I’m writing this cozied in bed, freshly showered and moisturized. I have lavender essential oils diffusing beside me in my semi-clean room encircled in patio lights. Sounds like a self-love miracle. But when’s the last time I took a goddamn vitamin?

Self-love is not a linear process or cookie-cutter definition for anyone. If you asked 16-year-old me, I would’ve told you self-love is face masks, a hot mint tea and taking a mental health day. I’ve ripped open countless packets of clay masks and ran piping hot baths in hopes of waking up actually wanting to tackle the day ahead of me. I had an embarrassing amount of absences on my high school transcript as “Mom, I really can’t do it today” came out of my mouth probably a few too many times. This self-care b.s. seemed like a sham.

At 20, my view of self-love has completely changed, and I hope if you ask me at 25 it will be different again. I would be lying if I said I still don’t sit in front of my vanity mirror poking and prodding at everything I wish was different. Self-love affects almost all aspects of our lives, probably without even noticing it. My self-image, as most girls I assume, has changed, but is still something I struggle with. Even admitting that is tough. I try to spew confidence out of every pore, because confidence is sexy, right?

It’s so easy to sit back and accept that this is how you are. Or you can get up and change it. And that realization wasn’t a smooth one.

Self-love today is holding myself accountable for what I feel and what I accomplish.  What makes me get out of bed in the morning isn’t my parents saying I’ll be late anymore; it’s living on my own, making myself accountable to get to class or work for 8am. It’s cleaning the fish bowl and taking the dog for a walk in -25degree weather. It’s attending every lecture and actually doing the readings. It’s vacuuming that damn carpet and folding the laundry the day it comes out of the dryer. It’s taking all of my makeup off before I go to bed. It’s dragging myself to the gym and actually eating a green vegetable for once. What I have found is most remedying for me is productivity. It’s writing down everything in my planner and following through.

Self-love has evolved for me into something no longer surface or physical. The love I have for myself is more focused on my attributes and personality versus clear skin and healthy hair. As someone who is applying to a brutally competitive veterinary school, the love for myself has been lacking lately. This completely stems from the comparison of myself to others. This is something I recognize as something that is so beyond unhealthy, and outside of academia, I’m pretty good at avoiding. Unfortunately, when I tell people I’m heading into the veterinary medicine world, the first question I get asked is “Oh, what’s your GPA? Don’t you need a 95% average to be competitive with your peers?” Usually my response is a wide smile with a hesitant “Yup, pretty much.” It can be hard to stay positive in a world where we are constantly turned against our peers in competition. I think people are taken aback when I cry genuine tears of joy when my friends or even acquaintances succeed and get into their dream graduate school. This happiness for others is something that was a slow burning process; but converting my jealousy for others’ success into a genuine happiness for them is one of the best self-love things I’ve ever done.

“What terrifies me most is how we foam at the mouth with envy when other succeed but sigh in relief when they are failing. Our struggle to celebrate each other is what’s proven most difficult in being human.”

Rupi Kaur