We do not need other people’s opinions and appreciation to ‘be’ and rejoice in who we are in the here and now, affirms Annesha Banerjee
Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism, once wrote,“Because one believes in oneself, one doesn’t try to convince others. Because one is content with oneself, one doesn’t need others’ approval. When one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her.”
A child’s world is carefree, unfettered by the load of expectations and desires that the world awaits to gift. It becomes its own master, navigating through each moment, without any thoughts or worries about the future. It accepts itself as it is, completely and perfectly. There is no condemnation and no desire to be somebody else. This is our true state of being.
But as we grow up, we drift away from our true nature, getting trapped in the wayward and complicated ways of the world. We have to gather immense courage to come back to ourselves by accepting ourselves as we are. This acceptance of the self paves the way for self-appreciation and vice versa. Self-appreciation is paramount, and it is not just about all the good things you do and the qualities you possess but also about the potential you have. There is nothing more important than feeling good about who and what you are.
As you acknowledge yourself with appreciation, you open the door to allow more good things to come into your life. It no longer remains a question of deserving or ability; it becomes a question of allowing. We appreciate the beauty of a bud, knowing that it will mature and blossom into a flower eventually. We don’t nag or criticise it for not blooming sooner. Rather, we water it patiently each day, secure in the knowledge that a pretty flower is in the making. We are like this flower, growing through the stages, and nothing but patience and appreciation of the ‘bud self’ will help blossom our ‘flower self.’
Yet, we find it difficult to appreciate ourselves. We wait for opportunities to appreciate our own self and crave for the compliments that we are capable of giving our selves without any reason.
The theory of the imperfect self
At one stage of my life, I often found myself lost in thoughts and deep introspection. During this phase of self-reflection, I remember categorising all my thoughts and actions into positive and negative. It was in this newfound heightened sense of self-awareness where it dawned on me that oftentimes, I was quite brutal on myself. Reading about the success mantras of top business personalities and the chants of leadership gurus about how to stay on top of the game was making me anxious. In my desire to utilise my free time to the fullest, I ended up filling my plate with more than I could handle.
As a result, not being able to follow through with what all that I gathered from those books and videos was shaking my confidence, and my mind was going on a roll. And in ensuring that not even a single drop of this knowledge nectar spilled out from my bowl, I was, in fact, falling into the trap of self-doubt. The only way I saw to put a stop to all this was to acknowledge and accept the fact that in my rush to become great, I was making a mess of myself in the present and that I wasn’t ready to take it all in together. I surmised that stretching beyond your comfort zone is one thing, being harsh on yourself is another.
Society would like us to believe that we are always just a few steps short of becoming our perfect self, our destined self. While it is a great driving factor to motivate individuals, encourage them to change their lives, and move in a positive direction, it also causes people to feel miserable (as it did in my case) about themselves as it reiterates the idea that, somehow, we humans are ‘flawed’ and need to be ‘fixed.’ Self-help books as well as motivational and inspirational speakers have long been the flagbearers of this notion that we have to better ourselves. We are told to ‘hustle,’ ‘work hard,’ and use ‘will power’ to achieve our truest potential, but unfortunately, the proposal is to first change something before we can be happy. Furthermore, the rewards bring only a temporary sense of satisfaction and don’t really bring us closer to the peace we desire.
The underlying fact in all these ideas is that happiness is found somewhere in the future, and the funny thing about the future is that it never comes. The present moment is all that actually exists. Sure, sometimes it’s good to have goals for the future, something to aim for, but if we continue postponing our happiness for some moment in the future, we will never be happy. To be truly happy in the present, we must appreciate ourselves as we are now. Without appreciating what you are now, you can never appreciate what you will be. Self-appreciation is the secret for a strong foundation of life— you can build on top of what you already are. Unlike self-worth or self-esteem that is based on our evaluation of our past experiences and the opinions of others, self-appreciation is for the present ‘you’ and the value you add to yourself in the ‘now.’
For me, the revelation of this fact opened up a new space where I could see myself at the moment and appreciate that although I may not have reached my absolute potential yet, I was the best version of myself so far.
The game of achievements
“When you do something noble and beautiful and nobody noticed, do not be sad. For the sun, every morning is a beautiful spectacle, and yet most of the audience still sleeps.” —John Lennon
Underneath everything we do or have ever done is the perception of ourselves and a strong desire to feel appreciated. However, we often seem to go backwards about it, trying to succeed, achieve, and prove things to ourselves and others so that we are appreciated, instead of appreciating ourselves, to begin with.
Attaching your self-worth to achievements is a dangerous game. We have been trained and sucked into the cycle of achieving more, doing more, gaining more, and everything ‘more.’ This game of chasing has left us exhausted and yet we can’t not run. When the question of achievement arises, we must also wonder about what is our perception of achievement and how we measure our achievements?
