“I am what I am today because of the choices I made yesterday” – Eleanor Roosevelt
My girlfriend always complains about how much I talk about myself. We’ll be in the car, headed to a hiking trail or the supermarket, and she’ll start telling me about her week – maybe how a customer was rude to her and how it was annoying. I’ll try my best to listen, nodding and giving “mm’s” of affirmation. But as soon as she’s finished, more often than not, I’ll respond with something along the lines of:
Maybe he/she was having a bad day? How about trying to feel compassion for them instead of annoyance? Like, I recently read/heard this book/TEDtalk/Podcast that said.. blah blah blah blah. So I’m trying this new thing where I wear a rubber-band around my wrist and snap myself with it every time I get annoyed at someone. It’s supposed to condition you to not.. blah blah blah blah
What a pain in the ass.
This is a blog about self-improvement and, as you can see, I need to self-improve my listening abilities.
Add that to a laundry list of my other imperfections or, as I like to call them, my “growth-opportunities.” This is what I’m obsessed with on a daily basis. I’m constantly looking for ways to improve.
But I wasn’t always like this.
Growing up, I never had much confidence in myself. I was the fat kid – my grades were average at best, I wasn’t good at sports, and I didn’t have many friends. Things only got worse when I hit puberty and broke out with really bad acne. I was uncomfortable in my own skin, always sweating and out of breath. I started hating myself.
When I was in the 5th grade, my church started holding basketball nights on Fridays. I went out to play, hoping that sports would help me lose weight and fit in. Unfortunately, I’m terrible with balls (it’s on the list!) and my team would usually lose because of me. After a particular bad game, one of the older kids flipped out on me. He said,
“You f***ing suck! Are you even good at anything? Tell me one thing you’re good at.”
His words were humiliating and painful, but what hurt the most was my inability to come back with a response. I wracked my brain but my mind came up blank. I couldn’t think of anything, not a single thing, that I was good at.
After that night, I didn’t go back to play basketball. I quit playing the piano. I didn’t do much of anything anymore. I shunned any opportunity to try anything new. I became critical of anyone who put in earnest effort on something they loved while acting like I was “too cool” to try hard at anything.
Deep down, I was afraid. I fully believed in the words that were shouted at me that night. My air of disinterest was really a shield against being exposed as the worthless person I thought I was.
Change of Perspective
One summer, my mom signed me up for guitar lessons at the church. By some stroke of luck (or grace!), the church was having a food drive for the local food bank. There were boxes and boxes of cereal and pasta, pyramids of canned beans and soup. In a pivotal moment, the back of a Special K box caught my eye. On it was a promise: Lose 11 pounds 14 days.
Back then, I knew nothing about nutrition or exercise. All I knew was that I weighed 200 pounds at twelve years old, and that there were 10 weeks left in the summer. I did the math.
14 days = 2 weeks = 11 lbs
10 weeks/2weeks = 5 periods
11 lbs x 5 periods = 55 lbs
That day, I asked my mom to buy me a box of Special K. I ate 2 dry bowls of cereal a day for breakfast and dinner, and two slices of bread for lunch. By the end of the summer, I had lost 60 pounds. Before, I couldn’t even finish a single lap around a track. After 10 weeks, I was running 6 miles without stopping every day.
Of course, I don’t recommend that anyone do this. In fact, I’d strongly encourage them not to. What I did was extremely unhealthy, and it warped my relationship with food in such a way that I’m still recovering from it to this day.
But for the first time in my life, I realized that I could do something about my situation. I was no longer a helpless victim of my circumstance. If there was something I didn’t like, I could change it! That was the start of my passion for growth.
I now see that self-improvement and self-hate are really two sides of the same coin. They are just two ways of looking at the same thing – yourself.
But while self-haters will look and see all of their imperfections as something to despise, self-improvers look at their flaws and feel excitement. To them, their flaws are simply opportunities – evidence of their vast potential for growth. They have a strong sense of self-efficacy – the feeling of having control over the direction of their lives. As such, they give themselves permission to go after their dreams and aspirations
I think that this is the clearest sign of loving yourself in a healthy way, by investing time and energy into themselves, just as you would do to a loved one.
At the risk of sounding preachy, I’ll tell you that I believe that anyone can make the transition from hating themselves to loving themselves. It all comes down to making the choice to leave behind victimhood and take responsibility for the trajectory of your own life.
Til Next Time