There’s one thing I've learned along this journey that has had a greater impact on me than any other lesson I've learned (and oh how many there have been!) It’s the one that hits me at my most vulnerable place of all, in my aloneness.
Because I've always felt so alone.
I've always felt so different on the inside, so unlovable because I wasn't just like everyone else. And while I played the part so well on the outside, inside there was such a different story going on. Inside I was the one who didn't quite fit in – anywhere. I always felt like I was on the outside looking in.
Surrounded by so much pressure to conform in order to be loved, I learned to play the part well, while internalizing so much of what went unsaid; I was different in a world where different wasn't a valuable asset, but something to be changed, to be shamed away, to be shut down and shut out. It didn't matter whether that was the intention or not, that was my own lonely reality.
And so in my epic search to find a cure for my loneliness, although I wouldn't come to boil it down to that until many, many years later, I was always chasing after the ones who made me feel less alone. The ones who were different, the ones who blazed their own trails and didn't care what anyone – including me – thought.
The very qualities that held my attraction and attention long enough for me to want to stay with them forever, were the very ones that pushed me away and insisted on keeping me at a distance because along with everything else they didn't care about, they didn't care about me, either.
When I finally discovered this pattern within myself and launched a search for myself instead, I found the real me buried deep down inside. It was there that I discovered a real person capable of falling in love with a real man in a real relationship. It was the kind I had run from before, scared to commit to something real that required just as real a person in me, instead of the image I had come to know myself as being, and nothing more.
It was in that breaking through the surface that I discovered what I had been missing most in life. The courage to be myself and not worry about what other people thought. The strength to carry on and get through each and every day even though I might disappoint someone or not quite be what everyone had come to expect of me.
And in that discovery, I found something even greater than real love and a real person to love. I found a love and acceptance for myself that rivaled anything else I had previously called love. I learned how to love and accept myself unconditionally.
I used to think I couldn't imagine myself continuing to live my life if anything ever happened to my husband. I couldn't imagine how anyone lives after the love of their life is no longer with them, how anyone manages to pick up the pieces and carry on with any semblance of life once such a bond has been broken.
Until I came to understand what I now know to be true.
I've learned the greatest lesson of all. The one about unconditional acceptance and love for myself. The kind that stands up to anyone else’s expectation of what I should and shouldn't be and loves myself regardless.
The kind that “has my own back” and doesn't need someone else to validate who I am or what I deserve; I know what I deserve and how to get it. The kind that refuses to allow myself to fall into my old familiar pattern of beating myself up even more for not being more of what they wanted me to be.
It’s this discovery, it’s this new place that took so many years for me to get to that now allows me to have compassion for others and hold my own, instead of deferring to them and their judgement of me, whatever that may be.
I know who I am, and I know what I have to offer.
I know I’m not perfect, but I also know that I don’t need to be. I just need to be me. Sure there are things I want to change about myself, that I’m always working on, but like any of us, I’m human, and we all have our strengths and our weaknesses.
They’re not “good” or “bad”; they just are.
We’re the ones who are so quick to label them as such and accept other’s labeling of them and make them our own reality, even though their own opinions have nothing to do with us, and everything to do with them. It’s that reality I've also come to learn along the way.
But most of all, I've learned what it truly means to love someone unconditionally. From learning how to love myself this way first, I can now accept that someone may have some qualities that I would prefer he didn't, but instead of letting those be my deal breakers, I can see the same thing I came to see in me. That were it not for those very qualities, there would not be the other side of those qualities that I adore, that I love, that I wouldn't change for the world, and that I've come to see would never exist were it not for the other ones.
That’s what unconditional love is. It’s doesn't mean that everything’s absolutely perfect and you love everything and wouldn't change a single thing. No, it’s so much more than that. What it does mean is that you love and accept all those things that aren't perfect because you understand that there’s another side to them, that you can’t always have one without the other.
You understand that the very things that drive you crazy about yourself or someone else that you wish were different, are the very qualities that produce the other complementary qualities that couldn't exist otherwise. It’s why being sensitive means you probably take things so personally and have a hard time not taking constructive criticism to heart, but being sensitive also means you have such a capacity to feel what others are going through and empathize with them on a level few can.
Don’t stay small just because someone else can’t see this. Don’t go there to that familiar downward spiral simply because someone else can only see what they call the “negative” side of your qualities and can’t appreciate all that you do have to offer.
Because the greatest lesson I've learned from all this is that no matter how alone I ever am, I’m only as alone as I want to be. There’s always someone who won’t want you. There’s always someone who you won’t be compatible with. There’s always someone who will think you’re the worst person in the world. There’s always someone who can’t appreciate the essence of you and can’t see you in any other light.
But there’s someone else who will adore you! There’s someone else who will embrace those exact same qualities that repulse another and wrap their arms around them because it’s exactly those qualities that they've come to value for themselves.
Don’t settle for staying where you’re not wanted, where you’re not appreciated, where you’re not adored. No, you’re not perfect (none of us are), but you still deserve to be loved. And I can tell you that when you love yourself the way I’m talking about here, you become the most attractive woman in the world.
Because there is nothing more beautiful than a woman who’s discovered what it means to embrace herself in a way that encompasses everything she is and everything she isn't – without beating herself up for what she isn't. She shines in her own light, in her own radiance, and brings to her the people who are meant to be with her because she allows herself to be seen so clearly for the authentic beauty she is.
This is you, my beautiful friend. This is how it can and will be for you. It’s been too long deferring to everyone else’s opinions and impressions of you.
It’s time for you to embrace yourself, to love yourself for every single one of your qualities and refuse to let anyone else take you far away from yourself so that the real loneliness sets in. We’re only lonely when we leave ourselves like this, when we judge ourselves in the same light that they’re doing.
We’re only lonely when we don’t keep climbing back up stronger, with more resolve than before to connect with the ones that love us, to find the ones that understand our hearts and souls, and to refuse to surround ourselves with the ones who bring us down, who keep us playing small because it’s the only way they know. You’re not them. Don’t let them do to you what they've done to themselves.
This isn't about anyone else. This one’s about you. And the sweet freedom that can only come from you.
What is the greatest lesson you've ever learned? I'd love to hear from you. Share it with us in the comments!