Our perception of failure and achievement, good and bad, strong and weak is heavily influenced by what we see around us. The idea of achievement is warped and is based on the statistics that we see around. Furthermore, the ‘likes’ of Facebook and ‘hearts’ of Instagram have influenced how we present ourselves. Our notion of achievement is, actually, society’s collective idea of perfection—perfect job, perfect body, perfect partner, perfect house, and so on. Therefore, we should rather attach our sense of self-appreciation to our personal qualities without turning it into a competition with others.
Expressing our appreciation for others and having others expressing their appreciation for us is a beautiful thing, as long as we remember that our goal in life is not for other people to like and approve of us. So, when you depend on someone else to satisfy critical needs such as love and appreciation, you give away enormous power and control over your basic well-being. Even in the healthiest relationship, you’re still leaving your self-image up to the other to mould and eventually end up paying a price for the confidence and appreciation someone else injects you with. Dependency on appreciation and validation from others obstructs the motto of ‘living our best life.’
Besides, in the pursuit of social acceptance and appreciation, we have embarked on a quest to become someone else. And when you dream to become someone else, you stop valuing who you are. A true sense of self-appreciation comes from a deep understanding of oneself. Lisa Earle McLeod, the author of Forget Perfect, says, “Once you abandon the perfect picture of how your life should be, you can start enjoying the way it actually is.” Mostly, the aspects that we keep ‘should-ing’ about are the ones that we have not fully accepted about ourselves or our lives. When we accept ourselves, exactly as we are right now, we create a sense of peace and kindness that allows us to fully appreciate who we are, in all forms.
But it is not to say that we should not change our detrimental habits when we embrace who we are. Self-appreciation makes way for self-growth by promoting self-belief, thus helping us become the best version of ourselves and not someone else. When you know your true self, you will find yourself effortlessly moving towards everything that you once desired strongly but, at the same time, resisted with your own negative thinking. The paradox is that once you stop desiring to be anything other than what you are, you begin to become everything you were destined to be.
Honour your uniqueness
“Be yourself; everyone else is taken.” —Oscar Wilde
We are all unique individuals. We all have special qualities, talents, and gifts that only we possess and which make us wonderful and fascinating people. They may not have shined out yet, but within each of us is a highly creative and skilled being. Deep down, we know exactly what we are capable of and may even have had a glimpse of it in moments of inspiration. Sadly, these flashes of brilliance are hindered right in the next moment when we begin to compare ourselves to others and tell ourselves that their work or creation is of much more value than ours. We deliberately focus on our weaknesses, thinking it will help us improve. In fact, it is easier to appreciate ourselveswhen no one is around, but when someone else comes into the picture, the comparison begins and it kills the spirit of self. Even if in your mind, one of you is ‘less than the other.’ It is only through self-appreciation that we own our novel qualities, thoughts, ideas, feelings, and express ourselves and live our lives in an authentic way. Appreciating the self is an affirmation: “I accept myself exactly as I am,” which evokes a sense of gratitude, allowing us to focus on what is already present. Furthermore, it helps us to acknowledge and appreciate people and their uniqueness genuinely, without judgement.
Self-compassion plays a huge role in this. We have to understand that self-appreciation is universally challenging, and we should have some compassion for ourselves as we build our self-appreciation muscle. Don’t indulge in self-criticism, self-judgement, and constant mind-nagging. Celebrate your successes without criticising them in the same breath. Forgive yourself for being an imperfect human being who makes mistakes. With an intention of appreciation, life flows smoothly, and you’re open to infinite possibilities. Moreover, in the state of appreciation, you’re in a far better condition to respond to events that might throw you off. You’re relaxed, calm, and know you can handle whatever arises in a creative and dynamic way.
As the Zen master Thich Nhat Hahn writes, “You are a wonderful manifestation. The whole universe has come together to make your existence possible.” And so, we honour everything when we honour ourselves.
Avoiding the traps
For many generations, we have been taught that appreciating oneself is to be haughty and arrogant. We have been told to keep ourselves small and not to think too highly of ourselves. This has caused us to run around with exaggerated storylines about ourselves, either good or bad. But the truth remains that every human being has both positive and negative traits, and the key is having a balanced perspective so that we can see ourselves without distortion.
If what we think, feel, or say about ourselves in a positive way has anything to do with our feeling superior to someone else, it is not self-appreciation but an ego trip. Arrogance is a cover-up for fear and insecurity, whereas self-appreciation is an expression of gratitude, love, and recognition for something we have done and, more importantly, for who we are. It’s not about putting another down or thinking you are better than another. It’s about being humble.
When you are fully self-appreciative, you will have the most glorious experience in the Universe. You will be physically focused, your heart will be fully open to the love of the Universe, and that love will stream through you, using you as a channel for all that is great. Self-appreciation acknowledges the greater part of you, the part of yourself that has tapped into the universal knowledge and power and can create miracles by revealing the truth of who you are—a child of the Divine. And more than that. You are the Divine.
One of the founding fathers of Western psychology, William James, wrote: “The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” Luckily, we can meet this essential need without depending on other people to approve of us.
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