The question took me off guard. What did I like about myself? I wasn’t in there in that small, generically comfortable room tucked away in my campus’ health and counseling center to talk about what I liked about myself. I was there because I was flawed. I was there to talk about what was wrong with me. I was there to fix myself.
I looked back at the psychiatrist sitting across from me and stammered, “I’m tall?” painfully aware of the vacuity of my response. The kindly woman just smiled and asked, “What else?” In my last post, I spoke to you about my aborted suicide plans last April. It was another five months before I finally relented to close friends who urged me to seek the help of a therapist. I had tried over the summer months to “fix” and “repair” myself on my own, as best as I knew how. And by all accounts, I had actually been quite successful. Going to therapy was less a remedy of last resort and more symptomatic of a new voice in my head that had finally begun to reinforce the idea that I might be strong enough to overcome my obstacles after all.
I sat pensively for a moment, reaching back in my mind for anything that might be a valuable contribution. I settled into my thoughts, returned my therapists gaze and replied, “I’m a loyal friend?” Again, half questioning whether this was, in fact, an appropriate response. “That’s great!” my therapist replied, “Tell me more about that.”
I bring this up in this blog post because I think many of us approach New Year’s with the same mindset I had when I began going to therapy. What’s wrong with me? What do I need to fix? This is that special time of year when we sit down and make a few resolutions or set goals about the person we want to be one year from now. There is certainly nothing wrong with this. Introspection, self-criticism and a desire to improve are very healthy things, if not absolutely essential to living a successful life, however you might define that to be. But simply acknowledging that there is room for improvement does not necessarily mean you are a flawed product to begin with.
As you settle into your new workout routine, diet, evening class or whatever you have resolved to do this year, I challenge you to ask yourself two questions: Why do I want this? What do I like about myself?
Many people often find themselves focusing so securely on what they lack and what needs improvement that they forget to reinforce the strengths they already have. They forget to get better at doing things they already love and already want to do. I know I am certainly guilty of this at times. More often still, we compare ourselves to those around us and think, “I should look like that. I should be that smart.” So why do you want to lose 10 pounds? For you? Or because you are told that skinny is better and until you match up, you are worth less?
I’m not advocating that you drop your health-conscious resolutions and pick up the Hostess®, but I do hope you consider the question I posed. Pretend for the next 12 months you go to gym regularly, pick up yoga a few times per week, and do a good job of cleaning up your diet, but on New Year’s Day of 2015 you actually don’t look that much different and didn’t lose that much weight? Were you successful?
I wrestled with these questions myself in concocting my own New Year’s Resolutions. I will be chronicling my story for the next 12 months with the help of my friends here at Project Ava. To foreshadow the months to come and to perhaps inspire your own resolutions, here are my 2014 New Year’s Resolutions:
- Be content. Not complacent. Again, ask yourself why you have set the goals you’ve set. Is it for you? Or someone else? This goal is about how I judge myself, and others, for perceived shortcomings. You have a lot to offer right now. You don’t have to wait until some indefinite date in the future to start doing the things you want to do and feeling the way you want to feel.
- Take risks. I was recently at a party where I received some very sage life advice, “Learn about finances now, take risks, and start moisturizing while you’re young!” I could throw any one of thousands of proverbs, sayings and tidbits of conventional wisdom at you right now, but the simple truth is that no one is going to chase what you want for you. If you want to do something. Go do it. If you want something in your life. Go get it. If you want someone in your life. Recruit them.
- Make myself a priority. Not to get all RuPaul on you, but seriously. No one else is going to make you a priority if you aren’t willing to make yourself a priority. The way you treat yourself is indicative of the way you treat other people, and you, as well as everybody else, deserve to be treated well.
- Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Our planet’s resources are limited. Global climate change is real and it’s happening now. Thinking about what you use and how you use it is probably the best way to make a selfless difference in the world right now.
- Love more. Fear less. In the heights (depths?) of my depression, I was never outwardly mean to anyone. But I knew I was bitter and judgmental of just about everyone else I met. That was never me before. I always looked for the best in people growing up and the person I was on the inside didn’t match up with the person I wanted to be. Judgment of others is activated by fear of being judged ourselves. Fear of what others would think of me if I made myself in anyway vulnerable around them drove all of my interpersonal decision-making and it made me feel terrible. Loving others and being vulnerable is hard because it forces us to love ourselves, all of ourselves, and acknowledge our shortcomings and failures. But breaking through these fears allows us to love ourselves, as well as others, more fully.