On being a friend to yourself

By Rachel McGowan

Working in youth advocacy gives me lots of cool experiences. In my previous job, I got to go with Step Up on the Bay Area college tour — basically, we took 50 eleventh grade babes to visit six colleges over the course of four days. We cried about financial aid and giggled at college boys and vented about parents — it was an honor to play a small part in this chapter of these girls’ lives. What a gift to be able to speak into their college journey – and what a scary fucking world it is.

Throughout the trip, the girls asked a lot of really good questions. As we walked the streets of San Francisco, we talked about choosing a major and cafeteria food and weird roommates and joining sororities. They asked questions about class sizes and keeping in touch with high school friends, how to apply for financial aid with undocumented status, and what my favorite clubs were. I loved talking about college with these babes — they were genuinely curious and so on top of it. It was an amazing trip on so many levels.

For the most part I stayed on top of their questions and answered them as best I could. But one question in particular threw me. I was talking with a girl who goes to a school that is really rigorous academically. We were talking about GPA and SAT scores and how college professors grade. She seemed a bit overwhelmed, but she smiled when she asked it.

“Who grades you after college? Once school is over?”

Um. Exhale.

I’ve been thinking about this question a lot lately. When she first asked me, I laughed along with her and our conversation moved on. But it echoed in my brain for the whole week. Who does grade us now?

We do. We grade ourselves.

I’ve been told by some people that I am a good friend. I call these people my tribe, my home team, my true friends. They speak truth over me when I’m really down, they send me videos when I need a laugh, they challenge me when I’m wrong. I love my friends so much; I truly don’t know who I would be without their place in my life. I am grateful through and through that the grades they give me aren’t based on anything except their own care for me. It doesn’t matter if I’ve met the mark, it doesn’t matter how I’ve previously performed – they love me for who I am. They remind me I am enough.

I’ve also been left by some people. Either through actions or words, they have told me that who I am is not enough. That the burden of my depression, the weight of my past mistakes, or the chaos of this season of transition – was just not what they were interested in. It didn’t matter that the history of our friendships was deep, or that the context of our relationships was I-see-you-literally-every-day, or that I babysat for you constantly or helped you when you were at your darkest or threw you a surprise wedding shower. It just didn’t matter. And the phone calls went unanswered, the conversations were left un-had. Their actions solidified a lot of my biggest insecurities – that I was forgotten. Abandoned. A failure. Not enough. That my mistakes were irredeemable, that I was not worthy of love.

I know now, in more tangible ways, that it is imperative to get rid of people who make me feel like I am hard to love. And I know, I know: these are not new ideas. My own return to Saturn has not revealed anything different to me than it did to those before me. Friendships change, adulting sucks, life can be lonely. There are plenty of gifs to teach us that these days.

But what struck me recently was which one of these categories I fall into.

Turns out, I’m kind of a shitty friend to myself. I say really awful things almost as soon as I wake up, and it only gets worse once I see myself in the mirror or leave late for work. I dwell on my past mistakes, I repeat my own shortcomings in my head, I deny myself any opportunities to feel proud or happy because what about all the things I’ve done wrong?!?! I grade myself hard. I abandon myself and categorize myself as a failure more often than I’d like to admit.

If I were to personify the voice in my head as a real-life ‘friend’, I would de-friend her immediately. She would be out of my phone, on my blocked list, and given none of my time. I would not listen to her lies and I most certainly would not stick around to hear any more of them.

So, along with ridding my life of toxic people whose actions remind me of my own insufficiencies, I am ridding myself of my own toxic self-talk. I want to grade myself better. Just because there aren’t teachers to impress or diplomas to receive, doesn’t mean I should stop being proud of who I am.

I want to like myself like my friends like me. And I want to be my own favorite friend.


Rachel McGowan is a Local Chapter Manager for I AM THAT GIRL, a nonprofit that helps girls transform self-doubt in to self-love by providing safe spaces to connect and have honest conversations about things that matter. Rachel has always had a deep passion for helping young women discover their stories and become their most authentic selves. She spent several years working with college and high school students in varying capacities. What always excited her the most was mentoring and developing young women. She is an extroverted, creative, strategic thinker with a heartbeat for social justice and inclusivity. www.sincerelyrachelchristine.com

Rachel McGowan

Local Chapter Manager for I AM THAT GIRL

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