What is freedom?
Freedom is showing up as yourself in the world unapologetically. It’s taking off the mask and not being afraid to show your true self. It’s not being worried about what other people think, not because you don’t care about them, but because you love yourself so much that you don’t need their approval. Self-love equals the freedom to be your truest self.
This month I read an email from a blogger and designer that hit me at just the right time. Having tons of ideas and reminders for self-love, I thought her message was particularly inspiring. Being someone who identifies with quality time and words of affirmation for primary love-languages, I realized why I feel so full after spending solid amounts of time alone working on creative projects, or why I feel so darn good after writing out affirmations in the morning. When I fail to keep these habits in place, I fail to love myself as thoroughly as possible, and I’m a firm believer that many of our problems begin with a lack of self-love.
Self-love is tied to our enoughness, our realization that we are perfect in our essence, our being. We don’t have to do anything in order to earn love and acceptance, we already have it within ourselves when we learn to appreciate who we are and what we are without striving or achieving. We already are enough. You are enough.
In order to drill that into your head and allow your body to integrate, you must practice self-love. We practice self-love by taking time to meditate, going on long walks with ourselves, and one of my favorite activities, journaling.
In her best-selling book, The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron says the best thing an artist can do is wake up each morning and write freestyle three full pages of journaling. She dubs this practice “Morning Pages” and has sworn it to be the secret of her own creative success. I, too, find lots of good things in my morning pages practice. With no intention or outcome in mind, I notice the freedom that spills out of my soul and onto the page, showing me intuitive counsel I otherwise would have missed. This too is a form of self-love because I am connecting to source, which is total love.
When we spend intentional time loving ourselves, we shape our own freedom. When we take a step forward, practice lowering the mask, and speak a little more truth than we did the day before, we inch ourselves closer to the freedom that we so desperately crave.
I remember when I was working a PR job in my hometown. I spent my afternoons daydreaming about “The Sparkling Hippie”—some part of me buried deep down that longed to have dreadlocks and tattoos and live in a hippie bus and travel the world. I saw her vividly. She danced barefoot in the fields and she was sexy and powerful because she felt comfort in being who she was. That woman was within me, but I wasn’t yet her. I felt trapped in the person I was, and yet I knew what I really wanted was to feel comfortable enough to be myself, the woman I envisioned. It took me years to dance forward in truth and shrink back a little less, dancing a little bit further in truth, shrinking back a little less. Back and forth, here and there I’d go until at least I felt free to be me. Free to be the woman of my soul. To be totally honest, I still struggle with shrinking back. Each new level of freedom presents new challenges and new opportunities to be more vulnerable, more truthful to who I am; more me. I continue to dance forward in truth and shrink back a little less.
Here are a few ways you may be shrinking back without even realizing it:
Where in your life do you keep things separate? Do you have one group of friends that you don’t introduce to another group of friends? Do you keep your romantic relationships separate from friendships or family? What about creative endeavors? Do you share them with others or hide them away for fear of rejection?
When we compartmentalize our lives, we are living out of integrity with ourselves, fearing rejection or judgment in one way or another. Notice what you are still compartmentalizing and make a small move this week to live more wholly as yourself.
2. Saying yes when you mean no
Will the people pleasers in the room please stand up? Yup, this one’s a big one for me. As a chronic people-pleaser, always worried about everyone else’s feelings but my own, it’s often hard for me to tell people no. This has been a long road of learning to say no without taking on other people’s feelings as my responsibility. In college, it meant turning down leadership opportunities in groups and organizations that didn’t fit me. As an adult, it meant saying no to friends who wanted to go out when I’d rather stay home and write. Sometimes it even means saying no to things you DO want to do but know you’d be more rewarded or fulfilled doing something else. For example, saying no to a trip to London so you can say yes to finish writing your book. Let your yes mean yes and your no mean no. Part of practicing self-love is protecting your time and energy.
3. Laughing at stuff that isn’t funny
This may seem petty, but how many times do you catch yourself laughing at jokes you don’t agree with or don’t find funny simply so you don’t rock the boat or stir the waters? This too is living out of alignment with your true self. I’m not saying that you need to start raising cane and arguing with everyone you disagree with; I’m just saying you shouldn’t feel the need to act a certain way just to fit in or keep everyone happy. Again, other people’s feelings and opinions are not your responsibility. Your number one priority is your own happiness.
