How many times have you sacrificed your wellbeing for no good reason?

I used to do it almost every day.

I’m prone to working 12-hour days and skipping meals to get more done. I’ve been known to ignore symptoms of illness so that I wouldn’t be considered “weak” for taking the day off. I’ve even pulled the infamous “it’s not you, it’s me” card when it clearly wasn’t so.

And the thing is, even now, I go through periods of self-love and self-care, then contrast them with times when I tell myself to grin and bear it. But what do I get from this approach?

Instead of doing me any good, putting myself last only helps negate my importance and qualities. It only leads to exhaustion, burnout, and disappointment. After all, if I don’t recognize myself, why would others treat me with the respect I believe I deserve?

So, it’s time to stop pushing myself to, and beyond, my (physical and mental) limits.

And the alternative? Self-love.

Knowing better

We learn as long as we live, and this is definitely true when it comes to self-knowledge.

Over the past ten years, I’ve gone from being a bright-eyed star student to interning at a multinational corporation, to being in a leadership position in a startup company, to quitting to pursue my dream career even at the cost of having a (much) lower income.

And throughout these ten years, I’ve had ups and downs, accomplished great victories, made mistakes, and misjudged others as well as myself. But most of all, I’ve learned.

I’ve learned about my weaknesses (yes, I used to check most boxes in Sally Helgesen’s How Women Rise), but I have also come to know my strengths.

I’m resilient, hardworking, dedicated, a good leader, and unafraid to stand up for my values.

I’ve come to realize that my tragic flaw isn’t passivity, but, instead, it’s my tendency to forget about the importance of taking things slow. It’s my willingness to pass on a nap when I’m obviously sleep-deprived. Working until 11 pm when I know I’m going to have a tension headache the next day. It’s my readiness to take on projects when I know that completing them will require me to work against myself.

Doing my best

So what do I do to overcome my tendency towards self-criticism? Well, I try to remind myself of everything that I am doing right.

Firstly, I always start my workday with a focused to-do list and cross each item off as I complete it. This gives me a sense of progress I need but also allows me insight into the work I’m doing every day.

Secondly, I make myself acknowledge the things I’ve done right during my morning and evening journaling. Yes, doing a 30-minute yoga routine at 7 am is an achievement when I’d much rather have coffee in bed. So is tackling the laundry, or replying to that email I had been putting off all week.

Thirdly, I try not to look at myself through my perfectionist viewpoint. Instead, I aim to treat myself with the same approach, which I’d adopt when talking to a friend. I tell myself that kindness and understanding aren’t just reserved for others, but that I, too, deserve the same treatment.

Understanding that I matter

So, where does my shifting perspective bring me?

Well, for one, taking better care of my physical and emotional wellbeing allows me to achieve a state of mindfulness. It’s a process through which my experiences are validated, and I am allowed to do better, without reverting to the opinion that what I’ve done so far is irrelevant.

Furthermore, taking the effort to listen to my body is a way to ensure I’m always in top form.

Even small, healthy habits such as avoiding electronic screens before bedtime have made a considerable impact on how I feel overall. Yes, sometimes, I still push myself too hard. But it’s an occurrence that happens much less frequently than five or more years ago.

Is there a universal way to approach self-love and self-care? Absolutely not!

And even though I’m aware of the progress I’ve made, I know that there’s still work ahead of me. But then again, acknowledging my own strengths has given me the foundation for steady, sustainable growth.

So remember, your experiences matter! Make them a part of your journey, and never let yourself believe that what you’re doing isn’t enough. Yes, crossing the “finish line” is a great feeling. But it’s equally important to be happy and whole once you get there.