WARNING: A little extra language in the pictures of this post — because I was feeling passionate!
In life there are two pulls — the urge to become more and the necessity of loving yourself as is. I don’t believe these forces are incompatible but we too often tell our story as ‘I’m broken and I must fix myself.’
But we’re not broken. We are spiritual beings having a physical experience and our bodies can shatter, we can grow tired, we may even get lost. And we can definitely make mistakes. But we can’t break. And at our soul level there is something so fundamentally strong and beautiful and full of glorious purpose that it burns brightly our whole lives and we cannot lessen its glow one iota — we can only hide it from the world and even ourselves.
We lose sight of the things that make us beautiful and make us dream. We sell our days for power and money, and give away the peace of night in exchange for fears and insecurity.
There was no grand scheme, no master plan to build a society that told us, from birth to death, that we are not good enough. Companies just sold things, and advertisers discovered that praying on our fears, playing to our vanities, and distorting our dreams sold a lot of soda. And cars. And weight loss devices.
An unintentional side effect of this effective advertising is, on a massive level, unconscious self-loathing (oops!). And before you think I overstate my case, I’ll ask ‘Are you happy with the shape of your body?’ ‘How often do you wish you had more money?’ ‘Do you think other people have more fun, more vibrant social lives than you?’ Or as my sister put it, she grew up thinking you couldn’t be the hero of the story unless you were ‘the pretty one’.
And having to grow up at school, trapped in a building with a bunch of other confused kids doesn’t help. So we emerge, blinking, into the strong sunlight of adulthood and look around, lost. And yet we often still try, still push toward our dreams and our heart’s desires.
But the road is long, and we stumble, then retreat. And somewhere along the way we can grow cold, or even cruel. We gain weight and believe ourselves maybe just the ‘sassy friend’ instead of the luminous heroine. I’ve had pretty good self esteem for a few years now (starting my groups People Who Have Come Alive & the Athens Writers Association was a big turning point for me), but even I was thrown backwards, back to TV show expectations of my youth recently when I fell for someone and wondered ‘Could I even be seen as attractive to him?’ And I’ve worked on this stuff for years! But billions of dollars have been spent in the same time span to tell me I lack something, or many things.
So cover our glow in armor, in hardheartedness, in shrouds. We develop traits we don’t like, and these become the weak places where we also build up our strongest defenses. And somewhere along the way, we believe a myth we have helped write, the story of why we don’t deserve success — in business, in love, or in life.
Before I started my groups, my self publishing, or even a lot of my self improvement, I too had a myth. I was a ‘nice’ girl who was too shy for groups, too boring to have friends, and too ugly (read fat) to have a boyfriend. It hurts and bewilders me now to write these words, because I never expressed them to anyone back then, but none the less, it was a story — a reason — that I used to explain my life. The truth was I was quiet and introspective, and curvy (and still am).
So what changed my outlook? I think I just realized that I had felt and wrestled with these feelings, these ‘lacks’, most of my adult life, so it followed that I could be having exactly the same conversations with myself in 10, or 20, or 30 years. I didn’t want that and so I decided to take action — bringing the people I wanted to know together, speaking even when my voice shook, and building a body I could love — with or without a man to enjoy it with.
So how do you let go of these brainwashed ideals and layers of armor? How do you honor how awesome you are and know how far you can go?
5 Ways to Love Yourself and Reveal Your Awesome
- Start questioning your authorities. When you think, ‘I need to lose weight’ — STOP. Ask yourself where this desire is coming from — love or fear? Do you love dancing around, and feeling great with tons of energy? Or do you read magazines and watch shows that take 1% of the human population and then Photoshop and light them to look like 0% naturally do? If you think you need more success (and money) ask yourself why. Will that really make something inside you different and happier or have you just been told the validation of life is cha-ching! cash? After you start questioning your sources, consider cutting the toxic ones out of your life while looking at things from a new perspective (read blogs about people beating anorexia or helping children in disadvantaged countries, watch foreign films, find quotes and people that build you up, read bios of great historical figures). And when a person you know offers their opinion, always ask yourself, ‘Are they someone I want to emulate, to aspire to be?’
- Make time for what makes you awesome. So often we only work on our weaknesses. In the book Now, Discover Your Strengths, the authors talk about how you want to shore up your weaknesses, but only enough that they don’t slow you down (they use an example of Tiger Woods improving his short game so it would not detract from his amazing long swings that got him to the green so quickly). The takeaway was that you are never going to be amazing because of your weaknesses — it’s your unique strengths that will blow people away. So take pride in the things that come easily to you, delve into the hobbies and sports that you excel at (I once told my sister that I felt like I was ‘made’ for cycling — and that is a powerful feeling, almost like you’re cheating). In the same way, I didn’t really ‘fix’ my character flaws, I just walked away from them and focused on stuff I rock at — and I’ve never looked back.
- Get healthy. Seriously, throw out the scale (it’s a horrible measure of health), and forget about diets (these temporary things you hate) while embracing diet (a lifelong way of eating that makes you feel great). So much self esteem and endorphins lie on the other side of exercise and eating right. Also — weed, drinking, and excessive sugar can all be enjoyed, but they can also become a crutch that makes us feel powerless and reliant on their mood enhancements. And I know smokers already feel beat up upon, but I really do feel like that addiction unfairly makes you feel powerless — a slave to nicotine — many times a day, so I hope, if you smoke, you find out how powerful you are and break that habit into a million pieces.
- Become an inspiration to others. Write a book. Lead a cause. Start a group. Blog about fitness. Mentor a child. Follow your dream so hard that others stare in wonder. When I started my groups, a strange thing happened: people started telling me how awesome I was, and how I was inspiring them. I felt there must be some mistake, but no — I was just living my life but even what I considered small acts — hosting a meeting, sharing what I knew, encouraging people with a few words — others saw a value to that and spoke up about it. This inspired me to do more — publish a book, give a public reading — because I realized that we all have fears and insecurities and the more ‘fake it till you make it’ I did, the more bold and brave they would become in their own lives. Suddenly, being awesome wasn’t about just me.
- Speak to yourself with love. Not get all psychological on you, but there’s only one person watching everything you do and commenting on how you do it. It’s you. And it was a real wake-up call the first time I read something like ‘If you wouldn’t speak to a small child like that, why would you speak to your inner child that way?’ It’s really hard to live an inspiring life if someone is degrading you all the time. So, give yourself a break. It’s been shown in studies that being ‘hard line’ or tough with yourself does not improve your willpower or results. In fact, the opposite is true. You are already doing great things — give yourself some love.
- So start seeing yourself as beautiful.
- Fall in love with who you are at your silliest and most sublime.
- Forgive the actions and thoughts of your past and know they are not you.
- Make choices that reveal your inner glory and magnificent joy.
- Say “Screw you!” to any society that hasn’t gotten on board with your level of sexy, awesomeness, or lifestyle.
- Heal your body and free your mind.
- And lastly, when you feel imperfect, remember the words of Leonard Cohen — “There is crack in everything . . .