Self-love. It’s only eight letters but it’s such a big word that gets thrown around all the time. And yet, not a lot of people understand what it really means.
In my early 20s, I was like everyone else. Young, naïve, and thrown into the wild, wild world fresh out of college. And like everyone else, I had absolutely no idea of what I wanted to do with my life.
So I flung myself into the winds, hoping the next draft would lift me up and take me somewhere I wanted to be.
By now, of course, I know that wouldn’t work. But that’s what I did anyway.
I said yes to the first job that was offered to me – one that entailed working from 10 a.m. up to the ungodly hours of dawn. And I chased every possible romantic interest with unashamed gusto, which, of course, led to my heart breaking into a million pieces every time.
On the outside, everything looked okay. I was a smart, beautiful, energetic young lady with a high-paying job who was either dating one hot guy this month or boozing it up with her friends the next month because the guy had broken up with her. Pretty normal for somebody in her early 20s, right?
Well, the cracks finally began to show in my mid-20s.
By this time, I had gone through five major heartbreaks (not counting the mini heartbreaks in between), was disappointed with my post-grad studies, and was going through episodes of self-diagnosed depression every week.
I was also searching the self-help books and blogs I read, desperately looking for a solution for the problem I couldn’t quite put my hands on.
Dare to love yourself
as if you were a rainbow
with gold at both ends.
Everything I read seemed to point to self-love. They say, you gotta love yourself first before anyone else. You gotta love yourself first and everything else will fall into place. You gotta love yourself first if you want to be loved by others.
All of this made sense to my 25-year-old brain. But I couldn’t, for the life of me, really hold it in my heart what it meant to love yourself.
So even though I was preaching self-love to my girlfriends (who were also nursing a broken heart in one way or another) at the time, I didn’t really know what I was talking about.
And then one day, my dad died.
He died in his sleep. And all of a sudden, the frail piece of thread I was hanging onto snapped. My world crumbled, but there was no way for me to just give up and cry about it all. After all, my dad was the family’s breadwinner. And now that he was gone, somebody had to take his place, or else we all starve and die as well.
So after a month of grieving, I decided to pick myself up and get me a job. Another job. A high-paying one because that’s the kind of job I always got myself. And so even though everything had fallen apart, I tried hard to keep up the illusion that it had not.
Don’t ask yourself what the world needs, ask yourself what makes you come alive. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. – Howard Washington Thurman
The job was nice, at first. I liked what I did and had very minimal contact with whoever was running the company. Most of all, it put food on the table and helped my mom put my youngest sister through college. I wished my dad could see how put-together my life was. Or so I thought.
Like every other job I had in the past, it started taking too much from me. I was working six-hour workdays. When my boss piled additional responsibilities on me (presumably because I was very good at what I did), the workdays extended to eight hours. No problem. I could handle that.
And then the eight-hour workdays turned into ten. And the ten into twelve. And the twelve into fifteen.
I was ordering lunch and dinner deliveries every day because I couldn’t cook my own meals anymore. I couldn’t meet up with my friends, even though I wanted to. Every night, I cried from stress before falling asleep at 11 p.m., only to get up again at 5 a.m. the next day to go back to my job.
I was exhausted to the bone, but every day, for the next several months, I trudged on and on at the job I was no longer happy with.
To cut a long story short, I quit. Sent in my resignation letter in the middle of the day when everyone was secretly dozing off on their keyboards or tending to some sort of side hustle.
My boss gave me a hard time during my last week. All of a sudden, he had come up with something and had to stay at the hospital for a week without telling me about it.
And being the perpetual do-gooder that I was, I voluntarily took over his responsibilities because, I thought, who else was supposed to do it?
That last week was hell, but I dutifully and obediently went through it.
That was the easy part. The hard part came after.
Yes, I was free. Yes, I had a lot of money. But what was I supposed to do?
All my life, I had been raised as the support girl. People acknowledged my talents, but I was always relegated to second place. I was the assistant, the secretary, the person who did it all but never got officially acknowledged.
And now, here I was with all this freedom in my hands and no one to tell me what to do. What was I supposed to do?
Well, suffice it to say, I burned through my cash trying to figure out what I wanted. I set up e-commerce stores on Shopify until I realized I kept getting in touch with the wrong suppliers, so I shut them down.
I put up affiliate websites selling exercise equipment, which was pretty easy, to tell you the truth. I could’ve built a mini fortune from the passive income I earned by promoting products sold on Amazon. If only it didn’t bore the hell out of me.
It was only when I realized my bank accounts were empty that I had to sit down and really listen to what I was telling myself. Add to that the fact that my landlord was kicking me out of my apartment because he wanted his mother to live there.
(No, I wasn’t behind on my payments. I was making payments on the dot every month, yet he still wanted me out. The Universe was really trying hard to tell me something here.)
So I had no job, no money, no apartment, and no dad to give me a loan. Isn’t it funny how people never really start to listen to themselves until they hit rock bottom?
But that’s what I did. For a year and a half, I finally tried to listen to myself.
