Sometimes we reflect on our life, and we don’t like who we are. We look at other people who seem to have the perfect life, and we desperately want to be them.
Have you ever felt like this?
If you are like most people, you probably have. I know I have. This feeling is often fleeting and temporary, but sometimes it becomes one of our more dominant and persistent feelings. It is painful when this happens because we feel alienated from our self and like our life is a failure.
I get this, Friend, and I am sorry if you are feeling this way. You are welcome to feel this way as long as you need or want to, but if you would like to think or feel differently, here are seven things you can do when you don’t like yourself and want to be better or someone else.
One: Realize that you have intrinsic worth.
Even if I don’t know you, I can say with 100% certainty that you are worthy right now. You might think to yourself, “You don’t know how awful or gross or ______ I am” (fill in the blank with whatever word describes your painful feelings right now.)
I get this. I sometimes have these feelings about myself, too. We all do. But I want you to understand that no matter how awful or whatever you are, I still know you are worthy because I know that every single person, including you, has a light inside of them that holds unconditional worth and value.
Your light is like your own personal magic or your own personal powerhouse. It contains your unique view of the world, as well as your unique talents, beauty, and wisdom.
These things are just a small part of your light, and your light has more awesomeness in it than you can imagine. The more you connect with and tend your light, the more kind, compassionate, respectful, creative, confident, generous, brave, humble, and joyful you become (and that is just a beginning list of the good things that happen.)
And the more you do that, the more you share your magic with the world. (You can read more how to tend your light here and here.)
You may think that if everyone is worthy and magical, then no one is. But that’s like saying that if every rose is amazing, then no rose is. Or if every landscape has its own beauty and magic, no landscape does. That’s obviously not true. Every rose and every landscape is intrinsically worthy and magical, and so are you.
You may also think to yourself, “Well, I’m a really bad person. I have done bad things.” I get this. We’ve all done bad things. What I’d like you to consider is that we do bad things when we get cut off from our light and start acting out of fear, pain, and rage. We all do bad things sometimes, and we need to make amends for those things.
Please consider, however, that your bad actions do not negate your intrinsic worth, and they occur when you forget who you really are. Please also consider that you can always return to your light. (You can read more about this here.)
Two: Use comparison as a guide or treasure map, not as a stick to beat yourself.
Sometimes when we feel bad, we compare ourselves to other people.
It’s normal to compare sometimes, and it can be helpful. For instance, you may look at someone who is kinder, or has a larger vocabulary, or is stronger physically, or has better art skills than you currently possess. You look at these people and admire them and want to be more like them.
There is nothing wrong with this kind of comparison per se. You can use it as a type of treasure map to help guide you towards the kind of person you want to be and the kind of life you want to have.
Comparison only becomes a problem when we use it as a stick to beat ourselves for all our supposed shortcomings and failures. Please don’t do this. It’s okay if you have made mistakes and haven’t pursued your potential as much as you would have liked to. You have the chance to begin again now. And it is okay that you don’t possess every skill, knowledge domain, or character virtue. You are permitted to be a beginner.
We are all beginners at some point, and if we are living our life well and trying to grow, most of us are beginners at multiple points of our life, even well into our later years. Being a beginner means that parts of us are underdeveloped and fledgling. There is always some awkwardness, struggle, and failure in these cases. That freedom and potential can be scary—but it’s also where wisdom, creativity, compassion, and love reside.
Three: Realize that hard does not mean failure or impossible
Sometimes when we work on developing new skills, knowledge domains, or virtues, it is hard, and we struggle a lot. This can make us feel bad for several reasons.
First, we may have received messages from our culture or adults (especially when we were younger) that we should just get things easily and that struggling to get something is a sign that we lack talent or intelligence.
When people communicate this message to others, especially young children, it is because these people lack patience, generosity, and kindness. For example, it takes a lot of patience to teach children and students to do certain things. Many adults grow impatient in these situations and shame children and students for not catching on more quickly. You may have been shamed in this way. This is the fault of the adult, not the child, not you.
Second, we may look at other people, and it seems like they do not struggle in the same way we do and that their life flows more easily.
By the way, this is a picture of me the other day when I felt like life was flowing easily for me, and then…
A week later, for every reason and no reason, I felt like a failure.
Please know that everyone struggles with something at some point. No one has ever lived a completely struggle-free life, and usually, the greater the things you attempt, the more you struggle. This is not because you are a failure. It is because you are being courageous and living your life well. Good for you!
There is research that suggests that perseverance and grit (just sticking with it) are more important indicators of success than raw talent or intelligence. If things are hard, and you struggle, welcome to the club of being human. It’s okay to struggle to learn new things, and it’s okay if new things do not come easy to you at first or even ever. You are not a failure, and your goals are still possible.
Four: Know that what you want the most is purpose, connection, and resilience, and you can always have more of these things.
