Growing up, and throughout my college years, my self-worth was firmly attached to my ability to excel in school and to be a thin, conventionally attractive young woman. Consequently, everything that I did was motivated by the desire to uphold those two qualifiers. The habits I developed and the activities I participated in were all chosen with a very specific goal in mind–to build a moat of self-protection from anything that might challenge my ability to be the high-functioning, perfect version of myself that I believed I was supposed to be.
Inevitably, this led to intense self-absorption. It was exceptionally difficult to empathize with others or consider their needs, because I was constantly consumed my own—of course, there’s a balance to be struck in putting on your own oxygen mask before assisting others, but I was blatantly inconsiderate of other peoples needs just to uphold the version of myself that I thought the world wanted me to be. I rudely declined invitations to hang out with friends, just because I was terrified of the entirely made-up negative ramifications it would have upon my ability to perform in school the next day. Or because I might be tempted to eat something that was excluded from my list of clean, acceptable foods. I thought I was only worth the output I was able to provide for others—my advice, my grades, my work, my time, rather than considering the fact that people enjoyed me for my personality, my sense of humor, my energy, my vitality. Because my self-worth was tied to my outward accomplishments, I subsequently perceived myself as a machine that was able to be optimized to always perform better. Sounds like a formula for complete and total burnout, right?
Well, it truly was. Eventually, once I had graduated from college, I was exhausted from trying to be this version of myself I felt compelled to uphold. Moreover, I deeply and truly craved to show up for this life in a different way–to be more soft, empathetic, and genuine toward others, and ultimately, to myself. And certainly, I was terrified to make a change. In fact, I struggled to perceive myself as worthy enough of this change—will I provide enough value for others if I don’t sustain this version of myself? Do I have enough intrinsic value to offer and to be of service instead?
Ultimately, the brave thing to do was to try—to believe I was enough as I was, without achievements, and that I would be valued by others in a richer way than ever before. Counterintuitively, the key to trusting in this process has actually been self-compassion—providing myself with my own solid foundation of empathy and kindness to give myself the energy and mental fortitude needed to serve the world as a different version of myself. Without that constant base of love to fall back on, I’d forever be at the mercy of other people’s praise, which I was intimately trying to wean myself off of in the first place—with this in mind, self-compassion appeared as the begrudgingly obvious choice and the true key to serving the world from a place of abundant energy and alignment with my true values. So I took the leap, and it’s safe to say I’m never turning back.
This newfound practice of self-compassion has given me the courage to really show up for the people that matter to me, to become involved in my community at a gradual pace, to try new things such as yoga, and to just be a more relaxed version of myself on a daily basis, inherently improving the quality of my relationships and of my life. I am kinder and lighter toward friends, coworkers, family members, and my boyfriend, all because I am able to be kinder and lighter toward myself. By lifting the pressure to be a version of myself that I don’t actually value, I am able to devote my energies toward being the person I’ve always wanted to be–energized and ready to serve the world with my talents and gifts, whatever those might be.