Self-Acceptance Lessons from Ralph Waldo Emerson

business girl search
Written by Evelyn Lim

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else, is the greatest accomplishment.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of the greatest American essayists, poets, and thinkers, clearly understood the importance of self-acceptance. He believed in searching for truth from within. Back in the early days of the Transcendental movement, Emerson had experienced firsthand both the benefits and drawbacks of going against mainstream culture and society. Emerson’s clear message was that a self-directed path is the only path that can lead to true happiness and contentment.

The same message applies even in modern times. We are constantly bombarded by ideas that try to make us something else. We are told how to be, who we should be like, how to live, what our beliefs ought to be and what we should wear… and the list goes on. The ideas come from all around us, from the media, from family, friends and even strangers. We are told that it is better to conform because daring to be different means running the risk of rejection. Thus, we strive to fit in; we mold ourselves so that, in essence, we can be like everyone else.

Can we expect to find true happiness, when we deny who we truly are, in order to please others? Can we experience true self-love, when we strive to keep our inner selves hidden from others, fearing they might perceive us as different and therefore, label us “strange” or “a freak”? Clearly, Emerson thought not. He wrote and spoke often about the importance of finding, accepting and loving the self.

Finding Yourself in A Crowded World

You might find that you mostly just go along with the crowd, believe what they believe, think what they think, say what they say. There is no need to engage in critical thinking because you figure that if the majority has the same belief, then it must be true. You like being liked. Also, you do not want to stick out like a sore thumb, as there is just too much at stake. You fear that others will shun you for holding a different view.

After some time, you may find yourself losing the sense of self. You do not who you are, what you stand for, what values you have, what your dreams are and so on. You feel disconnected with your inner being. With enough awareness, you may even realize how miserable you are.

Emerson wrote:

“All my life I had been looking for something, and everywhere I looked someone tried to tell me what it was. I accepted their answers too, though they were often in contradiction and even self-contradictory. I was naive. I was looking for myself and asking everyone except myself questions which I, and only I could answer”.

The lesson here is so poignant. Only when you begin to question what you have been told about yourself and your world, can you begin to weed out the other voices, in an attempt to find the voice that is uniquely your own. You need to go on a journey of self-discovery.


One excellent idea for self-discovery is to keep a journal. Emerson kept a journal, which totaled more than three million words. Journaling was something he did over the span of sixty years. His thoughts and philosophical wanderings are complied into more than 16 large volumes of literary exploration. Indeed, for Emerson, self-discovery was a lifelong process.

Emerson’s journals have served as a source of inspiration for many other great writers, thinkers and speakers. You might even have come across many quotes that were written by him. You too can use the principles applied by Emerson to establish your own path for self-discovery.

1. Question everything.

2. Evaluate new concepts and ideas as they are presented to you.

3. Examine your own feelings about things that are familiar to you, traditions, rituals, even daily habits that you are accustomed to engaging in.

4. Analyze different perspectives and viewpoints.


As you embark on your journey of self-discovery, through exploration and questioning, you may discover that your true feelings and beliefs differ from the ideas of others, or even from your own earlier ideas. When examining different points of view, only you can decide which ideas or worth accepting and which are worthy of rejection.

Questions to Ask

1. Is this what I think, or is this what I have been told to think?

2. Where did this thought, belief or idea originate from?

3. Do I have to accept this concept as true? Why or why not?

4. What are my reasons for agreeing or disagreeing with this idea?

Be reminded that what you are told or taught to believe is not always valid. When you question the beliefs and ideas of the majority, and then you choose to believe that your own thoughts and opinions could be equally as valid, you have begun to experience a level of self acceptance that few people are able to obtain.

Through self-acceptance you learn to validate and accept your own opinions and ideas. You learn to be comfortable with everything about you. Only when you come to truly know and understand your genuine inner self, can you truly experience unconditional acceptance for yourself. In time, others will also respect you for having the courage to be your unique self.

Some Amazing Comments


About the author

Evelyn Lim

Evelyn Lim is passionate about helping others love and accept themselves completely. She is the author to Self-Love Secrets: How to Love Yourself Unconditionally as well as other life-changing books. Evelyn’s vision is to inspire others to lead a full life. As a Master Neuro-Linguistic Practitioner, Vision Board Counselor and Intuitive Consultant, she also offers free tips over at Abundance Tapestry.


  • I really like your points to consider under Self Discovery, Evelyn. I especially like your Questions to Ask yourself! Not too many people I meet have stopped to ask themselves why they believe what they do.