Just two nights ago I was at a social gathering with a few friends when one of the guys started telling us how spirituality is a hoax and there is no such thing as anything bigger than humans—not God, not divine, not angels, ghosts, or anything. I felt in my bones that I disagreed, and when I tried to get a word in, he cut me off. Rather than shout louder or get angrier or be more fake to try and keep the waters calm, I excused myself from the room and went to my bedroom to read. I immediately felt much better and was grateful that I didn’t keep myself in an unnecessarily stressful situation. Again, your energy and your mindset are your top priority. This is practicing self-love!
4. Not expressing yourself how you want to
There was a time in college where I realized I only used black ink and it was totally off and totally weird because I’m a bright, vibrant, color addict. Limiting myself to black ink was just a means to try and fit into the Public Relations professional crowd, and it was so betraying to my true essence that it really, really hurt.
Maybe you’ve experienced this by thinking, “Hmm, I’d love to wear those new leopard pumps today, but I better not—they’re too flashy and might attract negative attention.”
Or maybe you’ve thought, “Wow, I’d love to write an article on this topic, but I better not. I don’t have a degree or enough experience to back up my opinion, so why try?”
Ever wanted to start a blog, host a podcast, try your hand at painting, or racquetball? By denying yourself the right of self-expression of any sort, you are shrinking back, staying in a façade rather than bursting forth into your true essence, the part of you that you were born to embrace. By resisting self-expression, you are not practicing self-love but self-deprivation. You’re practicing being fake—separate from your own soul.
Now that we know how we shrink ourselves back, let’s look at a few ways we can practice self-love, thus embracing our true selves and winning back our brightest freedom.
1. Celebrating your wins
This one is so small and so stinkin’ easy to forget, but man, is it important! How often do you stop and take time to celebrate your wins? When you hit a new level in your workout, or accomplish something big at work or discover a new depth in your poetry, do you take time to celebrate? Take a bath, pop a bottle, buy yourself something small and frivolous like a nice brand of tea or a new crystal, hug yourself, have a private dance sesh, put a gold star in your planner—whatever feels fun and celebratory, make sure you take time and do it! This is so good for your self-love and self-confidence.
2. Rocking your style
This is one I’ve been writing about for years. Tomorrow morning, when you go to your closet, pick out the most YOU-nique outfit you can come up with. Craft that totally YOU, not-trying-to-fit-into-any-category, fan-tabulous outfit and wear it like you own the runway. Throw on some shades too and tell yourself how awesome you are, how great you look, and how much fun you’re going to have all day long just knowing that you are feelin’ yourself in your original threads.
3. Expressing yourself
You had to see this one coming. Pick up a pen and paper, grab some crayons, sing along to Shania Twain, dance around your apartment—whatever feels good and moves you, do it. Self-expression is one of the most kind and loving things we can do for ourselves, but we must allow ourselves the space and time to do it. In a world rushing way too fast, it can feel like these silly little gestures are unnecessarily cutting into our productivity schedule, but please do yourself a favor and let the light in. Having fun isn’t a crime, it’s love-inducing.
4. Follow the joy breadcrumbs
Again, when we get so caught up in the hustle and grind, we forget to have fun and enjoy ourselves. What’s calling you to give it a try? What new experience piques your curiosity but seems out of reach? Is there something you LOVE to do but haven’t made time for it lately? Stop fighting the crazy call to have fun with logic and get out there and give it a whirl! It’s okay if you fail. It’s okay if there is no point to it. It’s okay if you’re trying something “just because.” Having fun is what fuels our joy, which fuels our creativity, which increases our fulfillment in life. Follow your heart and you’ll love yourself more for it.
When we take time to love ourselves fully by totally embracing who we already are, we stop trying to hide behind facades. We quit playing charades, and we quit living in fear of what others are going to think. Instead, we create space for ourselves to dance freely, live vibrantly, and shine so brightly that others will inevitably be attracted to our joy and abundance. The ones who don’t get it will drop away, and there’s nothing wrong with that. You weren’t made to please everyone, you were made to be 100% YOU.
Take some time today to love yourself. Take a bubble bath, drink some tea, put your feet in the grass, and enjoy the breath in your lungs. You are incredible just the way you are, and you have nothing to prove to anyone. Love yourself first and foremost and the rest will fall into place.
How will you make freedom your priority today?