Sometimes we want to be another person because we think that other person has all the goods for a happy life, and we do not possess these goods. We think if we could just be that other person, we would possess these necessary goods, too.
Please consider that what you want the most is purpose, connection, and resilience*—this is what all human beings want–and you can always have more of these things.
I am not suggesting that you can have anything or anyone you want anytime you want it, but it is a mistake to think that we must always have things one certain way to have any kind of happiness. I will call this the One Way View of Happiness. When we have a One Way View of Happiness, it can often blind us to other possible avenues of happiness right in front of us.
For example, perhaps being a billionaire would indeed make you happy. If this goal is important to you, feel free to pursue it. However, if you have a One Way View of Happiness and obsess over this goal as the only avenue of happiness, it may blind you to the fact that you would be equally as happy building up your savings account, moving to a house with a better layout, and going on a cool vacation once a year. That is do-able—probably more so than being a billionaire.
Perhaps living on your own private island in the Caribbean would indeed make you happy. If owning such a house is important to you, feel free to pursue it. However, if you obsess over this goal as the only avenue of happiness, it might blind you to the fact that you would be equally happy moving closer to the ocean, creating a quiet space in your house, or decorating your house in beach colors and themes. This is all do-able—probably more so than living on your own private island in the Caribbean.
Earlier this summer I visited the coast in Oregon. I missed it so much the other day, and I decided to decorate my dresser with sea shells and rocks I have picked up from the beach over the years. It makes me really happy every time I look at it.
Perhaps marrying a movie star would indeed make you happy. If such a goal is important to you, feel free to pursue it. However, if you become obsessed with this goal, it might blind you to the fact that you would be equally happy building meaningful relationships with artistic, free-spirited, and goal-oriented people. Building such relationships is do-able—probably more so than marrying a movie star.
The point here is that what you desire most–what everyone desires most–is purpose, connection, and resilience, and you can always bring more of these things into your life in some way.
You bring more purpose into your life by clarifying your most important values and goals and by saying “no” to things that distract you from them.
You build connection in your life by living your values and goals authentically, by spending time with others who share the same values and goals, and by supporting other people as they pursue their own values and goals. These are acts of respect and kindness.
You can build resilience by becoming aware of your purpose; by allowing yourself to try new things and make mistakes; by being patient and compassionate with yourself during times of suffering; and by continually nurturing and strengthening your mind, body, and spirit.
I have been nurturing my spirit lately by creating nature mandalas. It’s a really meditative process. If you want to know how to nurture all the parts of you better, you might like this post.
And for the person who really wants something, and it seems forever out of reach, I am so sorry you are struggling this way. I understand. I have wanted things that seemed forever out of reach, too. I know I can’t take away your pain, and I know we sometimes struggle with perpetual disappointment in certain areas of our life. I do not have any answer for this pain. I do know, however, that though you may not have the thing you want the most right now, you can always have more purpose, connection, and resilience.
This doesn’t make our pain go away, but it does make our life more beautiful.
Five: Walking the path is joyful.
It may seem overwhelming to work at bringing more purpose, connection, and resilience into your life. It may feel like you have so far to go, and the journey may seem daunting to you.
I get this, and I would also like you to consider a different view of the matter with me, if you would like to.
For a minute, please imagine someone who is climbing a very tall mountain, like Pike’s Peak in Colorado. A person climbing Pike’s Peak certainly wants to get to the top, but the person is also likely very interested in the journey itself. She (the climber) wants to notice the flora and fauna along the way, as well as relish the process of climbing itself.
In fact, if our climber were to say something like, “I only care about reaching the top, and I won’t enjoy any of the hike until I reach it”, in most cases we would realize that this person was missing out on a lot of joy in the hiking experience.
Like noticing bunnies
This scenario applies to us as we pursue our goals as well.
No doubt, there is a great deal of joy in reaching our desired destination. However, there is a lot of joy along the way, too. In fact, if we make the destination our only source of joy, it will likely be a let down because reaching a destination doesn’t magically change our life or make us a different person. It just means we have accomplished a cool goal.
If we want to experience a joyful, meaningful life, we must realize there is no magic bullet that fixes everything; meaning and joy are something we practice, as well as a gift we experience; and no matter how meaningful and joyful our life is, there is still suffering in life.
Loving our journey as well as our destination is a good way to realize all these things.
Six: Focus on feelings that inspire you and take the next comfortable, manageable step.
You may be ready to embrace the journey and cultivate meaning and joy, but you just don’t know how to get started. I totally understand this. I have been there before, too. Here are some things that have really helped me when I am trying to create more of the life I want by building meaning, connection, and resilience:
First: Focus on the feelings you want to have instead of obsessing over outcome goals.
