My whole life has been based on the premise that if I work hard and give to others, it would be returned to me. If I put myself aside and live up to their expectations, I would gain love and appreciation. This has not been the case, not with people that don’t already love me. 

I am not writing an article of judgment, but one of self-discovery—the discovery that I can’t earn love where there is none. I have expended all my strength and energy in the wrong direction, hoping to achieve a dream that would never be realized with certain people. I chose to make myself less important than others for many years, and in so doing, I learned the necessity of putting myself first. 

Putting myself first doesn’t just mean doing what I want most, although that is part of it. Putting myself first means giving myself the right to be, to exist as I am with no judgment or fault. It’s giving myself the worth and value that is mine just because I am me, and there is no one else like me. It’s giving myself permission to be who I am without apology. 

I have found this to be vital to any kind of contentment, fulfillment, or enjoyment of my life. For many years, I tried to be someone else to live up to other people’s expectations and images of me. I thought that if I worked hard enough and changed myself enough, I would be loved for who I am. It seems backwards now to say that, considering that in trying to please others, I was being everything BUT who I really am. But that is what I thought and believed.

In trying to win and earn love from so-called family, I put on masks and played roles that they wanted to see. I tormented myself day and night, trying to find ways to be more pleasing and satisfying, determined to reach my ultimate goal of true love and affection. I must have liked the challenge because I stayed in it for many years until I was dying inside.

I felt like I was withering away, with no spark of life, no joy, no sense of who I was. I had lost myself in the attempt to become what everyone else wanted, exhausted to the core from giving up every part of myself to people that just used me and didn’t appreciate or like me. Physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, I was drained to the bottom with no reserves left, wondering how to get out of this endless cycle that I had stayed in for so long.

The answer? Finally realizing that I am my own person, free to choose what’s best for me, free to have my own desires and dreams and follow them. I have value and worth that I don’t have to hide from other people who don’t recognize it. I can choose to be around people who already love me for who I am, not what I do for them. It doesn’t have to be hard work to be loved if it’s real. It doesn’t have to be exhausting to exist—not if I’m being true to myself.

What’s the result of this new perspective? Freedom to live! Freedom to think, feel and express myself without guilt or judgment. The freedom to explore and understand who I am and actually like myself. Freedom to become the person I want to be and then share that life and energy with the people around me.

I live in a completely different atmosphere now, one of peace, calm, and stability. There is no stress of unmet expectations, guilt, or condemnation, so I can rest and heal physically and mentally like never before. Working to please people doesn’t exist because the people that matter are already pleased with me. I am only learning more every day how to treat myself well and do what brings me the most peace and contentment, which is listening to my intuition and following my heart.

Never again will I give up my very self to try to earn love and approval from others. Working for love brings death to my soul, but loving myself brings life.