We have the tendency to interpret ourselves through our own desires and needs, but also from the ideals and preconceptions, we imagine society demands of us. I’m not referring to peer pressure; from the first few days on the playground to adulthood we long to proudly stand among our peers as equally worthy and significant. We either or are molded by their success or trek solo without comparison.
After turning 25, I decided that it was time to take stock of what could stay in my life and what must go. Above all, was a myth that I’d been aware of – but hadn’t acknowledged: that I was somehow inadequate – not good enough to have the same kind of happiness and success that others did.
Where did it spring from? Here’s my reasoning: I felt inadequate because I had to deal with some rough bullying and social anxiety- while others seemingly connected with their peers through greater confidence…
…because I was frequently home on a Friday or Saturday night – and not at that rockin’ booze-powered house party with classmates or friends…
…because at one point I was overweight and would sweat bullets while exercising or doing physically demanding tasks – when others looked relatively unburdened and had a more desired physique…
…because at 25 I’ve never known love or had a genuinely good sexual experience – while flirting and dating over and under the sheets seemed to come so naturally for others.
In the deepest feelings of (useless) self-pitying, seeing others’ joy and success could easily be misinterpreted as some cruel message from the universe – sometimes sending me into a flurry of both envy and sorrow; “See that happy crowd? Notice that couples lovemaking by the bathroom? It’s not for you – you’re unworthy.”
But notice my negative thinking patterns. Comparison. Black and white thinking, negative focusing and so on. Through them, I’d created a complex of insecurities that left me assuming I’d have to chuff and scrape a little harder than others. The onus was on me for the miscreation I conceived in my mind. And while I feared I would be stuck in this box of a character that was always behind, I realized my fear of becoming that and desire to avoid it mentally fueled the assumption that I was already in that box.
Except I had already been enough as an evolving person for the longest time; I just hadn’t allowed myself to accept and admit it.
Personally, I define adequacy as being enough for our own values and others in this world. But how do we live and feel it when you’re self-esteem has lost its buoyancy? In my struggle, I’ve been coming back to the same messages that give a good start to anyone not feeling enough.
1) Comparison is the worst. This is the biggest mistake we all make: It’s not a race to reach some finish line before others. Because contrary to what we’re led to think- those black-versus-white standards with loaded terms like “winner” or “loser” rarely exist so starkly. “The noblest of all victories is the conquering of the self”, Plato wrote. Everyone’s journey is unique and the moment you start comparing – you’re essentially saying “my story is not worthy.” Don’t believe it – not for one second.
2) No one can love and accept you before you do. I’ve made the desperate mistake countless times to fit in from grade school to solo backpacking. People sense it within the first few minutes of meeting you. And there’s no guarantee they’ll like and enjoy your time but guess what – does that ultimately matter? You owe and deserve first your own affection and affirmations. Every. Fucking. Day.
3) Your life is co-authored, but you write the final draft. I spent a lot of time worrying about what others think of me – until I decided only I have the right answer. It’s possible that others see sides of you a bit clearer than you can – but they’re only a small drop of humans in an ocean of seven billion. Your own approval at the end of the day is by your own intrinsic values.
4) The past belongs where it was.As a film nut I try to take away the best messages from most films (don’t underestimate the power they can carry). Watch Super 8 when Joe tells the trapped alien “Bad things happen – but you can still live.” Making peace means acknowledging pain but not letting it ultimately define you. Will you be a prisoner of the past or a pioneer of what could be around the bend?
5) Catch the thinking patterns that turn on you. The best way to do this is to start engaging in some cognitive – behavioral therapy (CBT) skills that identify self-defeating thinking patterns and challenge them with new ones. Find a self-help book or group for the best way to get started. It’s a constant daily attempt but being mindful of your own mental habits over time can make a BIG difference.
6) Drop the expectations and rigid self demands. When I went backpacking in Europe a year ago, I let the fantasy of falling in love and hooking up (it NEVER works like the movies) become an obsession that became almost impossible to shake off. On the road again after an 8-month gap at home, I find myself slipping into the same trap but have learned my lesson. It’s the quickest way to misery because getting what you want and being happy with what you have are two different things. Happiness is best when chosen.
7) Your own values and passions count. They count because you find meaning and inspiration in them – and if you care enough about them then use them for some action-orientated goal (whether it’s writing a moving story or setting up a charity). Hold them and wear them high, and don’t let others disrespect you or them because they don’t find them worthy.
8) You are SO MUCH MORE. You’re not simply the fumbles or clumsy moments in front of people; you’re not your self-conscious or anxiety-wrought brain or your weight. You’re those deep thoughts you have while staring out across the land or sea; that one song, movie or book that says everything you need to hear. You’re that loud laugh from a minor detail you remember months down the road. You’re that sense of adventure, persistence, intelligence, wisdom, and love that you extend outwards without limits.
All things considered, your value-inspired goals, what makes you uniquely capable and ESPECIALLY self-love are what determine how you measure up.