I recently attended (read: was forced to attend) a leadership conference after being selected to be a part of the University of Scranton's orientation team for this summer, and honestly, I didn't expect that I'd get much out of it. I sat down in my first session wishing for nothing but to go back to the bed I was asked to leave way too early on a Saturday morning, only to leave with a changed perspective. The first speaker's main topic was self-care, and, I hate to say it, I was prepared to zone out and ponder the copious amounts of homework I could be getting done. She did, however, manage to get my attention with a simple command: write down ten things you like about yourself.
I set to work and was embarrassed to realize I couldn't make it past five items. I wasn't alone, though; most people in the room couldn't, either. She knew this and pointed out that if we were told to write down ten things we didn't like about ourselves, we'd easily find ten and could probably keep going. Sadly, she was right.
I left the conference that day not thinking about leadership, but about why it was so easy to cop a negative attitude about ourselves. I thought about my own tendency to do so. Going out to eat with my friends, we always wait to see who broaches the topic of dessert first, like carbs are really going to kill us. Self-deprecating (more like self-destructive) humor is the go-to method to get laughs. Dinner before class on Valentine's Day turned into an all-out attack on how my friend and I are single (except my sister, who just sat there shaking her head at us). And what I also noticed: whenever I receive a compliment, I automatically find something mean to say about myself. Yes, that's right, insulting myself is a reflex to being complimented. But it's not isolated to me. It seems like no one knows how to accept a compliment anymore without simultaneously trying to knock themselves down a peg. I'm a product of the human race, a race convinced it isn't good enough, a race convinced it somehow isn't "worthy."
Even at work I run across destructive, negative self-perceptions. I love being a sales associate. I love finding the right outfit that makes someone feel like a million dollars. I love seeing that smile on their face, that look of self-affirmation. However, that also means I'm the one who has to deal with genuine looks of devastation and self-loathing when the jeans don't zip or the dress doesn't lay correctly.
Just days before Valentine's Day, I had a customer come out of the fitting room and ask for my honest opinion on a dress she was picking out for a date. I froze; it wasn't the dress for her, but I just didn't know how to say that. However, I didn't even need to say anything. "That's the answer I needed," she said in a defeated voice. Her daughter, I don't think she could have been more than eight years old, was standing there, watching her mother's self-confidence crumble and me stammering to apologize and find a way to pick up the pieces. I knew exactly how she felt (every woman who has ever gone shopping knows how she must have felt), but also knew words, at that point, could do nothing. I looked at her daughter, wondering if she would grow up to be like us: shaming ourselves for not looking like the model, not conforming to the media's depiction of perfection.
And that, along with every other negative comment I've ever heard or thought of, led me to a wake up call at that leadership conference. How are we supposed to pick others up when we are constantly putting ourselves down? How do we push ahead when we are the ones holding ourselves back? How do we love others when we can't even love ourselves?
I'm done with it, and I hope you are, too. No one is perfect, but who would want to be? I've come to realize that I love the people I love because they are uniquely themselves. Short, tall, fat, thin, loud, quiet, annoying, passive, I love every single thing about them (on a good day) because that's what makes them them. And guess what? It's not a one way street; it's reciprocated. There's something beautiful in being imperfect or flawed, and it's beautiful because it makes us human.
As a human being, I realize it's almost impossible to feel like that all the time. We all have down days and days that loving yourself feels impossible. Those days, frankly, suck, and when a day sucks, what do we turn to? Music (or at least I hope that's what you turn to). Here's my playlist for those days when you need a reminder that you're pretty great, the world isn't so bad and you are the only thing standing in your way to happiness:
1. "Carry On" by Fun
Lyrics: "'Cause we are / We are shining stars / We are invincible / We are who we are"
2. "Love Myself" by Hailee Steinfeld
Lyrics: "Gonna love myself, no, I don’t need anybody else / (Hey) / Gonna love myself, no, I don’t need anybody else / (I love me) / Can’t help myself, no, I don’t need anybody else / Anytime, day or night / (I love me)"
3. "The Greatest" by Sia
Lyrics: "Uh-oh, running out of breath, but I / Oh, I, I got stamina / Uh-oh, running now, I close my eyes / Well, oh, I got stamina"
4. "Respect" by Aretha Franklin
Lyrics: "R-E-S-P-E-C-T / Find out what it means to me / R-E-S-P-E-C-T / Take care, TCB"
5. "Titanium" by David Guetta ft. Sia
Lyrics: "You shoot me down but I won't fall, I am titanium"
6. "So What?" by Pink
Lyrics: "So, so what? / I'm still a rock star / I got my rock moves / And I don't need you"
7."Most Girls" by Hailee Steinfeld
Lyrics: "Most girls are smart and strong and beautiful / Most girls, work hard, go far, we are unstoppable / Most girls, our fight to make every day / No two are the same"
8. "Confident" by Demi Lovato
Lyrics: "What's wrong with being, what's wrong with being / What's wrong with being confident?"
9. "Defying Gravity" from Wicked
Lyrics: "To those who ground me / Take a message back from me! / Tell them how I am defying gravity / I'm flying high defying gravity / And soon I'll match them in renown"
10. "Walking on Sunshine" by Katrina & The Waves
Lyrics: "I feel the love, I feel the love, I feel the love that's really real"
11. "Scars to You're Beautiful" by Alessia Cara
Lyrics: "No better you than the you that you are (no better you than the you that you are) / No better life than the life we're living (no better life than the life we're living) / No better time for your shine, you're a star (no better time for your shine, you're a star) / Oh, you're beautiful, oh, you're beautiful"
12. "All Star" by Smash Mouth
Lyrics: "You'll never know if you don't go / You'll never shine if you don't glow"
13. "Happy" by Pharrell Williams
Lyrics: "Here come bad news, talking this and that / (Yeah) Well, give me all you got, and don't hold it back / (Yeah) Well, I should probably warn you I'll be just fine / (Yeah) No offense to you, don't waste your time / Here's why / Because I'm happy"
14. "Don't Rain on My Parade" from Funny Girl
Lyrics: "Get ready for me, love / 'Cause I'm a "comer" / I simply gotta march
My heart's a drummer / Nobody, no, nobody / Is gonna rain on my parade!"
15. "I Will Survive" by Gloria Gaynor
Lyrics: "Did you think I'd lay down and die? / Oh no, not I, I will survive / Oh, as long as I know how to love, I know I'll stay alive"
So there you have it. Congrats if you made it to the end of this article, I know it was long. I leave you with the words of Lucille Ball: "Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world."