“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”
– Brene Brown
Self acceptance is something that’s been on my mind a lot these past few weeks.
First, I wrote this post and mentioned that finding self acceptance has helped me simplify my life. Then last week I participated in Fire + Wind Co’s #theimperfectboss campaign, which was all about pulling back the curtain and showing our ‘imperfect’ selves to the world.
And finally, yesterday, I saw this video that demonstrated how incredibly easy it is to manipulate images of ourselves for social media – and then called for us to embrace our true selves with the #JustAsIAm campaign.
All of this has left me wondering – Where does self acceptance come from? And how do you find self acceptance?
Or perhaps more accurately, where did I find self acceptance?
To be clear, I think learning to accept yourself is a journey with no finish line and I still have a long way to go. Having said that, I know I’ve made huge strides forward; 20 years ago … maybe even 10 years ago, I can remember crying in front of the mirror and desperately wishing that I was anyone but myself – and now I feel grateful and even lucky to be the person I’ve become.
I don’t think there is one clear path to self acceptance for everyone (and for that reason this is not a ‘how to’ post.) Having said that, I think that one thing that helps everyone find their way is when we share our honest stories with each other.
So on that note, here are a few of my stories. (It’s not everything because that would be way too long for this post!) As you can imagine, this was a very personal post to write, so I hope you enjoy it (and if so be sure to let me know in the comments! x)
IT ALL STARTED WITH UNPRETTY
Have a look at this photo. Can you pick me out?
If you said the adorable little one with the pink sneakers, you’d be wrong. That’s my incredibly gorgeous younger sister. I’m the tallest one here – and yes, I was often mistaken for a boy.
I think I’m about twelve in this photo, a year or two from high school and probably just a few months from discovering make up, brand name clothes, and that I was ‘unpretty’.
I would go on to spend the next few years of my life trying to ‘improve’ myself. I became more and more aware that I was different from most of the girls at my school, with my funny shaped eyes and my thick unruly hair.
I was desperate to fit in so I tried everything: I grew out, coloured, and permed my hair; I raided my mother’s makeup collection, and I begged her to buy me trendy clothes.
(I remember learning that the Gap was ‘cool’ and I became obsessed with owning a t-shirt from there. Yep – I thought the Gap was the height of fashion!)
But despite my best efforts and my proudly worn aqua and white striped Gap t-shirt (which I think I’d love to own today), I never really ‘cracked’ into the cool kids. In all honestly I wasn’t an outcast either; I did have a lot of acquaintances (although not many close friends) but I did feel like one.
I was painfully self conscious all the time, and whether it was true to or not, I felt rejected and ugly. I hated myself and wanted to be anyone but me.
DEALING WITH NOT GOOD ENOUGH
I felt this way all through high school and university, and I dealt with these feelings by hiding my true self. (Of course I wasn’t that self aware at the time, but now – in reflection – it’s easy to see what I was up to. )
It didn’t happen overnight, but I started to tell myself a story; a false narrative to protect myself from getting hurt.
It all began with a job. (Actually, I’d always had a job – my grandparents owned a restaurant – but at sixteen I got a ‘real’ job as a waitress in a pizza parlour.)
At first, I enjoyed working and I was really good at it. I was respected by my coworkers because I was a hard worker and I earned good tips. I found a lot validation in doing a good job and I could feel my self confidence growing. Work became a safe place for me, so I started staying late and working more and more hours.
Then everything started to change.
I can’t say exactly when it happened, but my life – and to an extent my identity – started to revolve around my work. At the same time I began to feel differently about myself and my peers.
In my mind, work shifted away from a fun way to earn a little extra money to a burden; something that I did because I had no other choice. (I think perhaps I was trying to emulate the adults I knew, who were all stressed and overworked.)
Regardless of the why, this mindset made me feel superior to my peers. I felt mature, like a real adult; while my schoolmates were off at parties or football games I was putting in long hours at the restaurant. I started to feel detached and slowly I began cutting all ties with my school friends.
HIDING FROM REJECTION
By the time I started University my obsession with work and my feelings of detachment had spiralled out of control. I rarely spoke to other students (I told myself they were immature) and I didn’t participate in any social activities. Instead I had two jobs and lived off campus, alone.
On the outside, I pretended I was proud of my life and my choices, but on the inside I was miserable and lonely.
So what was really going on here?
Why did I tell myself I had to work all the time, when the truth is I easily could have made a few simple lifestyle changes that would have dramatically cut my expenses? And why did I reject my peers, when the truth is I would have loved having friends and a normal social life?
Looking back, I can see that I told these lies because I was scared of being rejected.
My busy schedule protected me. Working every weekend meant I never had to sit at home alone, hoping someone would invite out for the night. By making myself unavailable, I was safe.
The same applies to my attitude towards my peers. I didn’t accept myself for who I was, so I didn’t think that anyone else would either. To protect myself I choose to reject them, before they had a chance to reject me.
RELATED POST: 35 Things I Learned in 35 Years
MOVING FORWARD TOWARDS ACCEPTANCE
Whew. To be honest this was a really dark and difficult time in my life. I wish I’d had the awareness to see what was going on then … but I was twenty two, overworked and emotionally drained. Self awareness didn’t happen but fortunately something else did.
As you can imagine, working 70+ hours a week while going to school full time was not sustainable. After four years of living this way, something inside me snapped and I made a bizarre and impulsive decision to move overseas.
I was broke and naive, and moving abroad was potentially a very stupid idea – but it turned out to be the first step on my journey towards self acceptance.
Being alone in a foreign city, I had no choice but to face my fears. I needed help, I needed friends, and I’d made so many sacrifices to be there; it made no sense to spend my time hiding away alone. For the first time, I put myself out there and truly faced rejection.
But surprisingly it never came. The next six months were amazing; I met so many people and even friends that I still talk to today, over a decade later. I was being myself and I was accepted and it was absolutely mind blowing.
RELATED POST: How I Became a Minimalist
WHAT I’VE LEARNED
Of course things didn’t change overnight. I still had a long road ahead of me and throughout my twenties I still suffered a lot from self loathing; I slowly started to accept my appearance only to find myself feeling painfully inadequate about my career choices and lack of ‘success’!
As I mentioned earlier, self acceptance is most definitely a long journey.
But I have learned a few things along the way.
- Beware the stories you tell yourself. Have you ever heard this saying? “Don’t believe everything you think.” There is so much truth there. Question everything: your feelings, your beliefs, your ‘truths’. Sometimes we can be our own worst enemies.
- Challenge yourself to face your fears. For me, this meant moving abroad (and it was a great experience) but you don’t need to take such an extreme leap to push yourself. There are lots of simple ways you can be vulnerable and face your insecurities head on: talk to new people, take a class or even start a blog!
- Listen to the people who love you. This was a lesson I learned much later in life. The people I love have always been there for me, supporting me and lifting me up – but for a long time I didn’t want to hear what they had to say. I know this isn’t easy, and I’m not 100% sure what made me finally listen, but I can say with certainty that when I did it completely changed how I feel about myself.
If you’ve read this far, thank you – I know this is a super long post. I hope that sharing my story has inspired or helped you in some way. I’d love to hear about your journey to self acceptance – let me know in the comments (or shoot me an email if you prefer!) xoxo
photo credit: (top) Unsplash.com // (bottom) probably my mom 😉 // Used with permission