This month is all about acceptance. Accepting other people the way they are. Accepting there is no right or wrong way to live your life. Accepting that it is ok to have different opinions, different beliefs, different lifestyles and still all be able to peacefully cohabitate on this big round spinning rock we call home.
All too often, though, I think we forget to accept ourselves. I know I am especially hard on myself. I am very critical if I don’t live up to my own standards. I set the bar very high for myself time and time again and just the mere thought that I may not achieve one of my goals or I might fail at something I set my mind to is enough to keep me up at night. And forget about it if someone else criticizes me. I tend to dwell on those perceived slights far longer than I should.
Most recently I had what I can only call a failure in my personal life. This event brought up feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt, and even a little bit of sadness because I had invested so much time and effort into something that turned out not to be for me. Probably the most painful part of this particular failure though was not the failure itself but the reasons that were pointed out as to why it occurred. Parts of my personality were criticized and while there is always far more to a story than what is spoken on the surface, the experience prompted me to really think about how I can accept who I am today but make changes to be better tomorrow.
That being said, we all have flaws. Some I think we are born with, like my overly active Type A personality and some I think we pick up along the way. Life is full of ups and downs and sometimes the things we go through change us. If we are lucky, we go through something and come out the other side a stronger, better version of ourselves. But sometimes we go through things that leave us with scars. These very often are scars other people can’t see. And sometimes they are even scars that we ourselves can’t see or fully understand until much further down the road. These scars can then manifest themselves as personality flaws, especially to others who are looking at us from the outside.
What I realized after this past failure, is you never really know why someone is the way they are. Even sometimes the closest people to you don’t know why you think and act the way you do in certain situations. Even if someone knows your history, your stories, your triumphs and struggles, without having actually walked in your shoes it is oftentimes hard to fully comprehend the ramifications of those events. What to the outside world might seem like a character defect, might actually be a scar that is much more deeply rooted than what just appears to be a shortcoming in one’s personality.
While I strongly encourage everyone, myself included, to continuously do some type of self-reflection on a regular basis, the first step in my opinion to becoming better human beings is to accept ourselves the way we are right now at this very moment. I am not saying there is no room for growth and meaningful change, but in order to bring about that change, you need to understand and accept where you are currently.
So how do we begin to unconditionally accept ourselves, move forward, and bring about the change we may be needing to live a happier, healthier life? Here are a few things I think need to happen to get that ball rolling:
Be brutally honest with yourself.
Ask yourself, “What is holding you back from the person you want to be?” “What are the things you are in control of that you can directly influence to take your life in the right direction?” “What may have happened to you in that past that is dictating your current and future path in life?” You cannot lie to yourself about the state you are in now and expect to find yourself in a better one tomorrow. The first step to real self-acceptance is to take an honest inventory of everything that makes you you, the good and the bad alike. As much as sometimes it is easier not to deal with the bad, that stuff isn’t going away without a bit of work. Put the time into exploring all sides of yourself so you have a true understanding of what is working for your currently and where there might be room for improvement.
Be patient and kind to yourself along the way.
While you are definitely going to encounter people in life that will criticize you and maybe even put you down, I think it is human nature to be your own worst critic. Chances are, when the dust settles, you judge yourself way more harshly than the rest of the world judges you. Keep this in mind and be very thoughtful about the way you speak to yourself. Try changing the verbiage from “I hate this about myself” to “that is something I would like to improve upon”. Just the same way we are told to be kind to others, being kind to ourselves is of utmost importance when on a journey of self-acceptance and ultimate growth. Also keep in mind that it most likely it took years of life happening to you to make you the way you are today. Be kind and patient with yourself in trying unravel and possibly undo some of that experience and possible hurt. It may not happen quickly or easily but with the right amount of effort it will happen.
Admit when you are wrong.
This is such a hard one to do sometimes but such a critical step to acceptance and change. Change is usually uncomfortable. We almost always have to through some period of discomfort before we get to the good stuff and there are very few things in life more uncomfortable than admitting when we are wrong. It seems like it is human nature to immediately blame someone or something else first when a failure occurs. After all, it is much easier to be critical of another person than it is of ourselves. Being critical of ourselves requires us to accept we aren’t in fact perfect individuals and that there may be things we need to work on to avoid failing again. But isn’t that the goal? To stop failing? Admit mistakes. Take the time to really think about why they may have happened and then finally learn from them and move on as an improved, better version of yourself.
Learning to forgive others when they hurt you by pointing out your flaws is just as important as is forgiving yourself for having them in the first place. We are all human. Wonderfully, imperfect humans. Not one of us is without shortcomings or our own unique stories about how those shortcomings came about. In my experience, oftentimes when people point out your flaws it is really as a defense against dealing with their own. Keeping that in mind, forgive those people, focus on your own journey, and if you stumble or fail a few times, forgive yourself enough to get right back up and try again. Carrying around animosity and resentment whether it be directed at others or yourself is a sure-fire way to prevent positive change from occurring.
Take control of your life.
It is yours after all. No one else’s. At the end of the day, you are solely responsible for your own happiness, growth, and success. Be gentle enough with yourself to accept where you are currently and what may have gotten you there but firm enough with yourself to bring about the change that will get you where you want to be. Nobody is going to do this work for you and if you need to be your own cheerleader along the way, cheer your little heart out. Not everyone will understand the journey you are on or support you as you navigate it and that is ok. Decide what is best for you and your life, make the appropriate changes, and the right people will find you in the end.
The bottom line here is you cannot hate yourself and become a better version of yourself at the same time. Let me repeat that, you cannot hate yourself and become a better version of yourself at the same time. Things happen. People happen. Life happens. And because we do not live in a bubble all those things affect and shape who we have become today. I truly do not believe that we can punish ourselves into a better place. The same kindness we should extend to other people because we never know what battles they may have fought or are currently fighting is the kindness we need to extend to ourselves before we can make improvements in our own lives. Besides that, I would be willing to bet there is so much good in you that whatever you want to change is only a small fragment of what makes you, you. So, take some time, focus on what you can do to improve the parts of you that you feel might need some work, and then go show the world what an incredible little human being you are because you were willing to put in the effort.