“Don’t wait until you reach your goal to be proud of yourself. Be proud of every step you take.” ~Karen Salmansohn
One of the greatest ironies of being human is that we’re often hardest on ourselves right when we should be most proud.
Let’s say you finally find the courage to start a dream project you’ve fantasized about for as long as you can remember. You push through years of built-up fears, overcome massive internal resistance, and take the leap despite feeling like you’re jumping through a ring of fire, above a pit filled with burning acid.
It’s one of the most terrifying things you’ve ever done. It dredges up all your deepest insecurities, triggers feelings you’d rather stuff down and ignore, and brings you face to face with the most fragile, vulnerable parts of yourself.
The fact that you’re even willing to take this risk is huge. Monumental, really. Just getting on this long, winding path is an accomplishment worth acknowledging and celebrating. Most people avoid it. They do what they’ve always done and remain stuck in discontent, wishing they could know a life less limited.
But you? You’re trying. You’re taking a chance at being who you could be, knowing full well there are no guarantees. You’re a f*cking rockstar. A total badass for giving this a go. But you likely don’t see it that way.
You likely think you’re not doing enough, or doing it fast enough, or doing it well enough for it to count. You might get down on yourself for not learning more quickly, or having a perfectly honed vision and plan from the start.
Instead of giving yourself credit for every inch you move forward, you might beat yourself up for not leaping a mile.
Or maybe you’re not pursuing a dream for the future. Maybe you’re facing a pain from the past.
Let’s say you’re finally leaning into your anxiety or depression instead of numbing your feelings with booze, food, or any other distraction. Perhaps you’re in therapy, even, trying to get to the root of your complex feelings and heal wounds that have festered, untended, for years.
It’s intense, draining work that few can understand because there’s no visible representation of just how deep your pain goes. No way to fully explain how tough it is to face it. No way to show how hard you’re trying, every day, to fight a darkness that seems determined to consume you. So on top of being emotionally exhausted, you quite frequently feel alone.
Just acknowledging the pain beneath the mental and emotional symptoms is an act of immense bravery. And allowing yourself to face it, however and whenever you can—well let’s just say they should give out medals for this kind of thing. You’re a f*cking hero. A total badass for doing the work to save yourself. But you probably don’t see it that way.
You might think you aren’t making progress fast enough. Or you’re weak for having these struggles to begin with. Or you suck at life because sometimes you fall back into old patterns, even though on many other occasions, you don’t.
Instead of giving yourself credit for every small win, you might beat yourself up for being a failure. As if nothing you do is good enough, and you’ll never be good enough, because you’re not perfect right now.
Because if it’s not all happening right now—the healing, the growth, the progress—it’s easy to fear it never will. And it will be all your fault.
If it seems like I’m speaking from personal experience, that’s because I am.
I followed a decade of depression and bulimia with years of self-flagellation for not healing overnight and magically morphing into someone less fragile.
I responded to childhood trauma by abusing myself for acting insecure and emotionally unstable, even when I was actively trying to learn better ways to live and cope.
And I crucified myself for every cigarette and shot when I was trying to quit smoking and binge drinking, even though I quite frequently went long stretches of time without doing anything self-destructive.
Through all this internal whip cracking, I consistently reinforced to myself that I was weak for not changing overnight when really I should have acknowledged I was strong for making any progress at all.
It was like I was watching myself treading water, with broken limbs, while screaming at myself to hurry up and get stronger instead of throwing myself the rope of my own self-encouragement.
In retrospect, this makes sense. This is how most of us learn growing up—not through validation but punishment. We far more often hear about what we’re doing wrong than what we’re doing right. So instead of supporting ourselves through our deepest struggles, we berate ourselves for even having them.
Though I’ve made tremendous progress with this over the years, and I’m no longer in crisis, I still find myself expecting instant perfection at times.
I’m currently pushing myself far beyond the edge of my comfort zone—so far I can’t even see it from where I’m precariously floating.
I’m writing more here on the site after years of working through an identity crisis I’ve never publicly discussed.
I’m trying to get funding for a feature film I wrote, with themes that are deeply personal to me, knowing the “low budget” is still no easy amount to raise, and I might fail spectacularly.
