order to shine bright, looking like a fitness model, feeling like a Star.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? Maybe we’ll inspire our readers to start it…
My book “You were born Wow!” already started it that movement! When my book became best seller, I realized that there are people who I touched and inspired with my story. So, your readers can join this movement at any time. You know that Amazon delivers in no time). I’m also thinking of doing a “You were born Wow” free challenge for women over 40, who are finally ready to fall in love with themselves, but don’t know how to start. I am great at helping to make those, most difficult, first steps. Join the Wow Woman Club on Fb, where I teach how to start being Wow — visible, valued, admired!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that you use to guide yourself by?
Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life and how our readers might learn to live by it in theirs?
I have different life lesson quotes. It depends on my moods. Yes, I have different moods! Learning to accept is also the part of self-loving experience.
Today I feel like sharing this one from Madonna.
“I’m tough, I’m ambitious, and I know exactly what I want. If that makes me a bitch, okay.”
The fact that I’m even sharing it here with you is the best proof that I’ve learned to accept and love myself. And if somebody doesn’t like that, as they say in marketing, good bye, you are not my client!
Why would you want people like that in my life anyways?
Just a friendly reminder: You were born Wow. And nobody can take it away from you.
Thank you so much for your time and for your inspiring insights!