Recently I was surfing an online forum, and I came across something that almost made me cry. Somebody had dug up an old, old post of mine and replied to it. Sometimes new users on a forum don’t look at the date on a old post, and they respond to it as if it were still relevant, so the post goes to the top of the first page in the list, even if it’s years old.
Those of you who read online forums have seen this happen many times, I’m sure, and so had I. But this one gave me an instant lump in the throat.
The post was called, “My Struggle.”
The desperate tone of the post stunned me. I couldn’t believe it was me.
In it, I had spilled my guts to everyone who would listen, over my dissatisfaction with myself and my life. I hated how I never finished anything, never got on a roll, never got good at what I wanted to be good at. I was not able to accept myself, because to accept myself meant that what I was doing (and failing to do) was fine.
Of course I wasn’t fine with it. I knew I was squandering my time and my talents, and it was killing me. I didn’t feel like I could get anywhere until I loved myself, and I didn’t feel like I could love myself until I got somewhere.
People advised me to decide to accept who I was, right now, and then I’d be free to live the life I want. I tried to do that. In fact, I did it a lot. I would get so worked up with enthusiasm about myself that I felt unstoppable. But enthusiasm fades. After a few days, the same patterns emerged again, and I was back to square one. This went on for years.
I’ve seen countless others describe the same problem. You can’t just decide to suddenly feel good about yourself. It won’t work.
I can see now the mistake people make in trying to love themselves, it’s exactly what I did. They confuse self-love with how they feel about themselves. They want the warm, comfortable feeling of being loved. They are focused on receiving love from themselves, rather than giving it.
If You Have Trouble Loving Yourself
Love is action.
Self-love is not how you feel about yourself. It’s what you do for yourself. You can only love yourself by doing, not thinking. Execute feats of love, feats of respect, for your own benefit.
First of all, worship your body. There is nothing on this earth you will ever do that does not require its cooperation. Be nice to it. Get it into great shape. Don’t poison it, don’t abuse it, don’t neglect it. An unwillingness to worship your body will undermine any attempt to love yourself. Love it with your actions, or it won’t love you back. If you are rude to it, it will hinder you, embarrass you, and even kill you.
Learn. Endow yourself with skills, languages, abilities and arts. Developing skills is the most immediate and liberating way to shoot your self-esteem through the roof. What qualities would make you love or admire someone else? Kindness, humor, thoughtfulness, ability? Cultivate and improve those qualities.
A lot of people seem to think indulging or gratifying yourself is the same as loving yourself. Magazines and commercials say “Love yourself,” or “You’re worth it,” and then tell you to buy something or eat chocolate cake. Finding some reward and indulging in it is not love. Often it’s just abuse. Comforting yourself is not loving yourself. Beware the draw of comfort; seeking comfort is often a response to fear, not love. Don’t appease yourself, revere yourself.
Do work you love. Even if you make less money. Even if you disappoint others. Working a job for which you have no passion is betraying yourself, for eight hours a day. Nobody can love themselves while they subject themselves to forty hours of uninspiring work every week. If it isn’t practical to leave your current line of work just yet, start planning your escape now. That’s love. Do not resign a third of your life to someone else’s purpose. Dignity is worth any pay cut. If you don’t like your job, you are only getting better at being resentful.
The Respect Habit
The quality of your actions matters. Do everything with care. Pick up and put down objects as if you respect them. Don’t just drop yourself into a seat, sit down with purpose. Respect everything you buy, borrow, give away or dispose of.
Respect your time. Spend your time on things that put you into a better situation in life, on things that make you more capable, rather than on things that make you feel good for the moment. You will love yourself for doing this.
Respect other people.
Respect their skills and their virtues. Their flaws too. Respect their thoughts. Let them finish what they are saying, don’t interrupt, don’t be dismissive. Try to understand what they’re getting at. Let them be who they are. I am convinced that people are exactly as judgmental about themselves as they are about others. Find the value in others, or you will never see it in yourself. Forget the ways in which you would like other people to be different. Forgive them, and forgive yourself. Forgive yourself every time you wake up, and every time you go to bed. Forgive yourself every time you screw up.
Respect the world around you. The spectacles, the scenes, the details. Respect buildings and the people who built them. Respect businesses and the people who run them. Respect the trees. Respect the tiny, yellow-flowered weed that vehemently persists in thrusting itself up through the cracks in the sidewalk. It invests all its energy in growing, and it absolutely insists on being itself.
Love is picking up the dumbells the moment you start making excuses. Love is doing your scariest task first thing in the morning.
It’s not quitting early and treating yourself to a beer. It’s not telling yourself it’s okay for your apartment to be a pigsty.
There is a choice in every moment, between acting out of love, or out of fear. At any instant, you can stop and look at the moment, and it is clear which action is which. You will make a habit out of choosing one or the other.
You won’t be able to have respect if you do not make a habit of recognizing value. There is value in every person, object, place and moment, but you may miss it if you hold faults to be more important.
Find the endless value in the world around you, and it will be easy to find the endless value in yourself. Eventually you will no longer see a difference between the two.
Photo by DerrickT