When skimming my LinkedIn newsfeed last week, I came across an intriguing topic of discussion among The Influencers—“What is the best advice you’ve ever gotten?” While this thought-provoking question was directed to people with three-letter titles beginning with C, people far more important and experienced and accomplished than myself, I still feel compelled to share my answer, on the off chance that someone, somewhere will listen.
I just turned twenty-five years old, and I know with absolute certainty that I encountered the best advice I’ve ever gotten when I was fifteen. When I was a sophomore in high school, I read Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower for the first time. For those who are unfamiliar with the novel, consider it as a modern version of The Catcher in the Rye. It is an achingly beautiful coming-of-age story about an earnest, yet painfully shy boy named Charlie.
Throughout the book, Charlie confides in his English teacher about his troubles growing up, his daily struggles with school, his dysfunctional family, and his tumultuous dating life. His teacher listens patiently to all of his stories, offering kind support and understanding. Eventually, Charlie asks his teacher why so many people in his life resign themselves to disappointing circumstances and toxic relationships.
His teacher responds with the best advice that I have ever gotten: “We accept the love we think we deserve.”
This statement is just as simple as it is profound. In a way, it is a reversal of the Golden Rule—Do unto others as you would have them do unto you—as this timeless lesson is entirely contingent upon how we view ourselves. When reading this rule, one can assume that everyone expects to be treated with respect, dignity, and kindness, but is that always the case?
I encourage you to take a step back and evaluate your relationships, whether they are romantic, friendly, familial, or professional, and ask yourself the following question: “How do I deserve to be treated?” As fundamental as this question may be to our happiness, many of us never ask it.
Once you have identified what you think you deserve, ask yourself how others treat you. Do your relationships consistently meet your needs and expectations, or do they disappoint you? Do you find yourself surrounded by hopeful, joyous people, or by negative, selfish people? Do your relationships enrich your life or diminish it?
Oftentimes, we can grow accustomed to our circumstances, for better or worse. We get used to being treated a certain way or feeling a certain way, and after a while, it just doesn’t faze us all that much. If you realize that you are being mistreated, respect and honor yourself enough to refuse to settle. If you are blessed to have nurturing, encouraging relationships, respect and honor your loved ones enough to tell them how much you appreciate them.
Once we take the time to reflect upon how we would like to be treated, we can truly devote our energy to treating others with the same regard. We can attract positivity rather than negativity. We can be more empathetic, gracious, and understanding. We can experience true reciprocity and generosity. We can have the comfort in knowing that we are striving to be the best versions of ourselves, and in so doing, we are bringing out the best in our relationships as well.
We can accept the love we think we deserve, and we can encourage others to do the same.