It was late at night in the summer on a Saturday. I heard his voice projecting loudly throughout the crowded patio. I turned the corner, and my eyes fixed upon him. His stature was as towering as his voiced rumbled with bravado. He was surrounded by an entourage of people, all of whom appeared eager to benefit from his willingness to own the ever-growing bar tab.
I studied his face curiously. It reminded me of this black labrador I once saw who was intoxicated by the simultaneous showering of treats, belly rubs and ear massages. He was drunk, but it wasn’t just the whiskey; he was gorging on every offering and oozing of the attention.
Some of those surrounding him behaved liked minions; some swinging their hips, some flipping their hair, and some circling his chair nervously. We locked eyes for a moment, and he smiled at me flirtatiously. Although I nodded politely, I felt a twinge of sadness. The entire scenario was so void of any substance, I could barely look upon it without feeling myself hollowing out.
His entourage may have been impressive to some, but his reservoir of self seemed painfully empty, and it was a facade I knew intimately.
What Do You Think of You?
In life, we often labor harder at gaining the approval of others than we do at actually investing in a relationship with ourselves. Some of us do it by mastering the game of name-dropping, or flaunting our expensive cars, handbags, designer labels or credentials. Some of us do it by waving our credit cards in the air and proclaiming “Hey, guys, the drinks are on me!” hoping to impress others with our generosity. Some of us do it by posting a string of seductive, cleavage-on-a-platter selfies, or living on ramen for a week so we can afford those VIP-level seats and Snapchat about it to our friends.
It’s all the same on the inside, though; it just manifests itself in different ways. It’s a simple deficiency, and has just as simple of a remedy—whatever happened to what you think of you? Where did you come to believe that outside validation is more important than internal belief?
If you were to pay a visit to the person existing inside of your head, would you ever want to return again? What are the thoughts following you into the shower? Who are you when the music is off, when the beat isn’t dropping, when the drinks stop flowing? It doesn’t matter how talented others perceive you as being, how alluring your eyes, how much fame you acquire or how admired you come to be—every aspect of life cannot be glamorous and thrilling. Even those who are the most skilled at running from themselves must face the buried layers eventually. The truth will always find you—maybe in the bathtub late one night when the rest of the house is quiet, or when you’re puking over the toilet and no one is around to pull your hair back for you. Either way, it will find you.
No relationship can ever replace the relationship one must cultivate with themselves. No amount of money, sex, pleasure, fame, or social media followers can ever suffice to distract anyone long enough to fill their well. The self—that’s who we must love first.
For so long, the notion of being admired was my ultimate source of motivation. I didn’t just want people to approve of me; I wanted them to adore every shred of me, forever and always. Anytime someone criticized or rejected me in the tiniest of ways, it felt tragic. I wore a mask of this confident person who needed no one’s approval, but as much as I had myself fooled some of the time, it was never the truth.
Moments of flattery injected me with a serum of superhuman exhilaration. It was almost like a drug I needed and couldn’t get enough of. But now? The truth is I mostly care what I think of me. I have come to understand that I am neither defined by praise nor criticism, by popularity nor obscurity. Neither are entirely about me, but more about another’s interpretation of me. It most matters that I make myself proud, and that I have peace in what I think of me.
People are sometimes going to love you, sometimes going to hate you, and sometimes going to disregard you. Even those with the best intentions will sometimes grossly misunderstand you. Regardless, you must never stop being a friend to yourself. It’s the most important relationship you will ever have, and truly, the only one which is ever guaranteed.