“It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.”
I have to admit, this saying used to piss me off.
I was a “destination” kind of guy.
Like many of us, my childhood was not an easy one. The child of an alcoholic mother, I didn’t learn much about self-esteem and gratitude. I learned to bury my feelings in a place deep, dark, and far away—never to be acknowledged or discussed. It was a lonely way to live, but I got used to it.
As an adult, I hoped for a happy life. I didn’t know what that meant, so I looked to the outside world for my happiness.
Surely my next great love would make me happy. Or how about my next fantastic adventure or a brand new car? Those didn’t work either. They gave me pleasure, but nothing that would last.
Even worse was the voice in the back of my head wondering what was wrong with me.
On a human level, we all want to feel love and acceptance—but I never really got the love or acceptance I needed.
My relationships failed. My jobs never fulfilled me.
I kept doing whatever I could to avoid painful and uncomfortable feelings. What this got me was a slew of poor choices and painful experiences.
Two years ago, I suffered my biggest loss. After my marriage failed, I found myself at my emotional rock bottom. The pain was unbearable.
It was one loss too many. I felt all alone, living with the broken pieces of my choices. I felt humbled and lost.
The rawness of that time shattered my defenses. Hope and denial were gone. I was on my knees, open to looking at myself in a way I never had, face-to-face with the scary but undeniable truth that I would have to be happy and comfortable with myself before I could have the life I wanted.
I took my first step. I mustered up enough courage to face lifelong issues and start to figure sh*t out. I saw a therapist. I reached out to supportive family and friends. I used to go it alone, hiding the shame of my failures.
How many of us suffer in silence, wondering if we’re the only ones who feel this way?
We are not. Many of us have similar experiences. We just don’t talk about them.
This was going to take courage and hard work. Before I could face these issues, I had to learn how to sit with my feelings and not be afraid. I had no idea how to do that. I only knew how to numb myself. I was terrified of being inadequate.
But I started to learn. The beginning was about identifying my feelings. Was I feeling fear? Emptiness? Shame? I stuffed them down for so long that I had no idea.
I watched several Brené Brown talks. I experienced a sense of relief learning that many of us suffer the same way I did. I felt less alone.
To be my authentic self, I would have to embrace my feelings and my fears. Let them out for a while. Let them flow to the surface and be acknowledged. Shutting down was easy for me—it was how I lived my life, burdened with the secret that I was lonely and insecure.
As I slowly found the courage to be authentic, to feel my feelings, I realized that they wouldn’t kill me. It can be uncomfortable and scary at times, but I was surprised to learn that sharing my feelings and being vulnerable made me stronger.
I traded my carefully crafted facade of security for acceptance of my flaws. I was perfectly imperfect. And being perfectly imperfect means making mistakes. Plenty of them.
Part of my journey is about learning how to forgive myself—like many of us, I can be too hard on myself. Letting go of the pressure to be perfect is a challenge. Who would love us if we make mistakes? I carried that around for so long. I never realized the toll it took on me until I set it down.
We all face pain and loss. We all struggle, and we can all heal. Making real changes requires a commitment to show up for ourselves first—that’s the only way we can learn self-trust and build self-esteem. Only then are we in a position to show up for others.
Here are seven things I learned on my path to loving myself:
1. We can be mindful of how we live each day.
2. We can meditate, journal, spend time in nature, and take control of our health and fitness. All of these are opportunities to practice showing up for ourselves.
3. We can choose courage over fear, progress over perfection.
4. We can work on being vulnerable every day, with ourselves and others. As we practice showing up, we become self-aware, and the mess gives way to hope.
5. We can accept ourselves as we are, with all our imperfections.
6. We can believe that we are worthy, and we can finally allow others to get to know who we really are. We are all beautiful and unique—let’s be daring enough to show it.
7. We can change.
Changing is hard, but it’s never too late if we can find the courage to love ourselves.
“You either walk inside your story and own it, or you stand outside your story and hustle for your worthiness.” ~ Brené Brown