Each and every day, I am inspired by the raw honesty and vulnerability of the people I work with. Clients, colleagues, and friends fuel my mind and my spirit. They remind me that this human experience is both glorious and hard. I’m constantly amazed by the way I often learn as much from my clients as they are meant to learn from me. One thing I’ve learned recently: we need to talk about why self-acceptance is imperative, but that doesn’t mean settling for less than you desire for yourself and your life.
One of my clients made a fascinating confession recently, and I’ve been pondering her words, considering both how they affected her own life, and the universal truth within her statement:
“I allowed myself to become a slob in the name of self-acceptance.”
Yes, she is someone who has tackled herself as broken, as a problem, as someone needing fixing. So, she read a bunch of self-help books and followed fad diets and signed up for a bunch of online coaching courses.
Unlike most people, this woman actually read all the books she purchased. She dutifully studied all the lessons that arrived in her in-box. She took some courses with videos and audio downloads, and watched and listened.
She embraced what every book and program touted in the beginning: accept yourself as you are.
If you want to create any kind of change in your life, self-acceptance is critical. If you want to create a nourishing life, acceptance is essential. No matter who you are, to have a life that you love, you have to find your way to accepting yourself as you are in that very instant.
But there’s more to creating change in your world than acceptance. A nourishing life is more than merely accepting yourself and the circumstances of your life.
It was an “ah-ha” moment that led to the confession. There was a realization that she had spent thousands of dollars on books and gym memberships and coaching programs, and felt more broken, more in need of fixing, and even more in need of another program or book or secret diet trick in order to love her life.
My client was frustrated and confused that after all that acceptance of who she was – warts and all, so to speak – she would look in the mirror and feel worse. In fact, in the name of self-acceptance, she wasn’t doing a very good job of really caring for herself or tending her life.
Then she got it: in the name of self-acceptance, she was settling. But deep down, her soul was begging her to pursue her desires.
The next part of that confession? She never did the work.
She read the books, but only tried a few of the suggested steps.
She would start a diet and quit after a couple of weeks, never giving her body an opportunity to see if the diet worked for her. No, after a couple of weeks (or a few days) she would declare she hadn’t lost any weight, so it was obviously not for her.
She would read the lessons in the coaching programs and listen to the calls and participate in the Facebook groups of those programs, but she only half-heartedly did the exercises.
Sure, she admitted, sometimes a particular idea or activity would stick with her. Sometimes she felt as if she was making a little progress here and there. Though diets were the things she abandoned the fastest, even if she tried something a program or book suggested – a gratitude journal, for example – she’d quit doing it after a few weeks.
She wanted the glamorous lives of her favorite Instagram stars. She wanted the perfectly decorated, spotless homes of her favorite DIY bloggers. She wanted to look as slim and graceful as the women in all those Facebook Pages she “liked.”
She wanted, damn it, to just be happy.
And so, she kept buying all the books and courses and the occasional detox juices because she was still – always – seeking the magic secret.
Then she finally got it: the secret is work. The magic happens thanks to discipline.
Yes, self-acceptance had been a crucial first step, but she had missed the fact that acceptance wasn’t about letting herself go. Instead, it’s meant to be first step in self-compassion, the first layer of the groundwork she needed to complete in order to create the kind of life she desired. Self-acceptance is just the first piece of the puzzle.
You can’t say you’re going to love yourself and then hope the osmosis of all you read and see is going to give you results.
Let me tell you something: I believe that our overly-connected society makes it more challenging. Those Instagram accounts, Facebook Pages, and Blogs make personal change seem “easy” because people often leave out the messy, in-the-middle details of scrubbing floors and rising before dawn to work out or write.
FOMO – that Fear of Missing Out – is exacerbated thanks to social media, and causes us to want what THEY have instead of taking a good look at our own life. See, another part of that acceptance piece is its closest companion: awareness. This means looking within and taking stock. It also means taking a look at the uncomfortable feeling that we’re missing out on what others have and what others are doing, instead of figuring out why we want what the popular girls have.
Self-acceptance without self-awareness isn’t much better than not trying at all. Before you can change, you have to accept where you are, yes, but you also have to be aware of what you really desire. You have to examine your actual life and determine your real goals – not someone else’s, not some false image of what you ‘should’ have, or do, or be.
And darling, that takes work.
Yes, we need to love ourselves and accept who we are, right in this moment. We also need to face reality: self-acceptance, self-awareness, and the pursuit of our own desires means that we are going to have to take action and do the hard stuff.
Like walking away from toxic relationships and getting up an hour earlier to get some exercise or work on that novel we say we want to write.
Like committing to actually doing every exercise in that coaching program we bought.
Like committing to nourishing our body with quality foods and cooking a nice meal rather than grabbing dinner from a drive-thru window.
Like going for a bra fitting and buying new clothes, because who feels glamorous in ratty undies and yoga pants? (And yes, even if you want to “lose weight”, you deserve to dress in a way that makes you feel good. And yes, spending money on that kind of stuff will feel uncomfortable.)
Sweat. Tears. Uncomfortable conversations. Hard truths. Compassionate discipline.
As my client finally realized, you, my darling, are worth the effort. You don’t have to settle in any area of your life. Please, love yourself. Please accept yourself as you are now.