Falling in Love with My Imperfect Self

Falling in Love with My Imperfect Self

“Don’t settle for a relationship that won’t let you be yourself.” – Oprah Winfrey

When it comes to change, people are more apt to do it for others than for themselves. It was no different for me when I morphed myself to be the “right” kind of friend, the “cool” girlfriend, or the “most dependable” employee. In each of those instances other people really liked me, but I didn’t like me very much.

A friend’s snarky attitude made me less happy to be her confidant, even though I forced myself to patiently listen to her rants. I realized too late that the “cool” girlfriend meant the one who never disagreed with her boyfriend or made requests of her own. And the companies that adored my dependability easily forgot those countless overtime hours when it came time to promote or give raises.

It took about 10 years of increasing frustration to realize I was the one making myself unhappy. By putting everyone else’s needs (or perceived needs) ahead of my own, I was turning myself into someone I didn’t even recognize. I worked on my relationship with everyone else while ignoring my relationship with myself.

In 2000, I realized I was simply a patchwork of everyone else’s expectations and needs.

Getting to Know Myself

A divorce and cross-country move helped me start to weave a truer version of myself. In a new city with no friends, I had to create my life all over again. What did I really like to do? How did I want to live? Who did I want to hang out with?

For the first time in my life, I began questioning my preferences with every single thing. From the television shows I watched to the food I ate to the activities I chose, everything was put through a filter:

Does this fit me, or am I trying to please someone else?

It was a revelation to analyze my responses and learn to accept my decisions in spite of the opinions of other people. It was like getting to know myself for the first time at 30.

It’s probably no surprise to you that my life took a definite upswing at that point, but it certainly was to me.

  • When I began trusting my experience and instinct, my career took off.
  • When I thought about what kind of financial situation I wanted, it was easy to create a plan to make it happen.
  • When I demanded a higher quality of friendships, excellent people came into my life.
  • When I spoke honestly and directly about what I wanted in a relationship, I got the man of my dreams.
  • When I decided to make my biggest dream a reality, I actually took the steps to make it happen.

Falling in Love with My Imperfect Self

Today I’m enjoying a relationship with my husband, friends, and family that I only dreamed about before. They know me – honestly – and they still like me. More importantly, I like myself a lot.

It’s been 13 years since my grand awakening, and I’m writing this to you from sunny Mexico. This is the 95th stop on the round-the-world journey I’ve been on with my husband since 2010. My life is fuller and more complete than I ever imagined, and every day is a true expression of who I am.

I have many friends, but there are also people who don’t like me. I’m okay with that now, and it doesn’t cause me to lose sleep or morph my behavior to win their approval.

The most important relationship you’ll ever have in this life is the one with yourself. Being confident in your experience, knowledge, and preferences will allow you to create honest, healthy relationships with the people in your life. You won’t have to remember who to be, because you’ll always be yourself.

And that kind of comfort in your own skin will help you do great things.

Are you working harder to achieve the approval of others than you are the approval of yourself?

Photo by martinak15

Betsy Talbot

Betsy Talbot and her husband Warren are the authors of Married with Luggage: What We Learned about Love by Traveling the World. Through their popular books, engaging weekly podcast, and revealing Sunday emails, they share the unconventional wisdom they've learned about living, working, and traveling together since 2010. Find out more about modern love and partnership at Married with Luggage.

43 Comments

  1. Great post! I was in my 40’s before I realized the same about myself and made the changes I needed.

    Reply
    • Hi, SherryS. It does take a while to come to that realization, doesn’t it? I used to feel bad that it took me so long, but then I realized it probably had to. I’m a little hard-headed. :)

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    • I love it!

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  2. Betsy, that was an amazing story and it had me reeled in with every word. It’s a powerful thing to realize that we are our own source of discontentment. I often wonder if I’m truly living for myself or am I simply staying within the borders that would please others. It is a scary thing and I have yet to discover what I’m doing what I do for.

    Like you, I’ve also had to move, although only one state over. It was a new start and I really am growing a lot more. I’m learning new things about myself every day as well. Hopefully I will reach that level of self-actualization like you have.

    Reply
    • Hi, VIncent. Personal challenge is the key to growth. When you expose yourself to new surroundings, you start questioning things more, and questions lead to answers. We’re all works in progress, you know!

      Wishing you much success in your personal journey, Vincent.