While there is nothing wrong with thinking about the kinds of roles, jobs, or accomplishments you want to have (I will call these outcome goals), it can be helpful to switch your attention sometimes to the types of feelings you want to have. When we focus solely on outcome goals, we may narrow our ability to conceive of different ways to achieve what we want. When we think instead of ways we want to feel, this can inspire our imagination because there are a lot of different ways to feel a certain feeling.
I recommend that you start by thinking about five feelings words** that describe how you want to feel.
For example, you might decide that adventurous is a feeling you want to have.
Second: Focus on something you can control that brings you more of the feelings you want to have.
Once you figure out the feelings you want to have, consider an action in your control that allows you to have more of this feeling.
For example, if you want to feel more adventurous, you may not be able to climb a mountain tomorrow, but you can most certainly go to a new place or try a new skills.
I climbed on beach rocks the other day because I was seeking more adventure.
You could go to a new part of town. You could hike in a forest or read a new book. If you keep doing things like this within your control, you will start to feel more adventurous. We cannot control everything in our life, but we can control some things. Seek out things in your control that bring you feelings you want to have.
Third: If you feel overwhelmed, do a very small step that doesn’t overwhelm you.
You may feel really overwhelmed with doing new things or trying to improve your life. That’s okay. Think of one small thing that doesn’t overwhelm you. Do that thing. You can even just imagine an activity. For example, if you want to be more adventurous but are overwhelmed by doing adventurous things, you can just imagine yourself doing something adventurous.
Don’t stress yourself out with your imagination. Imagine something that inspires you and makes you feel good. Don’t underestimate the power of imagination to help get you ready to do things you want to do.
Seven: Realize that good steps, even small ones, are rapid multipliers.
You may get discouraged by small steps because you think growth is only linear, and you feel like you have a really long way to go. Please know that good steps, even small ones, are rapid multipliers. Good steps open up your thinking and catalyze curiosity, wonder, and playfulness. These dispositions make you immediately more aware and interested in other opportunities which leads to other good things rapidly multiplying in your life. This can lead to explosive growth very quickly.
You have probably experienced this before. For example, you may have been friendly to someone on the bus and struck up a friendship. And then suddenly they introduced you to a whole new world and network of friendships. Or, you may have decided to listen to a new music group, and all of a sudden, you found dozens of other groups they have influenced or been influenced by, and a whole new musical world opens up to you. Or, you may have decided to try a new workout, and suddenly you discover a whole new set of exciting skills and challenges to master, and you feel excited.
So rather than thinking that you have so far to go, realize that you have just several small steps to go, and as you keep taking small, good steps, you are going to see good things rapidly multiplying in your life–probably in awesome ways you haven’t even yet imagined.
You, In Review
Today you may be looking at yourself and disliking what you see. You may wish to be better or wish to be someone else. I want to remind you that you have intrinsic worth that is full of magic that the world desperately needs. It is more amazing than you can imagine. Please take time to connect with and nurture your light because that is how you start to share your magic with the world.
And it is okay if you compare yourself to others sometimes to see how you would like to develop yourself more. But use that comparison as a treasure map, not a stick to beat yourself. Imagine how you want your life to feel and take the next small, positive step in that direction. You will find that good things multiply rapidly in your life.
I’m so glad you are on the planet, Friend.
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*Resilience is our ability to pursue our potential, to engage confidently in the growth process, to welcome challenge and adversity, and to flourish in all areas of our life. Resilient people rise, learn, flex, and thrive (Johnson and Cook, 2019).
**This idea about focusing on how you want to feel is inspired most recently by Stasia Savasuk who uses this concept to help people cultivate their style. You can follow Stasia on Instagram here. It is also inspired by some ideas in The Desire Map by Danielle LaPorte.
It may seem like focusing on feelings you want to have is a rather pointless or hippy-dippy exercise. I would like you to consider another view of the matter, if you are interested. Most of us spend a great deal of time solving problems through logic, reason, analysis, and step-by-step, critical thinking. There’s nothing wrong with this kind of thinking. Hey, I’m a philosopher after all. I really like logic.
However, this linear, logic-based thinking is only one type of thinking. When we pay attention to our feelings in the way I have suggested, it tends to catalyze our imagination, our senses, and possibility thinking. This kind of thinking, which is big-picture thinking, can lead to rapid, creative solutions that we can’t always reach through logical, linear thinking.
I was introduced to this kind of thinking when I studied gestalt theory in an educational philosophy class. This article discuses gestalt philosophy, and you might find it interesting. It is a very long article, but if you scroll down towards the bottom, you will find a section titled “Learning: Gestalt Theory Versus Behaviorism”. This section discusses more in detail the kind of big-picture, holistic thinking we can engage in that leads to sudden and creative insights.
Johnson, Shelly and Cook, Carrie (2019). Resilience is the #1 Skill. Georgetown College.