Updated: Aug 23, 2021
Have you ever asked yourself, what is it that makes you ‘you'? How do you know that the way you think and the way you behave is intrinsic to your own personality? Can we justify any sort of behavior by saying ‘this is who I am’? Or can we strive to be something better without being labeled as ‘wannabe' or 'pretentious’?
Many of us often claim to not care about what other people think, but soon indulge in various activities succumbing to peer pressure. Many of us refrain from speaking out in public or in front of a large audience, because we worry about being judged.
Some of us might conceal this underlying truth under the identity notion of being an introvert. Some of us might willingly go out and distract others to prevent them from seeing this truth, calling ourselves an ‘extrovert’. But hey, I might be completely wrong.
How often have you been told by someone else that you should ‘love yourself for being yourself’. In fact, how often have you told yourself or told others that you love yourself for who you are?
Given how much social media emphasises these terms, particularly with the ‘accept everyone’ ideology that society has collectively agreed to, my guess would be, quite often. Yet we’re visibly seeing increasing rates of depression, anxiety and suicides amongst young teenagers and even vicenarians, i.e. people in their 20s. Is there a way to know if and when we truly love ourselves?
The way I see it, the moment we are able to align our actions to our ideals and virtues; the moment we can affirmatively make decisions that we believe are right, even if the rest of the world thinks them wrong, the moment we can sculpt ourselves into someone worth loving. Only then, can we firmly claim that we know what self-love is.
Personally, getting to know myself and more importantly, what self-love really means is something that has played a crucial role in shaping me into the person I am today. I know that I am not an expert on self-identity, love or sentient existence as a whole. This is just the way I look at this subject, based on how it has affected my life.
It's 12pm and a young boy aged around 6 years old jumps with excitement as the lunch break bell rings in his school. He leaves his class and goes to his usual bench by the sandbox to have his favourite sandwiches. Soon, a group of boys comes up to him and asks him if he'd be willing to share his food. The boy obliges and offers them his sandwiches, expecting something tasty in return. However, the boys flash a grin at him and proceed to hand over a tiny biscuit, remarking ‘this is all we can give you, and this is all you should be having anyway!’ Upon hearing this, the boy wasn’t upset, but he simply confused because he didn’t know what was wrong with him. That incident set the path for what was to be an eventful school year.
Fast forward a few years. Our boy, now an adolescent teenager, wakes up on a typical Monday morning, preparing for school. He heads to class and is greeted with a series of taunts by his classmates, mostly regarding his appearance and body language. As an adolescent, he was no longer confused, so he gets upset and goes to sit alone. That’s when a counsellor reaches out a hand and talks to him, saying "You’re fine just the way you are, if they don’t like it, that’s their problem. Be yourself."
Eventually, he realises that the only way for all this to stop, is for him to be liked by those who were bullying him. So he puts on a facade, to become the comedian of the class. He demeans himself, he disrespects teachers, thinking everyone would start to like him and the pain would stop. The boy experiences momentary happiness, goes home and feasts on his favourite foods because in his mind, that was who he was.
Two years later, the boy is in a new environment, surrounded by new and welcoming friends. But something is still bothering him. He doesn’t feel present, he doesn’t feel noticed or like he matters. So the boy returns to his old self, donning the facade of a comedian to make his presence felt. While his social profile does improve initially, it still doesn’t feel real to him. He goes home and looks at himself in the mirror, seeing a weak, defeated, sorry excuse for a male. So he decides to change himself, and fortunately meets a trainer who helps him get better. Gradually as time passed, the boy started seeing visible changes in his physical appearance, and got further motivated.
He watched videos on YouTube, read books and magazines, spoke to various fitness experts and learned about nutrition, exercise and wellness. He changed his eating plan, upon which many of the people close to him taunted him, poked fun and said that ‘you’re trying too hard, you’re getting obsessed, you don’t have to do this, why are you torturing yourself, etc.’