      Reply
  3. We are programmed as children to please others otherwise we may not get our needs met. It takes a brave person to realize they are not being true to themselves and to up sticks like you did.
    I had a similar sort of lifestyle, ‘pleased people’ and as a result was unhappy myself, what I did not realize that it was my thinking that was attracting those sort of people and situations into my life, once I decided to change my thinking (as you did) then my life began to change. Good for you Betsy.

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    • Hi, Joan. It’s a powerful holdover from childhood, isn’t it? But you are so right about attracting the right kind of people in your life. Once you decide to follow your own dreams, the right kind of people are more easily drawn into your life. And the others can “self select” their mode of departure. :)

      Thank you for sharing your experience, and I wish you continued success on your journey.

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  4. I just love that simple question: Does this fit me, or am I trying to please someone else?

    Being a patchwork of everyone’s expectations leaves us constantly struggling to make pieces fit that were never meant to go together in the first place.

    I ran into this issue when I began blogging. What if I include my new found faith, and my old friends from my last home unfriend me? What if I just don’t bring it up, and my new friends turn away?

    The answer was that I had to do what fit and felt right for me, just as you recommend. There was such peace in my heart when I made that decision!

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    • Hi, Kim. We can’t help but be a patchwork of the people and experiences in our lives, but it’s when we allow this crazy patchwork to guide our future that we feel so disoriented and unsure. It’s appreciating those contributions and then choosing your own path because of or in spite of them that gives you the life you really want. Kudos to you for asking yourself the question and following your instincts. I wish you well in your blogging career!

      Reply
  5. Betsy, I felt as if the first several paragraphs of your story could be my own. For many years, I ran around people-pleasing only to find myself very unfulfilled. Fortunately my husband CJ was patient and, finally, we decided that we needed to be true to ourselves. It was liberating.

    I love your honesty, and the lines that really resonated were these:

    there are also people who don’t like me. I’m okay with that now, and it doesn’t cause me to lose sleep or morph my behavior to win their approval.

    I’m slapping those up on the mirror right now! Thank you!

    Reply
    • Hi, Tammy. People-pleasing is exhausting and ultimately unsatisfying. It takes most of us years to learn that lesson, and I’m so glad you did.

      Learning to be okay with not being liked or respected is a tough road, but if you can make it through you’ll have a completely different perspective on how you live. Feedback is simply that – not a reflection of my self-worth or value as a human being (and when I say that, I mean positive AND negative feedback).

      Good luck in your path to freeing yourself from public opinion!

      Reply
  6. Very interesting post. It’s true that we live sometimes for others before we realize who we’re living for. I’ll put this advice in my mind.

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    • Hi, Hamu. We just recorded a podcast episode today with a mom who finally decided to follow her dream of writing a book. We talked about how it transformed her daughters’ attitudes about their own goals and why chasing your dreams gives others the “permission” to chase their own.

      On the surface it may sound like a selfish act, but following your own path encourages everyone else to do the same. And how beautiful would this world be if we were all able to live our dreams?

      Reply
      • My daughters told me that when I started college as an adult—and they were around 7-10 years old—they were inspired by watching me do homework and tackle something that scared me.

        I can say from that experience and others that we are sometimes too close to see what an impact we are having on our children. While we may see the very visible, such as their eating and exercise habits, we may not see we have passed on our fear of change, of being different, etc.

        You hit the nail on the head again: when we stop being chameleons and let our own unique colors show, we are teaching our children incredibly valuable lessons that will eventually take root in their own lives.

        Reply
  7. I love the story of your awakening, Betsy. Tammy and I underwent a similar transformation a few years back and our lives are far better today than they were then. It seems something incredible happens to humans in their 30s. And we can either answer the call or suffer the consequences. Most people seem to be doing the latter, so I am glad your post is out there for people to read.

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  8. Such a powerful story Betsy.

    I think we all go through the same dilemma in the beginning when we doubt ourselves and have no idea what we’re capable of. But it’s perhaps why it is the way it is.
    I’ve often wondered why hardship exists. And i’ve lately come to see it as God’s way of providing us with the strength to eventually realize who we really are.

    We’re very rarely have an awareness of our true potential until we’re faced with the challenge of overcoming personal barrier and stepping outside of our comfort zones.
    Strength really does come from beyond our perceived limitations.

