As the quarter draws to a close, the onslaught of group projects and tests coupled with work, clubs and maintaining our health can take up every free moment of our lives. Sometimes we are so busy trying to balance our schedules that we forget to appreciate ourselves and our strengths, talents and accomplishments. Studies have found that the hardest workers, the perfectionists, are the ones who are the least self-compassionate. “I found in my research that the biggest reason people aren’t more self-compassionate is that they are afraid they’ll become self-indulgent,” Dr. Kristin Neff, an associate professor of human development at the University of Texas at Austin, said in an interview with The New York Times. This feeling of not measuring up to our own high standards starts at a young age; DoSomething.org found that “7 in 10 girls believe that they are not good enough or don’t measure up in some way, including their looks, performance in school and relationships with friends and family members.”
I asked four female Cal Poly students, nominated by their friends, to meet with me to participate in a brief discussion and photoshoot related to self-love. I gave each participant very little information beforehand, and I met with each subject for about fifteen minutes. I asked each participant to write words of support on a notecard with their best friend in mind. Immediately after, I asked them to use the same positive energy to write a love letter to themselves—I suggested they include things like their greatest strengths and proudest accomplishments. Each person read their letter of self-admiration aloud to me, and I documented all steps of the process through portraiture. In closing, I encouraged the participants to fold up their letters and reread them on a date significant to them
When prompted to write words of encouragement to a close friend, Hughes wrote to her older sister: “You’re the right person to handle this situation, and anything you do will make a positive impact.” Thoughts of family impacted the rest of Hughes’ experience.
As Hughes wrote, I noticed a distinct shift in her facial expression. She smiled and joked around with me for the first few moments, but as she wrote her final thoughts, I captured a more serious and contemplative look.
A few moments after I took this photograph, Hughes paused. She was brought to tears as she read about her relationship with her mom and her Korean culture.
On the first notecard I gave her, Alecxih wrote, “You’re going to get through this and succeed! I believe in you and I always will! Yeehaw partner!” Her smile and attitude were contagious.
In contrast with the first part of the exercise, Alecxih rarely looked up as she developed her letter. She wrote with focus and intention.
Once Alecxih began to read her letter aloud, she couldn’t contain her smile. She plans to read her letter again before her next exam.
Tam took time to think before writing her note to a friend. We spoke about the importance of “always being there” for others, and she held up her card for her first portrait.
Although Tam wrote about her future, she emphasized how proud she is of herself and her determination to succeed. About halfway through, she paused to look around. After this pause, she was able to write about her goals and conclude her letter.
Tam held a smile throughout the entire reading of her love letter and reflected on the positive emotions she felt afterwards. As we concluded the session, she commented on the way the exercise helped her better appreciate her talents.
Meyers approached the first note differently than the other participants. She wrote multiple words and phrases that she thought a friend would need to hear during a difficult time. She included: “Believe in yourself, it’ll all be worth it,” “Celebrate yourself,” and “See the end goal”.
Meyers, whose father recently passed away, wrote a very powerful letter of self-admiration. She addressed her dad, but she also emphasized all of the things she has achieved in the past year. She mentioned the job she secured in the Bay Area and how proud her father would be of her.
Meyers had to wipe away tears as she read her letter. Although she had to pause to get through it, she smiled and confidently read her last few thoughts. Her strength and determination grew as she read on.
I encourage you to show yourself some love and compassion. Take five minutes out of your day to sit down and write a thoughtful letter to yourself. Thank yourself for your determination and recognize your greatest strengths.