You’re always with yourself, so you might as well enjoy the company. – Diane von Furstenberg
I also cut back on my expensive lifestyle, learned how to cook everything in the fridge before it went stale, and developed the courage to ask my boyfriend for money when I needed it.
I did experience bouts of regret here and there. And from time to time, mostly when my finances were running dangerously low, I’d jump on the job-seeking train and get me a job again. And then quit. And then find another job again. And then quit again.
All this time, I had my eyes set on one thing and one thing only. What was I supposed to do with my life?
I found the answer to that question much, much, muuuch later. (I’ll write about it in another post.) But I did realize one very important thing without even trying to.
Self-love is real.
The self-help gurus were right. You have to love yourself first before anything else. And no, I didn’t have to travel the world like Elizabeth Gilbert did to find herself. I didn’t have the money anyway.
All I had to do was hit rock bottom to learn the most important thing in the world. And I’m writing this because I want to share what I learned with you today. Oh, and yes, I did find an apartment. Thank God!
1. Put yourself first.
When the plane is about to crash, you put your oxygen mask and life vest on first. And then, you can help your seatmate put their oxygen mask and life vest on.
Because otherwise, what’s the point of helping others if you won’t live another day?
I had an awfully hard time learning to put my needs first. Even now, I still have to check myself each time the stubborn voice in my head says I have to wake up at 5 a.m. so I can cook breakfast for my boyfriend before he goes to work, even though he can cook breakfast for himself and wants to do it for himself
2. Forgive your past.
Many of us have a past we’re not proud of. I know I do. I might talk about it in more detail in future posts. For now, let’s just say there were a lot of things I know in my heart I shouldn’t have done.
But the past is over. And though the past may have led me down a different road, it’s still a past worth learning from. The lessons I learned from the past I consider as gifts.
Every day, I silently give thanks to my younger self for choosing to experience a difficult past so that I could learn from it.
3. Know who you really are.
This one’s another thing that stops people in their tracks. Who are you? No, really. Who are you? Many people spend their entire lives not knowing who they really are, until they come face to face with it on their death beds.
No, who you really are isn’t what you do. Who you really are isn’t a life coach, or a writer, or a dentist.
Be faithful to that which exists within yourself. – André Gilde
And even more so, who you really are isn’t what you have. It’s not your mansion on the beach, or your wonderful relationship with your spouse and kids, or the fortune in your bank account.
Who you really are is what’s inside you. Once you drop your pretenses, you’ll see that it’s beautiful, powerful, and full of light. There’s no way you won’t be able to love yourself when you finally get to know who you are.
4. Stay away from people who pull you down.
I have this theory that every person in the world can do whatever they want to do. This theory may be true or not, but I’m holding on to it because it serves me well.
If you choose to believe in it too, you’ll have to let go of the people who tell you there’s no way you can do the things you want to do.
There may be people that you don’t want to completely shut out of your life, like your family. But you can always limit how much you see them to special occasions and holidays.
I now know the people in my life who tried to pull me down only did so because they were scared I’d fall flat on my face if I dared fly. But if I had listened to them, I wouldn’t even be here writing this post.
5. Look to yourself for validation.
As the perpetual assistant, sidekick, and wallflower, I always looked to someone else to give me approval. For a long time, I couldn’t see my worth without having another person see it first.
The result was an endless stream of trying so damn hard to please others so I can convince them I was worthy of love, respect, and recognition.
Fortunately, I broke. I realized I couldn’t keep neglecting myself by constantly looking to others to validate me.
I am responsible for my own happiness, as you are for yourself. When you take that responsibility for yourself, you’ll realize you already have everything you need to be happy and to succeed.
6. Hush up your inner critic.
All of us have this little voice inside our head that never stops.
Sometimes, when you grab it by the neck and threaten to choke it, it’ll grudgingly pat you on the back for something nice you just did.
But most times, it’s going to criticize you, blame you, put you down, tell you you’re not good enough, and go over and over the things you could have said or done better instead.
Like the people we love who pull us down, this voice means well. This voice wants to keep us safe. It doesn’t want to see us in pain.
But it’s also the same voice that keeps you from getting to know yourself better and giving yourself the love that you deserve.
7. Be honest about how you feel.
In a world that doesn’t run out of distractions, we can easily whip out our phones and go on Facebook every time we start feeling a semblance of any unwanted emotion.
Feeling rejected? Well, you can always post a nice selfie and count your likes. Feeling like a failure? You’re a huge smartass, so you can always crush some random person in a never-ending political debate. Feeling sad? Hit up a bar and get drunk.
But what if, for once, you bypass your go-to distractions and start to actually feel your feelings instead? Our feelings aren’t the devil. They’re simply a part of us that’s dying to be heard.
When we pause, reach out to our feelings, and simply be aware of how they feel without trying to bury them away, you know what happens? They thank you for acknowledging their existence and go off their merry way on their own.
There’s nothing more beautiful than allowing yourself to listen to the parts of you that have always wanted to be listened to.
8. Be kind to yourself.
When a child accidentally drops a plate, you don’t yell at them and tell them they’re an idiot.