    And even then you start to wonder – “What are my real barriers”
    Our limitations are only ever set by us, and we really can live the lives we’ve always dreamed of.

    And the more we do it, the more we come to love and appreciate who we are, knowing that what we can do and the value we can provide to the world is limitless.

    Reply
  9. Hi, CJ. It’s so nice to see you here! The 30s are a time of great transition, I think. It’s the growth spurt between that first blush of adulthood and the serenity and wisdom of middle age.

    I love what you said about consequences. We do reap what we sow, whether that is complacency or personal excellence. I’m all for the consequences of excellence, even if I may fall short of my goal!

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    • Ahhhhh….. Beautifully put about our 30s, Betsy. Poetry, really. Thank you.

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  10. Go Betsy. Loving yourself means you can love others. I detest tick box thinking – and the moral imperative and boxing up of people. Get out of stuck Excel. Stop your success thieves enjoy magnificence. Have more fun, funds and fitness. Be a passionate, purposeful performer
    LIVE, LOVE and Dance like crazy
    Thanks for keeping the smile on my dial

    Reply
    • Roberta, you and I are of like mind on this – I dislike the “tick box” thinking, too! And I’m definitely smiling at your sign-off line. :) You made me smile!

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  11. Another powerful story! Thank you for sharing!

    Reply
    • Thanks, Tina. I’m so glad you came over to join the conversation!

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  12. Great post, Betsy. I’ve been following your blogs and getting a lot of reassurance from them, as I am your age and also child-free, in a long-term relationship, and interested in winnowing down my possessions and spending whole month in Guanajuato.

    Reply
    • Carol, Guanajuato, Mexico is a beautiful place. We are currently experiencing our first rain storm since we arrived almost 3 months ago and the smell in the air right now is downright intoxicating!

      I’m so glad you’ve found reassurance from our site in your goals. That’s the other great thing about realizing what you want, you know. You can easily find other people doing similar things and band together for support or just a feeling of inclusion. It’s you choosing companions and surroundings who fit your goals instead of morphing your goals to fit your companions and surroundings.

      Best of luck to you as you plan your Guanajuato adventure – you’re going to love it!

      Reply
  13. Great post, Betsy. Thanks for sharing your story. It encourages me as I begin anew in finding and developing relationships with people that enjoy doing things that I like to do, that are fun to hang out with and let me be who I am.

    Reply
    • Beginning a new is a scary but exhilarating experience, Carma. I wish you well in your adventure!

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  14. Thank you so much for this post. Presently I feel so morphed whenever I say no so I try as much as possible to blend into every situation, now I know simple but effective steps to take to overcome this…. Thanks again for this awakening!

    Reply
    • Ematox, it’s hard to morph all the time without pain unless you’re Gumby. (Am I dating myself to mention this stretchy green character?)

      In my last book I wrote about the common question of “what do you want to do?” and how many people pleasers will answer with: “I don’t know, what do YOU want to do?” By challenging yourself to answer this simple question truthfully every time it is asked – whether it’s about lunch, a movie, or how to spend the weekend – you’ll soon feel strong enough to state your opinion – and your “no” – on more difficult subjects. It works!

      Best of luck to you on your journey!

      Reply
  15. Good day,
    Thank you for sharing your experiences. I am over thirty still struggling to live the life that I wanted. Honestly I did’t even know what I wanted. But things are changing now I am sure I found a correct way to build my happiness.

    Thank you and good luck!

    Reply
  16. Thanks for telling me that i should be living my life and not the kind of life others expect me to live. Call it goodness or gentless ( Biblical virtues ) that tell me to yoke my goal to the wishes of my circle of friends, family members so that they approve of me. Every one of us is unique and the trick is to discover my uniqueness, live it fully and enjoy it. Like minded may join me and differently disposed may seek their own tavern.

    Reply
  17. Hi, Mahavir. We often tell ourselves that we’re making life better for those we love by doing what they want, but the true gift is showing them that you are pursuing your goals and they can, too. You wish your friends to be happy, and I have no doubt they wish the same for you. :) Good luck on your journey!

    Reply
  18. Thank you for the article. A wonderful way to end the week. It’s amazing what happens when we listen to our own inner wisdom. We can move mountains and make THE most amazing life!

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  19. Loving and doing what’s right for ourselves first actually makes us better for everyone else in our lives.

