A few weeks ago, my therapist asked me if I loved myself. After years of being obsessed with self-help and trying every personal development tool out there, I responded with an enthusiastic, “Of course!” Then she pressed me harder. What did I love about myself?
She asked me to name 10 things, and I could quickly start naming qualities about myself that I liked — after all, I’ve done this exercise plenty of times between endless workshops and gratitude journals. When I was done with the list, I smiled at the Zoom camera like an elementary school student ready to receive their gold star.
I love myself! I’ve made it to the pinnacle of the self-help world. But if all of that was true, then why did I still feel so stuck? So lost? So unsure of myself? And waiting for my therapist to tell me, “Good job, you don’t need me anymore.”
That’s when it dawned on me. I realized I was so focused on fixing myself that I couldn’t truly love myself. I’d been so focused on improving, trying to “reach my highest potential,” and on healing that I hadn’t allowed myself to love myself as I am. A little lost. A little weird. A little chaotic. But a lot lovable all the same.
I’ve spent my entire life trying to achieve the next level of perfection—the next gold star. A new self-help book came out? I need to read it. Another personality test? Must take it. A goal met? Time to step up to the next destination — that last one was not enough. Never enough.
You know that moment when you’re hiking and you reach the top of something? You look down at where you started and can’t help but smile in this really still and soft moment that feels like an eternity even if it’s only a few seconds? It’s the moment when the world seems bigger, and no mountain seems too tall.
Yet in my own life, after every mountain I climbed, I never let myself enjoy the peak. I never let myself stand at the top and admire the view. Instead, I continued breathlessly as my ego told me this was still not enough. Instead, my ego would say to me that I loved my resolve, my work ethic, and my determination.
If I could call out these qualities, then I must love myself, right?
But here’s the thing. Loving yourself isn’t patting yourself on the back at the top while at the same time using that same hand to push yourself even further.
Loving yourself is about holding space for yourself when you’re mid-journey and tired. When your knees are scraped and your boots are covered with dirt. When you trip and land on your butt. When you are lost and feeling like you’ve been walking in circles for years.
Loving yourself isn’t reserved for the peaks in your life. Loving yourself is made for every step — no matter how dirty or messy or unbalanced those steps may be. Loving yourself is not about pushing yourself to the next level. It’s about pulling yourself up when you’re down (or letting yourself stay down for a while just to catch your breath without it feeling like a failure).
I realized that I am not a self-improvement project. I am not a project at all. I am me — imperfect and so worth loving. After this reflection, I threw away the list of 10 items I told my therapist I loved and I started over.
I wrote a love letter to the broken parts of me. The WTF-was-that parts. The mistakes. The falls. The doubts. I wrote a love letter to all the parts of me that I’ve tried to hide. And you know what? It felt good to be seen not as who I could be but as who I am.
So here’s to loving yourself truly. To being rather than improving. To being enough, always.