When a friend calls to bail on you because her husband is sick, her daughter has an emergency at school, and her boss is railing on her to finish an important report by 2:00 p.m., you don’t accuse them of being the worst friend ever.
Sure, you might feel disappointed, and it’s okay to feel that, but you’ll understand why your friend has to miss your date.
Did your mom ever tell you, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything”? She was right – and talking nicely also applies when you’re talking to yourself, even inside your head. – Victoria Moran
So why do you call yourself an idiot when you make a small mistake? Why do you give yourself a tongue-lashing when you fail to live up to other people’s expectations?
How do you treat the people you love? And how does that compare with how you treat yourself? If you’re kind to others, and I know you are, why can’t you be the same to yourself?
9. Stop comparing yourself to others.
It’s not easy to not compare yourself to others when you have your Facebook friends always posting about their awesome vacations, pretty lunches, and to-die-for OOTDs.
But the truth is nobody lives a perfect life, even if that’s what Facebook wants you to believe.
So instead of holding others’ lives as a standard for your own, stop looking at their lives altogether and focus on living your own.
Others may be doing the same thing or a different thing. Others may be farther down the path or a bit behind. Others may be walking a different path altogether. So what? Who cares?
It’s your life, not anyone else’s. You were meant to live your life, so start doing it.
10. Be grateful for yourself and the life you have built.
You’ve been around the sun and back for several years now. You’ve seen a lot of things, heard a lot of things, experienced a lot of things. Isn’t awesome how all of that contributed to the life you’re living now?
And even if it might not be obvious to you yet, you’ve lived such a fabulous life. And it’s about to get even better.
So say thank you to yourself for having lived a good life and to the past that has brought you to where you are now.
The more you acknowledge yourself and your life with gratitude, the more you’ll find reasons to feel grateful for.
11. Do something that makes you happy every day.
When you wake up every day, do you just go through the motions? Or do you go through the day with the intention to do at least one thing that makes you happy?
Many people live their lives like they were programmed little robots.
How many days have you gotten out of bed, grabbed a dry toast for a quick bite, driven the kids to school, gone to work, got bored at work, picked up the kids, had dinner, played some games on your phone, then gone to bed feeling empty only to do the same things over and over and over again?
When you go through life like that, you’re not actually living. You’re simply moving your body around, doing what you think you’re supposed to do.
When you recover or discover something that nourishes your soul and brings joy, care enough about yourself to make room for it in your life. – Jean Shinoda Bolen
You don’t have to overhaul your life, although that’d be nice too. If that’s too much for you, try doing one small, simple thing that makes you feel good every day. Like eating a full breakfast, or soaking in a lavender bath at the end of the day, or asking your partner to pick up the kids for once.
You’ll realize you can live a wonderful life without having to turn your world upside down.
12. Give yourself the chance to explore new opportunities.
When you start asking, “Is this it? Is this all there is to life?” that’s your inner self raring to burst out and explore the world.
I first began asking myself this question when I was 18 years old. That was more than ten years ago. I didn’t act on that question for such a long time because I was scared of the unknown and what might or might not happen if I ventured out on my own.
Now, I thank myself for having stepped out of my comfort zone. If I hadn’t, I’d still be asking the same questions, going through the same motions, and wondering what could have been.
Don’t let yourself wait that long to find your answer to this question.
When the urge to step out and see beyond your current line of vision comes up, honor it and let it take you to amazing places you never thought were there.
13. Allow yourself to go after your dreams.
Our dreams are what keep us alive. They are what keep us moving forward, even when we have no idea where we’re actually going.
Hold on to your dreams, my friend. Keep a picture of it in your heart. And each time you take a step forward, take that step in anticipation of getting closer to that dream.
But don’t forget to let go either because it’s that letting go of a specific result in your head that brings about what you desire the most.
14. Surrender control of your life to your Higher Self.
There’s a lot of names we give the Higher Self. You might call it God or Universe. Star Wars fans call it the Force. Scientists call it energy. And some might even just call it good vibes.
Whatever you call it, it’s your Higher Self calling out to you every day to live a good life with authenticity, integrity, and honesty about who you are.
It knows what’s best for you and is ALWAYS working in your favor. Listen to this part of you and give in to what it asks you to do because it knows best what you want and how you can get it.
15. Love others because they’re an extension of you.
Self-love can’t be true if you can’t love others. You know why? Because other people are and have always been a part of you.
What we see in others, we see in ourselves. And so, if you can’t love others because of something you find annoying (or even offensive) in them, ask yourself what that is mirroring back to you.
When you adopt the viewpoint that there is nothing that exists that is not part of you, that there is no one who exists who is not part of you, that any judgment you make is self-judgment, that any criticism you level is self-criticism, you will wisely extend to yourself an unconditional love that will be the light of the world. – Harry Palmer
Loving others doesn’t mean giving them everything you’ve got until you can’t give anymore. It doesn’t mean supporting others to the point of forgetting you have your own needs too.
No, you don’t take the shirt off your back and give it to another.
Loving others simply means seeing them as the way they truly are, even if they can’t see it themselves just yet. And just like you, they’re beautiful, powerful, and full of light.