Last October, I started this blog, and with it I started a personal quest to accept myself for who I am, warts and all. I wanted to see if I could successfully reject the perfectionistic attitude I’ve lived with for 37 years, the attitude which has plagued me with self-doubt and indecision even as I’ve presented myself with a cheery smile to the outside world and dusted the cobwebs under the rugs. I made the decision to accept myself as Good Enough rather than continuing to suffer in the shadows of Never Enough.
I didn’t know what, specifically, I should do to achieve this acceptance. I didn’t know if I should alter my behavior, start thinking differently or start meditating for 60 minutes a day. I just knew I had to reflect, observe, and invite positive change into my life. Now, after about four months, one thing has become very clear to me. In all my behavior-tweaking, self-reflection and healthy-behavior adopting, there is one thing that stands out above everything else – and it has very little to do with me at all.
The single best way I’ve found to accept myself for exactly who I am is to accept other people exactly as they are.
This statement is deceptively simple, but extremely powerful and immensely peaceful. In the past I’ve tried to change people – sometimes overtly, but usually in very quiet and unassuming ways – and it’s been absolutely futile. It is hard to change people! I mean, it’s hard to even attempt to change myself! It’s exhausting just thinking about all the energy I used to expend (and truthfully, of course, still do at times) trying to change people, or convince them of something. Don’t even get me started on my useless and ceaseless wishing that people were different, or the lethargic hoping that I’ve done every day when observing other people.
A couple examples might help illustrate my point.
|MY OPINION / OBSERVATION||PEACEFUL ACCEPTANCE OF REALITY|
|“I wish school wasn’t so demanding of my child and he could fit in better.”||School has, and will always have, different objectives for my child than I do. I can push him to be more diligent with handwriting and still honor his individuality. I don’t have to agree with the school on everything, and in fact, this is a great life lesson for my son. RESULT: I feel peaceful.|
|“I hope that my ex-boyfriend sees me and thinks I look beautiful and sexy and that he regrets ever breaking up with me.”||We broke up for a reason, and his opinion of me, while interesting, is irrelevant. RESULT: I feel beautiful and sexy not in relation to what I perceive as his perception, but simply because I feel beautiful and sexy.|
|“I wish that Uncle Whatshisface would stop his destructive behavior.”||It’s his life to lead, and I can’t make his decisions for him. He isn’t hurting me or the people around me. I can give myself permission to love him, not judge him. RESULT: I feel healthy and secure.|
|“I hope that Susie isn’t sad or depressed and that she stops looking toward men to make her feel better.”||Susie can feel as sad or depressed as she wants to feel. My hoping she doesn’t won’t change her reality. Maybe she just needs a supportive friend to listen to her complain about the men in her life. What’s so wrong with that? RESULT: I feel happy and compassionate.|
|“I wish that I was as pretty as, or as smart as, or as successful as Renee.”||Renee appears pretty and smart and successful, and I bet she also has the same doubts, frustrations and fears as I sometimes do. Further, I am pretty, I am smart, and I am successful, too. Her successes don’t negate my own. RESULT: I feel confident in my individuality and appreciate the beauty Renee brings to the world.|
There is power and peace in accepting other people. Some might call this behavior “surrender,” a popular term that has been floating around in spirituality circles and pop culture lately. When I look at someone different than myself and say, “Okay, I don’t agree with X, Y and Z, but I accept that this particular person feels this way and I’m not going to change them,” I’m surrendering. I’m giving up the need to be right, and the desire to feel better than them, and all the angst that goes with righteousness and superiority.
I realize now that in the past when I’ve looked at other people and judged them, I was only doing it because I judged myself in some way. I was comparing my thoughts and behaviors to theirs, perhaps subconsciously, but judging nonetheless. My self-worth was based on other people. If I judged others as inferior, then I felt good. I could bury this behavior behind justifications and explanations, but the simple truth is that comparison was my way of life, and it was killing my spirit.
It’s human nature to compare and judge. That’s why we get so offended when someone does something differently than we do. We think that if someone has an opinion that is different from ours, it’s a comment that what we personally think or do is worse than theirs. We do this all the time – at work, at play, around the town, and in our own heads. We are constantly judging and comparing and holding ourselves up to a yardstick to see where we fit in. Yet, all this measuring has gotten us a lot of low-self-esteem, anger, doubt, uncertainty, and perhaps even unhappiness.
If I wanted to get harsh about this, I could pose this question: What right do I have to ask others to accept me for who I am if I’m not willing to extend the same courtesy to them? Who do I think I am? In this light, there is simply no other choice for me to accept others. My personal opinions, my sense of righteousness and my ego are irrelevant.
I want self-acceptance. I see now that the path toward self-acceptance goes directly through other people. Therefore, I will do everything I can to accept the people around me for the unique and exceptional people they are.