My friend gave me the proverbial but much needed slap in the face when she said, “How do you expect to be an inspirational figure to others when you beat yourself up privately? At some point, we have to practice what we preach. It’s the best way to get business going smoothly in your life.”
Yep, she nailed it.
I love inspiring and motivating others, helping them break free from the imaginary beliefs that hold them back. This is because I, myself, struggled so much with overcoming my own fears and self-judgments.
I grew up being my biggest critic and, more appropriately for the times, hater. If my inner voice was audible, people would be horrified to hear the things I told myself. When I was upset, I wouldn’t embrace myself with kind words. Instead, this is how I spoke to myself:
“This is what you deserve for being less than others, for being so unfit, unintelligent, and untalented. Who are you to have such dreams? Someone like you could never make it.”
I remember not liking myself as a child. The pressure of being a perfect daughter to my Asian parents meant that I was shown affection when I brought home report cards littered with A’s, but anything less than perfection meant less love and less approval.
I began to base my self-worth on my competitive performance and academic achievement. While I received academic accolades, my mental health suffered. I felt excluded from my peers and I struggled to find sincere connection.
I wanted to so desperately to be a good friend, to be kind, to give wholeheartedly. However, despite my best intentions, my actions never felt sincere. I encouraged my friends and comforted them when they were down, but I secretly judged them in private. I was all smiles and bubbliness and yet couldn’t shake off the bitter sting of cognitive dissonance.
In high school, I volunteered at a therapeutic recreation center for the elderly. They constantly thanked me for adding fun and laughter to their day, but I didn’t feel much joy. If anything, I felt guilty. I’m not really doing this for you, I thought, this is for my college scholarships.
There’s a quote by 19th-century Irish playwright and essayist Oscar Wilde that I hold dear to my heart:
“When we are happy we are always good, but when we are good we are not always happy.”
With brevity and ease, Wilde accurately depicts the honest nature of human beings. When we are genuinely happy, goodness comes as easy as breathing. However, if we try to do good solely to patch up the holes in our hearts, we may not necessarily feel any happier.
Happiness and giving are in no way exclusive, and I firmly believe happiness is tied to doing good for others. However, how do you expect to give continuously when you don’t even take time to fill your own cup? We give best when we ourselves are overflowing. When we first give compassion to ourselves, we can give even more, in even better ways, to others.
My judgment for others came from a deeply ingrained judgment I had for myself. I wasn’t genuinely happy, and so doing good felt forced. Even if others interpreted my actions as magnanimous, what did it matter if I didn’t see myself that way?
The relationship with ourselves is the only one we experience every moment we are alive. When we heal ourselves, we open up the potential to help heal everyone else in our lives. The compassion we show ourselves resonates in our relationships. Likewise, the kindness and empathy we show others is practice and a reminder for self-loving.
They are intertwined, but ultimately no one’s good deed can ever make you feel tranquil or whole with complete sureness. And your encouragement can never replace the painful journey of self-discovery that your friend needs to undergo. All of the good that extends both outside and in–the love we exhibit to others, the understanding and kindness we accept from ourselves–the spark that ignites change starts from somewhere inside.