McKenzie Dawkins is a freelance writer and digital content creator. Her natural hair and beauty tutorials can be found on YouTube at Kenzie Kenz, and you can find more of her writing, dancing, and beauty videos on Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat @kenzie_kenz1.
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.
Featured image by Getty Images
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.
*Originally published on August 14, 2017
For the majority of last year, I've journaled almost daily—sometimes two, three, ten times a day. I'm talking poems, affirmations, tear-stained pages of frustrated rants and emotional pleas; detailed accounts of my biggest goals and worst fears. Last year, I found solace and sanctuary in writing, and yet somehow the task of reflecting on the year in its entirety feels daunting.
2017 was about stripping things away.
Some change was extremely reluctant, some was exciting. I had to come to terms with a lot of unhealthy behaviors and hold myself accountable to a standard higher than I previously felt capable of living. I also had to embrace myself fully, and learn that I can be imperfect and amazing, anxious and ambitious, hurt and whole at the same time. This is honestly the first time I've felt a real emotional connection to the year that has gone, and a true expectation and exhilaration for the year to come.
2017 was transformative for me. It broke everything down to be built back up on more solid ground. I feel it would be negligent to let such a pivotal year pass without serious reflection and extracting the lessons that I have learned. That extraction may be painful, but the year also taught me a lot about my ability to handle pain. Below are other lessons I learned over the course of a year.
Pain Is A Wonderful Motivator, But She Burns Out Quickly.
It's the kind of food that fuels you but leaves you starving at the same time. Pain forced me to claw my way out of a dark place, but when I emerged, I realized that it alone would never keep me going. Once pain has served its purpose—to awaken you, to kick you into action—let it go, and choose to operate from faith instead. I'd rather be running toward something good than away from something bad. Love-based over fear-based actions, always.
Don't Get Over It - Get Through It.
If you were on a track running laps and came to a hurdle, naturally, you'd want to jump over it. But when you lap around, there it is again, waiting to trip you up. Every time you jump that hurdle, you make it over and you smile…but every time you come back around, your body is more tired and your mind more exhausted than before.
What if instead of jumping over, you ran right through the hurdle? It would shatter and splinter. You'd fall and scrape your knees, get injured, and probably lose the race. But when you got back up and ran another lap, that hurdle would be gone—demolished—nothing standing in your way.
The track is your journey and the hurdles are the obstacles. Whatever those obstacles may be—rejection, loss, sickness, unemployment, etc.—don't try to get over them, work through them.
It was about confronting my pain, looking it in the eye, getting to know it intimately. That meant a lot of writing it out, even and especially when it felt messy, ugly, or embarrassing. Initially it hurt more than anything, but slowly I discovered root causes of my problems and now I believe they have significantly less power to trip me up because I can see them coming.
You Are Not Your Mind.
This was a big one for me. Struggling with anxiety and (at one point) depression, I've battled with the notion that I was defective because I just couldn't think like other people: Why can't I just be positive? Why is this so hard for me and so simple for others? Why am I so afraid of things? What's wrong with me?
Nothing is wrong with me.
I realized that just because I have "bad" thoughts doesn't mean I'm a "bad" person.
I am not my mind or my thoughts, but rather the observer of those thoughts. I've learned the distinction between being defective and harboring a defective mindset. As the observer of my mind, I can choose new, productive thoughts, remain vigilant against unhealthy habits, and build a new experience of life. It is a slow process and I'm still working on it every damn day (can't stress that enough), but it is possible. My first step was realizing that I am not a negative person. I am simply a person who has been practicing negativity for far too long.
Hobbies Are Vital.
When all your ducks aren't in a row, it can feel trivial and even irresponsible to indulge in "free" time. We think we don't deserve to enjoy ourselves because we haven't achieved enough. Bullsh*t. Enjoying your life should be a MUST, especially when you're healing.
For me, that meant dancing, writing, and for the first time, exercising for enjoyment. Make sure you confront your pain but don't make your ENTIRE life about whatever's hurting you. Go dance, read, sing, whatever. Blow off some steam. Why constantly strive to build a life you won't even allow yourself to enjoy?
I Thrive In Purposeful Isolation.
I discovered that I have to get really still to hear God's signals. That meant not only clearing the clutter of my mind by free-writing stream of consciousness into my journals, but also clearing social clutter. I skipped out on social events I didn't absolutely need to attend; my phone was often on airplane mode or turned off altogether.
I did way more things solo and discovered that my time alone should be a sanctuary, not a sentence.
In spending more time on my own (in vital combination with addressing my issues, working through my pain, and taking action toward improvement), I felt more at ease with myself and less concerned with where I was in comparison to others. A few strategic hiatuses from social media now and again also don't hurt! Now, I love being alone not to hide from the world, but to reenergize in the midst of my own being.
It's OK Not To Know The "How" Of Life.
I'm still working on everything on this list, but this one in particular is really challenging for me. On a rational level, I recognize that lots of people, especially people my age, have no idea what the hell they're doing. However, my anxiety tries to convince me they've all got it figured out and I just didn't get the memo. It is a work in progress, but I'm letting go of the "how" and focusing more on the "what" and the "why."
There Are Upsides To My Anxiety.
Before last year, I never, ever thought I would look upon my anxiety with anything other than resentment. But last year, I made a purposeful shift in perspective. Yes, it brings me really low, but in another way, it has allowed me to build up the best parts of myself. When you know what it feels like to feel controlled by your mind, you're more empathetic toward others and the struggles they might be going through. I'm an imperfect person who still judges and misreads, but I am proud to say, I have become much more aware of the words I speak and the power they hold to either affirm or cut someone deeply. My anxiety makes me more compassionate, more understanding.
It has also pointed me in the direction of my purpose. Even if all the details may not be planned out yet, I know that in whatever I do, I want to help others not to feel the way I have felt for so much of my life. I want to support people and lift them up; empower them to reclaim their lives from an overactive and often over-negative imagination. While I can't say I love my anxiety, I love that it has shown me the purpose in my pain.
You Are Not Your Circumstances.
I have been seeking full-time employment since 2014. Anyone who knows that struggle knows the havoc it can wreak on your mind. Though things are in a better place, this is something I struggle with on the daily and remains one of the biggest triggers for my anxiety. Still, in the midst of my year of healing, I have gradually come to accept (stubbornly) that where I am is not who I am.
Before you had a career or "likes" or relationships, you had a soul; therein lies your worth, not in any title or status. I have to remind myself time and time again that I am a good-hearted person, I am trying, and I am more than enough—right where I am.
There are probably a million other things the year has taught me, but I have to end this somewhere. On April 25, 2017, I turned 25, which made it my "golden year". Admittedly, at the start, it felt anything but golden. But now that I sit here re-reading my journals and writing this all out, I am nothing but grateful for the way this year has molded me. It set the foundation so that I can build on more secure ground in 2018 and beyond.
For anyone also coming off a difficult year, I urge you to reflect. Indulge in your transformation, in your strength for making it through. Celebrate all of your tiny victories because sometimes, that's the momentum you need in order to keep going.
Don't stop now. You are never alone.
*Originally published on Medium