In packing for my move, I came across an old one-subject spiral notebook from high school. It was hot pink and tattered–a hodgepodge of dramatic and overly adverb-y short stories and sappy love poetry, all written between the ages of 14 and 16. Quality stuff, I assure you. But toward the back of the notebook was this list of goals that I wrote for myself the day before entering my senior year:
In two separate instances, I told myself to (a) be a nicer person and (b) be friendlier. After coming across this gem of a list, I posted it on Facebook, which was met with a whole slew of “I remember you being very nice” responses. And I believe I was nice. Very nice. So, what gives?
My 39 year-old self chewed on these judgmental words from a 17 year-old for a bit. Knowing how quiet and shy I was, I think perhaps what I was trying to say was “be more outgoing.” I think “be a nicer person” was my way of expressing a desire to be more popular. More well liked. But, but . . . again thinking back to those days, I was well liked. Just not by myself. And therein lies the truth: I needed to be nicer to myself. And no rigid list of goals was–or is–going to make that happen. Just compassion. Just kindness. Just acceptance that who I am is wonderful and enough. As is.
Like those instructions from the flight attendant about fastening your own oxygen mask before helping others, sometimes you simply have to put yourself first. And that’s okay. Wise even. Human nature has us wanting to help others. To do things to make them happy. To do things that make them feel liked and loved, safe and secure. But I don’t think it’s possible to selflessly give your companionship to another person if you aren’t able to love yourself first. Otherwise, that companionship is a sneaky bartering tool. I gave you this . . . so you should give me that. (Insert hurt feelings here.)
I’ve been making lists for my entire adult life–some functional (return mirror, pay parking ticket, refill prescription, bake muffins), some more emotional. In fact, earlier this year, I did some work with a life coach and one of the goals I had set for myself was to “be more loving.” Again, if I can do something for another person, I think it will make me happier. And it may–for a minute. A day. A year. But then what? There’s always more to “do”–but what if, for once and for all, I decided to just “be more loving” toward myself?
“Don’t look for love in faces, places
It’s in you, that’s where you’ll find kindness.”