Cultivating The Greatest Love of All

A very short note on self-love

This newsletter features weekly musings about life, career, identity, and behaviour by a questioning African centennial. To get it in your inbox every week, subscribe here:

Happy Valentine’s Day! 🖤

I hope you’re spending today with someone you love. Even if you’re spending it with yourself, I hope the preceding sentence still applies.

I’ll keep this one short so that you can return quickly to enjoying the day.

Valentine’s Day is often framed and branded as one that’s to be spent with someone else who we love and who loves us. The roses, gifts, chocolate, and other niceties we buy on this day are often for someone else. Expressing love to others is powerful and rewarding, but nothing compares to the greatest love of all.

“Learning to love yourself…is the greatest love of all.” — Whitney Houston

Self-love may seem like an odd thing to talk about on Valentine’s, but it’s honestly one of the most important conversations we could have. Despite the quality or intensity of love we give to others, we’ll never be able to truly give love to others until we’re able to give love generously to our own selves. There’s a reason Whitney made a whole song about self-love.

P.S. If you’re feeling like it, here’s my favourite performance of Whitney singing ‘Greatest Love of All’:

Personally, I’ve struggled a lot with self-love.

As a child, there was a lot I hated about myself. I was shorter than basically everyone in my class; my stutter was so bad that I sometimes had to jump to say a single word; I struggled to make friends easily because I felt I didn’t fit in with most boys; and I was academically average at best for a better part of my early primary education.

A few things have changed since then. I’m now 6.2ft tall; my stutter is now almost completely gone, and I’m also academically accomplished by all accounts. But I still struggle to make friends and I still don’t fit in with most guys. Some things haven’t changed yet.

As an adult now, I still struggle with self-love.

Driven by my ambition, I’m always chasing the next thing, dissatisfied with the status quo, and critical about my many imperfections. I’m hyper-aware about the different ways I’m ‘less than’ my peers who I measure myself against professionally. When I look at my body in the mirror, I’m sometimes disgusted by the fleshy corners that bulge out a bit more than I’d like.

It’s impossible to love yourself when all you can see are the different ways you’re not enough or unworthy.

Over the past few years, I’ve learnt that loving yourself demands that you:

  1. celebrate your strengths: be confident in the the things you’re good at and appreciate your ability to use those strengths to achieve your goals.

  2. have compassion for your flaws: make peace with the fact that you’re not perfect; you’re simply human. Fix what you can. Accept what you can’t.

  3. be content with your present reality: aspire to improve your status quo, but never let comparison with others make you feel inadequate or inferior.

  4. embrace the uncertainty of your future: let go of the crippling pressure to have it all figured out. The road of life is yours to walk. Take your time.

  5. reconcile with ghosts and errors from your past. confront those memories of past traumatic events and give yourself grace for mistakes you’ve learnt from.

Learning to love yourself is of utmost importance. Your sense of self-worth comes from the degree to which you love yourself. On a more grim note, having a self-love deficit is a perfect recipe for ending up in toxic relationships where you depend on someone else entirely to give you the love you don’t give yourself.

Self-love is very different from narcissism, arrogance, or self-serving aloofness. Rather, it’s the compassion you show to yourself that gives you the courage to look at yourself, within yourself and around yourself and be able to say: “this is me, and I love all of me—flabs, flaws, and all.”

The love you give to others springs from that which you give to yourself. Self-love is the foundation upon which all other forms of love are built. If the foundation is shaky, the entire structure will inevitably collapse despite its magnificence. In other words, the success of your relationships with others depends on the strength of the relationship you have with yourself. Know thyself; love thyself.

As you work towards cultivating self-love, start letting go of the following toxic s**t that only erode your appreciation for yourself:

  • your ego,

  • societal standards, and

  • needless comparison.

In my case, my ego made me attempt to tune out flaws and shortcomings that impeded my obsessive desire for perfection. That’s not self-love. That’s avoidance.

Trying to fit into societal standards made me strongly hate parts of myself that strayed too far from society’s ‘normal’. That’s not self-love. That’s literally self-hate.

Needlessly comparing myself with others filled me with insecurity about the many areas I felt I was subpar. That’s not self-love. That’s a seed for inferiority complex.

Identifying these three things was the first step in my journey towards self-love. As you identify yours, you may find yours to be similar to or different from mine. Either way, you can only begin your journey when you identify the things that rob you of the much-needed love for yourself.

Remember to check in with yourself today as you celebrate Valentine’s.

You’re your first love and your greatest love; honestly. When the other people you love (especially men) start being trash, you’ll have only one place to return to—yourself. Ensure that that place is a place of love, kindness and compassion by cultivating self-love today. You won’t regret it.

Have a great Valentine’s Day! 🖤


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Personal Picks

Currently reading 📖

Currently jamming 🎶

An article that got me thinking 📜

  • ‘Pseudophilosophy Encourages Confused, Self-Indulgent Thinking’ (Aeon) by Sam Dresser

Quote of the Week

True courage in life isn’t born when we face whatever monsters hide in the external world. It’s born when we face ourselves. And it’s this courage that ultimately inspires us to reach our potential.” — Zat Rana (he’s amazing)

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