Intentional Living

The Long Road to Self Acceptance

May 25, 2016

“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?

A personal essay about my long road to self acceptance. After years of rejecting myself, how did I finally learn to love and accept myself for who I am?

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?

A personal essay about my long road to self acceptance. After years of rejecting myself, how did I finally learn to love and accept myself for who I am?

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

A personal essay about my long road to self acceptance. After years of rejecting myself, how did I finally learn to love and accept myself for who I am?

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.

Burnout.

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.

RELATED POST: Confidence + Minimalism (Find the Courage to Chase Your Dreams)

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

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  • SO MANY THINGS TO LOVE ABOUT THIS POST, JENNIFER!

    Ehem, sorry for shouting but I wanted to stress that point. You killed it, lady. ❤️

    Your story really spoke to me as another unpretty kid who rebelled with the goth thing and rock metal. I’m practically aeons away from that but self-acceptance was a big step forward for me too. I could feel how painful it was to reflect back on when you were 22. Af the same time, it’s a huge contrast with where you’re at at 35 and that is so inspiring!

    My two favorite parts are “Surprisingly, it never came.” and the takeaways at the end of the post. The first because it’s amazing how we overthink and feel so defensive when, as you said, what we fear usually doesn’t happen as badly as we think. The second because even as you share your story, the lessons learned can help us apply them to our own journeys of self-acceptance.

    This is super-long now but thank you for opening yourself up so we could be inspired to accept more of ourselves too. Enjoy the rest of your vacation, Jen!

    • Ah Daisy – you’re always so supportive, thank you so much for your kind words! Yeah – it’s amazing how much things can change in 10, 5, or even 1 year. It’s part of what makes life so awesome, isn’t it?! xx

  • Jennifer. I love this. Thank you so much for baring this important part of your soul. I have so much that I could comment on. But just know I think you are such an incredible role model and and such a strong woman.

    Your tip about listening to people that love you? That is the most important lesson I’ve had to learn on this same trajectory. They are there to support you. And when you shut them down, how does that make them feel? It makes you feel crappy, it makes them feel crappy, it’s just not great. Surround yourself with those who support you and accept and embrace it.

    You are BEAUTIFUL and wonderful.

    • Amanda you are so sweet and your words really mean a lot to me! Thank you so much.

      And yes, you’re so right – when we ignore what our loved ones are trying to tell us it hurts them as much as it hurts us. It took me so long to understand this! But better late then never ☺️

  • Branwen

    You blow me away everytime you blog. This is an amazing post which women + young women all over need to read and be empowered by.
    Love your work!!!!! xxx

  • Martina Lee Burger

    Exceptional piece. Well done Jennifer!!!

  • Cortney

    Great post! You have done some great self-reflection and I can relate. Thanks for helping myself and others on our journey 🙂

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to comment Cortney. If I can help you (or anyone else) on their journey then I’m truly humbled! ☺️

  • Amazing post! I think everyone suffers with insecurities we just need to push them away and believe that everyone is beautiful and not two souls are the same!

    XoXo,

    Tamara – LoveofMode.com

  • What a lovely idea for a post. What made you think of it? Getting older 😉 I might have to riff off of your idea because I’ve been dancing around a similar theme, but I think yours is great! Not all the harsh self-inflicted suffering stuff, but just sharing your story and journey. Thanks for being vulnerable!

    • Hi Lani! I’ve been thinking about this ever since I wrote my “20 Ways I’ve Simplified My Life’ post … self acceptance was my #20, but I felt like the way I added to the list over simplified what a journey it really was. I’m so glad you liked how it came across. It was actually REALLY difficult to write – my first few drafts kept coming out a bit too ‘dear diary’ and it wasn’t quite what I wanted. In the end it took me about 20 hours to come up with this post ?

      Please feel free to steal this topic, I would love to read your story!

      • Thanks babe. Right about now I have bucket of ice cream with my name on it. I don’t feel exactly empowered or anything, just trying to breathe and wait for easier days. Enjoy Hawaii! xxoo

  • Allie Bigoness

    HOLY! What an incredibly beautiful, wise, and kick ass post. Thank you for being vulnerable and sharing your story with us. Self acceptance is a difficult journey, I feel like it’s almost like a rollar coaster due to the fact life can throw us a curve ball when we least expect it.

    I think when we step outside our comfort zones we have the potential to create something amazing and we grow as a person. I think stepping outside my comfort zone by sharing my blog and creative abilities helped me to strengthen my self acceptance.

    Thank you for being an amazing role model ?

    • Hello Allie! Eek … I’m not sure I’m a role model but I appreciate your kind words!! Yep, I definitely agree that so many wonderful things happen when we push ourselves beyond our comfort zones (and blogging is definitely a way to jump in head first!) xx

  • Madison Kash

    Totally needed to read everything from this post–so much of it resonated with how I currently view myself/where I am at. Thank you for your vulnerability, though you don’t have all the answers, just your rawness is refreshing and relatable. This was truly inspiring and I always love reading your blog, so honestly the lengthier the better!

    • Thank you SO much for your sweet comment Madison! I really appreciate the feedback (especially on this post because it was a huge challenge to write!) ?

  • DreamingOfNeverland

    Thanks for sharing your story. It’s easy to feel really alone sometimes and it definitely helps when other people share and make you realise that most people have felt the same things as you at some point in their lives. I’ve definitely been where you were before and I’m currently trying to work on self-acceptance in a big way. I 100% agree with you that watching what you’re saying internally can really help – we are our own worst enemies! I’ve started reading a mindfulness book which has really helped me with this and really challenged the way I think. Glad to hear that you’ve found solutions that work for you and help you to feel better!

    Anyway, sorry for ranting on, and thanks again for sharing 🙂

    • Thanks so much for your comment (and so sorry for my slow reply!) I really appreciate your response … this was definitely a personal and scary post to write!! Self acceptance is definitely a long journey! ?