I’m working on multiple new projects with third party companies—something I’ve avoided in the past because I’m a control freak who doesn’t easily trust others to take the reins.
And I’m doing it all while pregnant—six and a half months to be exact—at almost forty years old. So on top of all the usual fears that accompany big risks and changes, I’m juggling your garden-variety new parent concerns, with a few geriatric-pregnancy-related worries for good measure. (Yes, geriatric. My uterus could be a grandmother!)
I’m pushing myself into a new league, far outside my little work-from-home introvert bubble, while frequently feeling both physically and emotionally exhausted. And I’m finally giving myself the leeway to evolve after years of saying I wanted to grow but refusing to let go of my comfort to enable it. Really, I should be proud.
Every time I take a meeting when I’d rather do only what I can accomplish myself, every time I send an email for a new opportunity when it would be easier to passively wait for whatever comes to me, every time I push myself to be the brave, fulfilled person I want to be for both myself and my son, I should throw myself an internal parade. A festival complete with a float in my own image and endless flutes of the best champagne. (I know, I’m pregnant, but it’s internal, remember? Keep the bubbly flowing!)
But do I do this? To be fair, yes. Sometimes I do. And I’m proud of myself for that. I’ve come a long way from the self-abusive girl who only knew to motivate with intimidation and fear.
But other times I can be pretty hard on myself. It’s like I have this vision of how this all should work, and when, and I blame myself if I can’t meet my rigid expectations on my ideal timeline.
I don’t always step back and see the big picture: That there are many external factors I can’t control, and I need to be adaptable to deal with them. That it’s hard to learn new things, and no amount of willpower or dedication can make the process instant. That some things simply take time, and this isn’t a reflection of my worth or my effort.
I get impatient. I get frustrated. I get anxious and resistant.
And really it all comes down to attachment. I resist this slow, uncertain process, and bully myself into making things happen more quickly, because I want these things so bad I can taste them, and I fear they may never happen at all.
I want the freedom these new opportunities could provide. I want the fulfillment of bringing my creative vision to life. I want the things I tell myself I should have made happen years ago, and I want them now so I can focus on the joy of attainment instead of beating myself up for having “wasted time.”
But none of this internal drama is useful or productive, and it certainly does nothing for my motivation or focus. It’s nearly impossible to create from your heart when it’s totally eclipsed by anxiety and fear.
The only way to do anything effectively is to accept where you are, let go of the outcome, and throw yourself into the process.
So going forward, when my mind tries to bully me into doing more than I reasonably can or shame me for my pace or my progress, I’m going to remind myself I’m doing better than I think. We all are. And we all deserve more credit than we likely give ourselves.
We all deserve credit for facing our demons, chasing our dreams, and showing up every day when it would be easier to hide.
We all deserve acknowledgment for every tiny step forward, no matter how slow or timid, because creating change is hard.
We all deserve recognition for the many internal hurdles we overcome, even though they’re not visibly apparent to anyone else, because often they’re harder to tackle than even the most challenging external obstacles.
And we all deserve the peace of knowing that who we are right now is enough. Even if we have room to grow, even if there are things we’d like to achieve, we are good enough just as we are. And it’s okay to be right where we are.
It’s okay to be messy, inconsistent, and not always at our best. It’s okay to feel insecure, unsure, lost, confused, and scared. It’s okay to make massive advances on some days and just get by on others.
Would it be nice if we could instantly transport ourselves to the idealized future we see in our heads? Sure. But that’s not really what it means to “live our best life”—despite what our YOLO-promoting culture would have us believe.
Living our best life is embracing what is, while working to create what can be. It’s doing the best we can with what’s in front of us, and accepting that nothing else is guaranteed. Because this is the only moment we know for sure we have.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to get to the end of my life and realize I missed most of it because I always felt it needed to be more—and that I needed to be more—to fully appreciate and enjoy what I had while I had it.
So today, I’ve decided to be proud. Of my strength, my efforts, my progress, and the fact that I keep going. Whether I’m wounded, weary, or worried, I keep getting back up. I keep moving forward. I keep evolving. I am doing the best I can. So are you. And that’s something worth celebrating.