Relentless in his pursuit to be a better person, the boy ignored everything and kept going at it. Slowly, he distances himself from toxic people, people who’ve accepted the norm that ‘it is okay to be sub-par, that it is okay to be average. But the labelling didn’t stop. ‘You’re a bore, you’re a nerd, you should enjoy life, #yolo, and so on.’ Unphased, he didn’t mind losing a few friends if that meant being happy. He realized after a couple years that he’s beginning to love himself. He wakes up everyday, looking forward to what lies ahead. He experiences a surge of confidence and self-esteem, because if he can conquer his body, he can conquer anything.
And so our boy goes out, graduates from high school proudly, and leaves for university, without looking back. No longer is he embarrassed to go out in public. His ways of life and habits are still considered unusual by his friends and family, who call him out for that. But no longer is he afraid of judgment, because he has faith in what he’s doing. He knows what’s best for his mind and body, because he learned from the best possible teacher- experience. Now, he can be honest and say to himself, that ‘I love me’.
Who is this boy you might be thinking? Where is he now? I’ll leave it open ended but I can tell you one thing. He’s no one special. He simply strives to be better than average, because he believes that the only way to truly make yourself worth loving, is to do what YOU want, and to do what is right for your own mental and physical well-being, regardless of what anyone else thinks.
He has set a high standard for himself, and can visibly see how his quest for knowledge and power has changed the way people perceive him, and behave around him. He is able to love and be loved; by himself, and the ones around him.
Identification and Acceptance
No one is perfect. Being perfect essentially means you have nothing to live for anymore. Each of us has a purpose, which drives all of our actions. Famous author of the best-selling book ‘The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck’ Mark Manson, says that we’re not special, and the moment we stop believing that we are, we’d get rid of this idea that the world owes us something, and so can work towards making our lives better, and grow as individuals. Think about it, if everyone is 'special', no one is.
Ignoring what everyone says + being honest with yourself
Sugar-coating the truth just to make someone feel better, does more harm than good. We like sharing our problems with others because we appreciate sympathy. And in certain cases, this is absolutely justified, particularly when we’re talking about something beyond one’s individual control. For example, when a loved one passes away, or is severely ill, or when someone loses their job due to a crisis such as a pandemic. Offering a shoulder of support here is critical to help that someone feel better and cope with their loss.
This narrative changes however, when we’re talking about something completely within our individual control. Something that is a direct result of the choices you've made in your life. In this case, accepting the truth and/or communicating that to someone facing this issue is critical for yours as well as their well-being, and to help feel better about yourselves.
Living for Oneself
If a desire for change is intrinsic, i.e. if we do it to make ourselves happy, we have nothing to worry about. The problem arises when we decide to change ourselves to please other people.
If you’re someone who is severely overweight to the point where your joints and limbs hurt, and your blood sugar levels are elevated, or if you’re severely underweight to the point where you feel tired because your body isn’t receiving the right quality and amount of nutrients it needs. A change in habits is imperative for you to sustain and live a long, happy life.
Don't change to please that one aunt or uncle we all have, who derives joy from criticising our appearances each time we see them. Don't change to impress that crush of yours who you see everyday, your change will be noticed regardless, I can assure you that. Change for you and only you.
Okay let's forget physical characteristics for once. Are you someone that has benefited from research and experience to formulate a strong opinion about something, but are unable to voice it to prevent offending someone. Or are you someone who wishes to pursue a specific career path, something that aligns with your inner passion, and you refrain from doing so because of disapproval from certain people in your life.
If you’ve ever been in a situation where you’ve been forced into making a decision that goes against your own ideals and values, just to please someone else. I hate to break it to you, but you’re not living for yourself anymore.
If your opinion makes sense, trust it and voice it; given it does not cause any direct harm to another individual. You'd be surprised how easy it is to convince someone just by making sense.
We all mature at our own pace. We each have our own way of developing strong opinions about something, along with the ability to make sound decisions about our life. If our actions can be justified by a rationally beneficial purpose, and if we possess the financial and intellectual resources supporting our decisions, we're good to go. There should be no reason why we should give them up, especially not if there is disapproval from someone close to us, be it friends, or even family.
