Shopping for perfumes and learning to love yourself

I went to shop for a new deodorant at Stansted on my return trip from London this weekend. As always, I found it terrifying. All the smells. It’s hard enough to get a clear smell without too much alcohol or other smells in the air. It’s harder still to figure out if you like the smell. It’s all but impossible to gather how it’s going to smell on your body. And once you’ve gone through two, you can’t tell a thing anymore.

And what if you buy the wrong one? They’re not cheap, you know, so you’re stuck with that Old Spice for months. And maybe you buy something, like that new Britney Spears Fantasy, and it turns out that all your friends think it’s really lame, and they think you suck. Shopping smells can be a tormenting experience for men.

But I was traveling with two pretty hip girls, one of whom is even a fashion designer in London for a top British brand. You’d think, if anyone knew how to shop for smells, they would. But they turned out to be even more tormented than I was.

That’s when I decided, to hell with it. If we all find it so difficult, then it’s not me, it’s the process. I decided to not give a damn about what might go wrong, and just go by my instincts. It worked. I bought a new smell, and I still like it, and so does my wife.

This is my segue into a topic that I’ve been fascinated with recently, namely the feeling of being not-okay. Self-aversion. Shame. Feeling of unworthiness. Lack of self-esteem. Lack of belief in one-self.

It’s actually an interest that started way back in highschool when I traced all kinds of behaviors down to lack of self-esteem. The thread lay mostly dormant, however, until our yoga instructor and tour leader during our trip to India in February brought it to my attention again. Every day she would remind us all to just accept ourselves as we are. If you can’t make the pose, that’s okay. Just recognize how it is today and accept it. Then I bought a book, called Radical Acceptance. And I went to see Jacob Holdt’s slideshow.

Accepting ourselves as we are should be the most natural thing in the world, and yet it isn’t. It seems we’re all busy trying to be something else. Fitter, stronger, slimmer, smarter, more wealthy, powerful, beautiful, happier, thinking positive, not judging or blaming or feeling sorry for ourselves, and on and on. The self-improvements can be endless, and the resources available are certainly endless.

But if you accept yourself as you are, won’t your life just grind to a halt? Why strive for anything, why even get up in the morning, or care to be a good friend? If you just accept everything, won’t you get lazy?

There’s a difference between learning something new or working out because we genuinely enjoy it, and doing it because we feel like if we don’t fix ourselves, we’re not okay.

Accepting one-self is about accepting what’s there, right this moment, whatever it is. Even if it’s self-judgment, such as “why do I always come late”, or “why can’t I quiet my mind and meditate properly, dammit”. Accept the thoughts, the judgment, the anxiousness, accept your body, mind, and spirit, as it is right now. Don’t resist your feelings, and don’t try to feel or think something you don’t. Just let it be.

It’s a kooky habit, once you think about it, to not accept oneself. What’s the point? After all, we’re the only one we have, why not just make peace with it. Something that really triggered me was to learn just how common it is. According to the “Radical Acceptance” book, it’s most people in the Western hemisphere. According to my coach education, 95% of all people belong to the club.

Whether or not the number is accurate is not the point. The point is, you look around the room, and by far most of the people around you don’t think they’re okay. Most have good strategies for hiding it, perhaps even for themselves. When it’s so common, why not just pad each other on the back, and declare that we’re all okay. Here. I’ve done it. Who’s to decide, anyway, but us? God? I’m sure God loves us all.

I’m not saying it’s that simple, there’s still lots of pockets of pain and suffering that it can take years to get out. But that realization was a turning point for me. For some reason I felt that it was important that I held on to that feeling of unworthiness, because, I guess, it somehow proved that I was at least committed to fix myself. Realizing that I was in excellent company made me drop that.

There’s also plenty of habitual strategies connected to this feeling. Being afraid of sharing too much of myself, for fear that others realize how broken I am. Or putting too much weight on other people’s opinions because I think they’re less broken. Especially in this whole self-help business, it’s easy to get sucked into “I’ll be fixed if only I do this”. Whenever that kicks in, it’s time to take a deep breath, and remind myself that I’m okay. No matter what. Period.