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The Small Step

Have you ever wondered to yourself, “How did I get here?” Part of growing up is realizing how far you made it in life as you look back.

It’s like a whiplash of emotions. I keep reflecting on the progress I made during school, finishing my assignments, and my self-care routine. I’ve been in auto-pilot mode for so long that I wasn’t aware of the work I do.

In my previous blog, I explained that having an optimistic mindset gives you a chance to be better and motivate yourself. It can be difficult to stay positive amidst hardships because you must work and see the progress yourself. It’s fulfilling that way.

However, valuing the smallest step you take is the most important part of success. As you become optimistic, you value your first small jump.

During my sophomore year in college, I had to choose an elective credit. The class I took was Japanese. The reason why was because I was into Japanese anime, video games, and food. I took a class where I had no knowledge of Japanese culture and the language, and yet it was something worth trying.

The first day of class was off to a good start. My sensei (teacher) introduced herself to us and discussed the course structure throughout the semester. After that, we immediately jumped into the writing systems and learned hiragana characters. My brain was overloaded with what to write and how to stroke my pencil correctly. After that class, everyone received homework to copy more Hiragana characters and words. I wondered if I was cut out to learn but I tried. I kept practicing and watched my sensei write her hiragana rigorously. Again and again, I wanted to make it right. And so, I kept going. Classes became fast-paced and I had to catch up with the new lectures. But I got used to it. Over time, my Japanese class became easy and tolerable.

The first exam came in and my sensei was serious about this. I had to study every chapter of my book, practice my listening skills, and understand the grammar. There was no reference exam online. I had to know everything I learned before my exam. I ended up getting an average grade of B. It wasn’t bad at all, but I wanted to improve. I proved to myself I could do it, so why not reach for something higher? I kept going, studied more, asked for help, read my book countless times, and finally, the last exam came up. I received an A for my final grade and I was relieved. I thought to myself how far I had come. I was so dedicated to learning Japanese that I forgot to acknowledge my work. I did this because I was curious about the culture. And now, I got to learn how to write and speak Japanese! I wouldn't have been able to achieve this if I had not taken the first step.

It can be healing when you take a step back and reflect on what you went through. Tracing down your roots about why you want to accomplish something can widen your perspective about yourself.

Where I was

Although I was resilient, I had a rough time back in high school. Sometimes I would veer off from my progress and feel bad because I didn’t know better. But, that changed.

My four years at high school were the first triumph I felt after I graduated. I graduated when COVID-19 peaked, and while it wasn’t what I expected, everyone knew how to congratulate the 2020 celebrants. I’m glad I got free donuts, free food, and a drive-thru graduation, but what I was proud of the most was remembering how far I had come. I went to therapy while I was doing homework for my classes. I discovered the best parts about me: my resilience, caring nature, and appreciation for the things I love. It took me so long that I didn’t even notice. I remember complaining about Senior year, the homework overload and big presentations, yet I looked back at my graduation photo and realized how strong I was.

How was I able to achieve this? I couldn’t process what I did back then. I just pushed through that’s it. I had enough courage to tell myself I could do it. I did everything just to receive my High School diploma. It was worth it in the long run. The prestige diploma I received highlighted my achievement. But honestly, it was more than that. While it was a huge milestone of mine, I valued more of what I was capable of. Getting my diploma was one thing but there was one obstacle I had: my deteriorating mindset. I want to focus on recovering.

I was self-sabotaging. I wasn’t the type to commend myself for what I did. I thought to myself if I’m still a good person. I wondered if it’s possible to change. My therapist and I discussed how to disassociate intrusive thoughts and give myself a chance for growth. I was so deep in my negative self that I couldn’t trust myself to be better. My therapist gave me a homework assignment to think about what I am good at. I didn’t know any strengths I had or what my worth was to others. I negated any positive attributes about me because I didn’t deserve them. How was I supposed to know what kind of person I am?

There it was. That was what was holding me back. It was my fear. My doubts. I was scared that I was not a person who was strong or resilient, because I couldn’t change. I believed that I was only going to set myself up for failure. A never-ending loop of discouragement. But my therapist kept encouraging me to try. I had to look deep within my fixed self and dig through what makes me good. It was such a complicated assignment that I kept overthinking. It was like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

There was only one way to find out. I had to take that step or stay where I was before. I could make that change. I had that chance in front of me. Only I can make that happen. After my session, I went back to my room and plunged into the ocean of my thoughts.

Memory after memory, I was fixated on the negative side. My worth to others, my isolation—everything was warped to be hurtful. I contemplated what happened in the past and how I deserved to be ridiculed. I never got to find the good part of me. However, I acknowledged the thought and set it aside. I couldn’t have it stop me.

I finally reached the source of why I self-sabotage. It was an encapsulation of what I didn’t like about myself. My mind went blank and I continued to reflect. The only thing left to do was to confront the worst things about me. I didn’t want to attack it and couldn’t belittle what I should’ve done or should do better. I found enough courage to know my strength: forgiving myself.

I learned to not torment myself constantly. The past doesn’t represent my failure and shouldn’t be the notable thing about me. I took a chance to change for the good. I know that it will be a challenge to confront my bad thoughts again, but I will never forget the first step of why I deserve to grow: I’m worthy enough to be better.

Trying something different or being a better person again can be the hardest thing to achieve, especially if we are unfamiliar with how to start. Bad thoughts will come in because we’re unsure about the future and what to become. On the other hand, we can change that. We don’t have to be stuck in our deep shame. Just taking that first step shows how capable you are to become anew again. Remembering why you started is the reason you are who you are. There’s a quote from Bojack Horseman and it became my motto to stay strong.

“It gets easy. But you have to do it every day. That’s the hard part.”

It’s important to realize why you started in the first place. Why did you want to be good? What made you start? You look back on your past and despite what happened, you’re still here. It’s going to be hard every day, but things will be easy in the long run. You can’t know for sure, but as you persist forward, you’ll understand that taking the first step makes a difference to your growth. You got here so far.

About the Author

Daniel Santiago is a blogger in the Love Yourself Foundation. He enjoys writing, playing games, and exercising. His favorite activity is going out for walks and listening to lo-fi and serene music. A professional at being an introvert, he strives to find his place in the world and remind everyone they are not alone.

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