I remember, standing there at a mighty 5’2 and weighing 45kg, being surrounded by guys who, somehow, were twice my size. I remember going into every P.E. lesson feeling as if I could never measure up to the rest. I remember the taunts and insults and I remember retaliating with the temper of a chihuahua. And finally, I remember feeling that my worth was defined by my size.
It got worse. The things I achieved, the Maths competitions, the GCSE results, the fundraisers, the badminton competitions, all felt pointless compared to my ability to reach the top of a shelf. It was a very difficult time in my life because I let something that I couldn’t control dictate my emotions.
It was time to change.
Skipping through a couple of years, I am now proud of my 5’7 stature and COVID-adjusted 74kg. Although I am still relatively short and a bit overweight now, I have never felt better about myself. I would even go so far as to say that I could eat some magic beans, grow to be 10 feet, and still feel the same about myself.
Now that you’ve met my past and my present, I’ll tell you about the journey I took to gain self-worth and happiness and how you can do the same.
Start by accepting the bad. By accepting the imperfections and the failures, you are gently coming down from the skyscraper of your expectations to the safety of reality.
My biggest problem wasn’t actually the way I felt about my size; that was only a cog in the system I had inadvertently built. It was actually my need for perfection. The perfect community, personality, job, wife, children. I wasn’t willing to settle for less and anything that fell short automatically prevented happiness. Over the years, I have become more rational and self-reflective; I thought more about the nature of our world and the nature of us human beings. I realised that I couldn’t think of a single thing that was truly perfect. How could I possibly achieve something that doesn’t exist?
“Happiness = reality – expectations”
Write down all your achievements, no matter how insignificant you think they are (trust me nothing is). Every time you read a book, help a stranger, get a result, win a competition, are in a good mood, note it down. You can then look back and appreciate all the positivity in your life, preventing the negativity to cloud your mind. You can think about the times you felt most happy, rationalise it, and turn it into a lifelong ambition. I did that and I discovered that I loved two things: Mathematics and volunteering. I loved maths because it is a complete truth, and I love volunteering because selflessness is where I believe true happiness comes from. So I came to the conclusion that I want to be a civil engineer who builds infrastructure in third-world countries.
By doing these things and going on this journey of discovery I felt more whole. It was like regaining my vision as I could now clearly see the things I have achieved. I felt prouder of who I am; I celebrate the results I get in my course, I volunteer to help disadvantaged communities, I get so much happiness from competing (no matter the result). I like to think that the person you are is defined by the happiness you gain from your actions. In that sense, I essentially discovered who I was as I started to love the things that are integral to me.
We have now come back to the present (yes I am still following the steps). The previous step felt conclusive, but I still went through phases where I felt like that teenager who felt unworthy. What those phases had in common was that I didn’t trust the process. For example, when I got rejected by a company for placement, instead of accepting that the odds were against me and discovering what I needed to do in the future, I didn’t apply to another placement for 2 months. I didn’t appreciate what I achieved at the same time (climbing Mount Snowdon as a fundraiser for orphanages). I regained my senses when my friend forced me to apply and I got a placement.
The task of maintaining self-worth is harder than getting self-worth in the first place. What I am trying to do now is to always be conscious of the acceptance-discovery formula. This way, I can consistently and rationally deal with events that could drop my self-esteem. Also, no one can help you more than your loved ones. A new perspective always sheds a light on reality when you need it most (I certainly needed it).
I’d like to conclude by re-emphasising the idea that positive affirmations and grounding yourself to reality are the ways to keeping your self-esteem and therefore your happiness.