“The hardest challenge is to be yourself in a world where everyone is trying to make you be somebody else.” -E. E. Cummings
Why is it so simple to give advice to others, yet seemingly impossible to accept it for ourselves? I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve advocated for the truth that beauty comes from within and then turned around to critique myself in front of the mirror. I question whether we can ever do away with this desire to embody our society’s unobtainable ideal of beauty. If you’ve read my past few blog posts, you’ve read about some of my ideas on health. Constantly feeling defeated because we don’t feel adequate according to our culture’s standards is one of the most limiting factors to achieving an ideal health status.
In our own way, we all deal with these messages that are thrown in our face by our “perfection” crazed culture. Some of us put on a façade of confidence in front of others and then project our insecurities onto those closest to us. Some of us spend hours of our week in front of the mirror picking out features we wish we could change. Some take measures to surgically change these features. Some spend countless hours in the gym. Some of us torture ourselves by comparing our inadequacies to the perfection we perceive in others. Some try to find distractions from the overwhelming feelings of inadequacy. Some attempt to ignore these thoughts altogether. Can you identify with any of these descriptions? Some embrace a single trait they find attractive in themselves and flaunt it in attempt to receive positive feedback from others and increase their feelings of self-worth. Some constantly, publicly put themselves down in attempt to hear a self-esteem boosting comment from someone else. I think I have tried each one of these compensatory mechanisms (except the surgical procedures…. And maybe the countless hours at the gym…) and I can honestly say that not a single one has produced in me contentment in regard to my appearance.
I have found, though, a few ways to adjust my thoughts from dwelling on my faults and flaws. I’ve always had a hard time with accepting who I am. I tend to compare myself to the other people in my life and find the things they are good at convince myself I am worth less because I do not have the same traits. If there has been one lesson I feel I have continually been taught over the 22 years of my life, it is that comparing yourself to other people is dangerous and stupid. There is nothing good that can come of making mental venn-diagrams of yourself with the other people in your life. You may think I’m exaggerating here... I’ve literally done this. You are you. Stop trying to be someone else. God made you the way you are because He has a unique plan to use you in a way He can’t use anyone else. If you stop and think about it, differences in personalities and talents is the only way our world can continue to go on. If everyone were gifted in the same field of study, nothing else would be able to function. I love to take notice of this idea in the hospital. There are so many disciplines that enable a facility like a hospital function properly. You have doctors, nurses, surgeons, physical therapists, occupational therapists, dietitians, social workers, speech therapists, etc. who work directly with the patients, but then you also have the business administrative professionals who take care of financial matters, environmental services who help keep the hospital clean… and the list goes on. No one position makes the individual worth more than the other and each position is necessary to make the organization function as efficiently and effectively as a whole. This is the same in life. Individuality is what makes our relationships so beautiful.
One other way I have found to change the focus of my thoughts away from myself is to do something for someone else. I will stand by this idea until someone can prove me wrong- as soon as you start to dwell on thoughts of self-dislike, go do something to help out someone else. I guarantee you the self-focused thoughts will fade away. It works for me every time, without fail. The hard part is finding the will to force yourself out of this self-consumed mentality. I have found nothing more fulfilling and self-esteem boosting than serving others. Especially if you find ways to serve that utilize your natural gifts. If your job enables to you to this, that’s great. But I would encourage you to find a way to help other out beyond your career. Volunteer with an organization that can let you help out in a way that brings you joy. Don’t make yourself do something you hate. Find something you enjoy, that makes you feel useful, and devote your time to this cause. It doesn’t even have to be with an organization, it can be in the lives of your friends/family/coworkers/neighbors. Just do something for someone else rather than spending excess amounts of time criticizing and evaluating yourself.
I feel like I may be repetitive in these posts, but I think these are messages we can all benefit from hearing multiple times… I know I’ve been trying to learn these lessons for years and years, so reiterating them won’t hurt any of us. With the constant reminder from society that none of us can match up to its ideal, it is next to impossible for us to avoid a negative self image without completely isolating ourselves from the world. So take my suggestions or find your own ways to avoid thinking about your flaws and faults, but either way, we have to find a way to stop living in self-defeat if we want to live a healthy, purposeful life.