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  20. Wow! That’s quite a story of reinventing yourself. You are right. Most of who I am is made up by perception of others.In childhood you learn to be nice to your parents and others as a survival strategy.. Later on you learn to be politically correct not to offend others or hurt their feelings. You learn to take on different persona to fit the situation. In all this effort you lose your own original face.It is difficult to be honest to your own imperfect self without being rude, selfish or opinionated in the eyes of others.Know thyself is not easy.It’s a lifelong pursuit.One key is to be mindful of every moment and ask yourself” is it me? Am I really happy”?

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  21. Thanks for sharing this, Betsy Talbot. I am in this kind of transition right now, the journey to finding my true self. Sometimes I find it rather difficult, but I know in the end that it will be well worth it. This is a great post and a blessing that I read it. I will definitely bookmark this page.

    Reply
  22. Hi Betsy,

    Thank you for sharing your story.

    I can relate to it because I too find myself giving in too easily to what others want. I’ve always thought of myself as the “easy going” type, but I recently realized that it’s because I want others around me to be happy.

    I think it might have something to do with the positive appraisals I got when I was young from my parents when I behaved well or did something good.

    Your article has reminded me how important it is to also take care of our feelings, ourselves, and our happiness.

    Reply
  23. Thank you so much for this post! I’m only 23 but I am dealing with a divorce and trying to build self esteem where there was none before. I hope to learn these lessons early and feel strong and comfortable being myself.

    Reply
  24. Thanks Betsy. Powerful post. It is so important to delve deeply into ourselves and to develop an understanding of who we truly are. It is the key to any personal development work. Everyone of us is unique and our individual expressions of the energies we embody are a critical part of the circles we’re part of. We owe it to ourselves and the world to be who we truly are. I use the Life Path to start my clients on that journey.

    Reply
  25. Great post Betsy. I am trying very hard to get where I can love my imperfect self and just be myself rather than what others can be. I need to or I will die. I know that sounds dramatic, but it is true. I’ve had three suicide attempts because of deep shame and hatred for who I was. I really liked this post. You give me inspiration to continue to work towards authenticity.

    Reply
  26. Thanks, Betsy. I’m in a situation where I am having to find home again, not where that will be and having to recreate my life all over again at nearly age 47. I had to let go of some people I was “pleasing” as well who were actually “frenemies,” narcissists, and takers. One must be true to one’s self in the end and that clear inner voice of what to do next and what not bother with anymore.

    Reply
  27. Great post, Betsy. Thanks for sharing your story. You’ve inspired me to stay on my path of learning to love and accept myself, warts and all and to keep on track doing the things that ‘fit’ me vs. pleasing others. Sometimes that’s hard but it always turns out to be the right thing to do! I’ve also noticed that as I stop judging myself, I am less judgmental of others and more welcoming and open to a wider circle of friends. Again, thank you for the gift of your journey.

    Reply
  28. Gosh, I think it should say “written by Karina B. ” ;) What a wonderful and powerful article to share, thank you! It really feels like you’ve written about last few months of my life, when I finally started rediscovering myself, getting myself back and embracing my humanity with all of its imperfections (?!). I’m so perfectly imperfect and I love it :D

    Reply
  29. Hi Betsy,

    Your post is great, inspiring wrap up of a love story with yourself! Congratulations!

    I’m 32 and surprisingly I found your article in a very critical moment of change in my life, where I can see myself initiating such a change.

    I would like to say that I am delighted your suggestion to challenge yourself by replying honestly every time to the simple question “what do you want to do?”. This is something I never did before and I will start now paying more attention to it.

    Paraphrasing you, I came to realize very recently that I was being the “cool” girlfriend, meaning the one who never disagreed with her boyfriend or made requests of her own. I was bound to a relationship where the lack of respect towards me (from me and him) was so deep that it reached a point of total breakdown.

    I just started now to make the way of learning me and how to love myself and live by my own. However it still pops into my mind from times to times the idea/fear that I will never be able to have a happy love life and never will find a man to whom I would like to share my life with and vice-versa. I’m a 32 years old single mum of a 6 years old boy and often I tend to think that with this package there will be no way to get the man neither the life of my dreams.

    Anyway, I’m now positive that I will find my way anyway.

    I also would like to add that I enjoyed also very much reading every comment!

    Wishing a happy life to everyone!

    Reply

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