Take everything or everyone you love in your life. Whether it's your parents, your siblings, your best friends. If you're a Gen X individual, then your kids I would assume. Now, think of how you treat that someone. You treat them with care don’t you? You value them, you nurture them, you look after them. You wouldn’t do anything that could potentially cause harm to their well-being. You would want the best life for them, for them to be healthy and happy.
If not a someone, say it's prized possession like your dream car, or your dream job, or your house. If you’ve worked diligently for years in the hopes of buying that one car, once you get it, would you treat it like shit? Or would you fuel it with the right substances? Renowned author and clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson, who I quoted in the previous podcast as well published a book titled ‘12 Rules of Life’, where he says 'Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping’. The only thing we have complete control over in our lives, is our mind and our body. So if we lose control of that, what’re we doing with our lives?
Desire for Change
We all have our own struggles, our own demons. But that’s what life is, isn’t it? We all inherently want something from this life, whether it be fame, success, money, true love, peace or happiness. We all want it. The difference between those who want it, and those who actually get it comes down to life asking you "I know you want it, but just how bad do you want it? What are you willing to do that others aren’t to get what others don’t?" Because of this, we must ask ourselves how sustainable our way of living really is, and what it means for the future.
How sustainable is it for us to over consume toxic foods, alcohol and substances that have no benefit whatsoever on our body other than a momentary hit of dopamine. How will this affect our cognitive functions, memory, ability to process and retain information when we’re out there looking for or giving an interview for our dream job, or trying to get that promotion. How would our self-care, health and hygiene along with our hedonistic values of life help us find true love, a partner who we can share our life with. Even if we’re doing the right things to achieve all of these, or whatever it is that we inherently want, what are we foregoing in the process? Does our success come at the cost of our own mental and physical well-being?
I don't think so. I believe in moderation, in every aspect of our lives.
It's important to emphasise that aspiring to be a better version of yourself, does NOT necessarily mean that you’re trying to be someone else. It also does not necessarily mean that you’re not happy with yourself. We can be happy with ourselves and still strive to be better, in the hopes of having that happiness...compound. The two are not independent of each other.
Make it Happen
From a technological standpoint, our world has never been more developed. The internet is arguably the greatest invention of the 21st century, and maybe even one of the greatest inventions of all time. We live in an age where we no longer have to pay large amounts of money to gain knowledge. It’s all out there. The world is full of amazing people, who willingly share their skills and abilities for the betterment of society. Be it something related to sports, health, nutrition, arts, politics, economics, environmental issues, socio-political issues, technology, the list is endless. What better way to use this than as an opportunity to learn.
Our learning need not be confined to the walls of our classrooms, schools or universities. Our learning does not stop when we graduate, find work and start a family. A friend of mine once used an analogy to explain how he perceives the act of reading a book. He said that our minds are like a hollow shoot of bamboo, and that each book we read is a piece of sandpaper. As we read, the sandpaper makes its way through the bamboo, smoothening it out in the process. Thus, leaving us more knowledgeable than when we started.
While I'm aware that my views towards this topic might be considered by many to be...rather radical, I believe each of us has the potential to be better than we were yesterday. We have more control over our lives than we think. Personal accountability is something that I feel has faded over the last few years, with many of us finding ways to justify our behavior, or make excuses as to why we don’t do what’s right for our well-being.
For me, self-love is more than just an Instagram story of me binge watching the new Netflix web series while indulging in junk food for days on end. For me, this body that I’ve been blessed with is a direct reflection of my lifestyle, and therefore I believe it is my responsibility to take care of it.
Maybe that boy who went through all that in his life, has inspired me so much that it has changed my own perception of this world. Is it selfish to put your needs over someone else’s? Some would say yes, I say no. For those of you who are already pursuing what they love, without foregoing your mental and physical well-being, I applaud you. For those who might be struggling to make time to look after yourself, it’s never too late to start.
Start now. You deserve it.
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