This past year has been the most trying year of my life.
It has been filled with insults, mockery, discouragement, and verbal abuse, and the worst part is that I am the perpetrator.
I didn't need a man, friend, or some other outside force to make me feel low. I was taking care of that all on my own.
Out of college for months and still unable to land a full-time job, the wide-eyed enthusiasm I'd experienced during graduation quickly wore off. I had a degree from Princeton University, the well wishes of loved ones, and the promises of, “I know you'll do great!" from friends and peers, but no job to show for it all.
While I kept myself busy with several internships and hobbies like dance and beauty, feelings of inadequacy grew and festered into what felt like a hole inside of me. I withdrew from friends, worried that I'd be unable to maintain even casual conversations without bursting into tears. I also slept a lot. The more hours I spent sleeping, the more time I had free from the stress of not feeling good enough. Though I still had my internships and sent out countless resumes and applications, my fire had pretty much burnt out.
One night, I was sitting in my living room with my laptop, prepping for a huge networking event the following evening. As I researched all the companies and listed the representatives I wanted to meet with, I suddenly shut my computer off and started to cry. Though I tried to be optimistic, reading the stories of all these professionals and their paths to success just made my own dreams seem futile. I was nowhere near what these people had achieved. Sure, I'm young, but even by my age, it seemed that they had accomplished so much more. Was I just wasting my time?
Was I destined for mediocrity?
I didn't know what exactly I wanted to do, or why my tons of emails and applications were going unanswered or rejected. The only thing I knew was that I wanted to make it so that no one else would have to feel the stinging pain of inferiority that I felt. I wanted a career where I could inspire women and grant them the kinds of opportunities that should be afforded to qualified, hard-working people. Sitting there on the couch in tears was a turning point for me. It was then that I realized that before I could want so much for other women, I had to want all that and more for myself. More than that, I had to believe that I could make my dreams attainable.
I went to that networking event the following night and again, nothing came of it. I didn't get a job offer, but instead I got just what I needed – a reality check. I realized that by berating myself, by expecting to be rejected and passed over for jobs and interviews, I was creating a toxic self-fulfilling prophecy. Since then, I have made it my mission to exercise self-love.
Here are some personal creeds I've learned along the way:
1. Don't say anything about yourself that you wouldn't say about a friend
During this difficult year of self-examination, I've noticed that I tend to give others all the credit, and myself none. If a girlfriend would come to me upset about a failure, I'd reassure her that she was only one step closer to success, that she is perfect flaws and all, and that she shouldn't let anyone dim her shine. When it came to my own self-perceived failures, however, I was an idiot, a fool, unqualified, and absurd for thinking I could ever get that job, attract that guy, or meet that goal, whatever it may be.
We have to stop tearing ourselves down and start celebrating ourselves for the good, just as we do with others.
2. Never stop being a student
After graduating from college, I began to freak out. What had I really learned? Late night cramming sessions and skim-reading became habits for me (as they do for many students). I let that somehow convince me that I was undeserving of my degree, and my inability to get a job was the proof.
That's bullsh*t. I put in the work and earned the title of “ivy-league graduate," just like my peers had done. If I have remorse for all the books I didn't read, nothing is stopping me from reading them now. Education doesn't stop within the walls of a classroom or a lecture hall, and I had to remind myself that I am a student for as long as I have the will and desire to learn.
3. You can't hate yourself into a version of “you" that you love
I gained weight during college and by the time I graduated, I had reached the highest weight I've ever been. Not only did I feel gross, I felt stupid for letting my weight get so far out of control. My weight became just another thing to beat myself up about, and as if that weren't enough, the last guy I was involved with only played on those insecurities when I learned that he was embarrassed that he liked me. I didn't fit the mold of the type of woman he thought he “should" be attracted to.
In the year after college, I threw myself into dance as a happy distraction and a genuine source of fulfillment. I joined a dance team and began taking additional classes in the city. Before I knew it, I had lost close to 35 pounds and I had fun doing it! Yes, I felt fat, but why did that mean I couldn't still feel fabulous? It doesn't help to look in the mirror and insult your body. If you don't like something, make an effort to change it, but love yourself along the way. Your body has carried you this far in life, so give it some credit!
4. Stop trying to find yourself, and define yourself
The job-hunt is a struggle; we all know it. Part of the struggle is the anxiety and uncertainty that come with waiting, but a big part of it is having to adhere to someone else's definition of what it means to be qualified. I would look at the bullet points listed in a job description and convince myself that I was unqualified if I didn't meet all of them. Did I have 1-3 years of experience in my dream field? No. Does that mean I wouldn't rock it if given the opportunity? Hell no! A person's abilities aren't summed up by how closely they meet the job description. If you feel you really lack some critical experience, create it for yourself.
The night before the networking event helped me find new purpose. After I had a good, long cry, I had the idea to start a female empowerment blog through which women could share their stories. If no one was going to hire me to write, well then, I'd just have to create the opportunity for myself. While the blog, called Blank Woman, Phenomenal Woman, is still in its infant stage, it has been met with nothing but positivity thus far, and has reignited my fire. It taught me that you can't always sit around and wait for the perfect, right-up-your-alley job to fall into your lap. Sometimes you have to create it!
The title of this article is “How I Learned to Self-Love," not how I achieved it. Self-love is a noun, but it's also a verb, an action that must be practiced daily. I still struggle with feeling good enough: qualified, attractive, worthy, and all the other things that fall under that umbrella. I'm not there yet because self-love is not a destination; it's not a “there" that you climb to, stake your flag and live happily ever after. Every day I'm writing, applying, reading, but everyday I'm also dancing, smiling, and living. When your life isn't where you want it to be, it can get easy to cast aside your passions and even friends.
It can seem frivolous to spend time dancing or going out when you have pressing, real-life concerns weighing on your mind. I'm here to tell you that it's not frivolous to spend time on you. Take that dance class, watch that movie, and catch up with friends and family. It is not until you learn to self-love that you can truly prepare yourself for the opportunities and blessings you seek. I started by saying that this past year has been the most difficult of my life. It has also been the most valuable, because I'm learning to love myself.
I am McKenzie Dawkins, a Princeton grad and writer based out of Hackensack, New Jersey. I am moved primarily by issues related to women, blacks and other minorities, and the intersectionality of those groups. You can follow me on Instagram and Twitter @kenzie_kenz1 and you can follow Blank Woman, Phenomenal Woman on Facebook, or IG @bw_pw.