    Question Everything is great advice. I like to combine it with Do Something. Between the questioning and the doing is where I find my own best answers.

    Keep up the stimulating and thoughtful posts!

  • Evelyn, this is a great article and is along the lines of what is happening for me at the moment.

    The more I am accepting of myself, exploring the stuff I don’t want to recognize in myself (the ‘shadow self’) as it is called, letting go of my limitations and working on going in my own direction, the happier I am and the better I feel about myself!

    It is a hard journey, making these changes i’ve faced conflict and people trying to make me feel guilty, but it’s too bad, I chose to instead reinforce my desire and dedication to go in my own direction and I am feeling happier for it. I will get there eventually!


  • Hi Evelyn,

    Good advice. Starting a journal a few years ago was one of the best things that I ever did. It is a really good tool for self-reflection and to see how things play out long-term. I really recommend that everybody should start writing a journal. :)

  • Hi Evelyn,
    Thankyou for this. At the end of the day we have a choice whether to create a Life that we want or have others dictate our Life for us.
    be good to yourself

  • So true Evelyn. Growing up as children everyone is telling us their view point of us and then we accept them as true. One of the greatest gifts of personal growth is remembering who we really are and dropping the fear of others opinions of us.

    • Hi Justin,

      As I also always say, it is about removing the fear in our minds and reawakening to the source of love within us.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

      Love and abundance always,

  • Great reminder Evelyn. Trying to be someone else just to please the others is very unhealthy as it destroys our own happiness and uniqueness. Johann Von Goethe said it well: “If God had wanted me otherwise, He would have created me otherwise.” We need to appreciate and cherish ourselves more in such a chaotic society.

  • This is such a lovely post.

    And you pose really good questions. Conforming and following the crowd is really such bad judgement. Solomon the wisest man who ever lived said that the crowd is always wrong. As Emerson clearly illustrates with the way he lived his life. It’s important to honour one’s own heart and trust it…

    Thanks for sharing.


    • Hi Veeh,

      The way I see it is that we do not blindly follow others without searching for our own truths. We may come to the same conclusion and that is okay. But more importantly, we seek the answers for ourselves and we have to listen in deeply.

      Love and abundance always,

  • Your post reminds me of a book title I saw recently: “Be Yourself – Everyone Else Is Already Taken” Having spent most of my early years trying to be someone (anyone!) other than myself, only to realize it wasn’t working, I too am now passionate about encouraging each of us to find our personal truth and let it shine.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post, Evelyn.

    • Hello Helen,

      The book sounds interesting. I have not seen it before and will go check it out.

      Do continue to shine your radiant light!

      Love and abundance always,

  • Hi Evelyn,

    That is a fantastic quote and I love the way that you explained it further. The world really does try to make us into something other than what we were meant to be. To become who we are meant to be and to cherish that is a true gift. It does take a good dose of self acceptance!

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Hi Stacy,

      It’s great that you agree that having a good dose of self-acceptance puts us in a good stead towards becoming the person we are meant to be.

      Love and abundance always,

  • Thanks for the sharing and great post. Indeed, too many people try to be someone they are not, instead of accepting and being themselves for who they are.

  • Wonderful post indeed!

    Emerson and his quotes are one of my favorites, and I totally agree with his first one on this post.

    We do tend to get lost and listen more to people about the way we should live, or the kind of life they expect us to live. Very rarely do we really accept ourselves for who we actually are, instead prefer portraying ourselves as someone else.

    I guess the self-acceptance lesson is something that needs to come from within ourselves. We need to accept ourselves for who we are, as we are, and be proud and happy about it.

    Thanks for sharing. :)

    • Hello Harleena,

      Oh yes, I believe that self-acceptance is something that a lot of us can do more with. When we don’t, we experience a deep disharmony from within. This can lead to many negative consequences. We will be much happier people if we can begin with accepting who we really are, instead of pretending to be someone we are not.

      Thank you for sharing your feedback,

  • One of my favorite quotes! I’m passionate about encouraging people to not be afraid to stand out (or alone) in a crowd and write about it often. It’s not easy, but there are many ways to become more resilient and you’ve provided some excellent suggestions. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Hello Marquita,

      I love what you are doing to help empower others – encouraging people to stand out. As you have said, it is not easy and that it is why much encouragement can sometimes be needed. It is why we need more inspiring people like yourself.

      Wishing you much success,

  • A beautiful post Evelyn. :)
    I often equate questioning established norms, both external and internal, with taking the blue pill(Matrix).
    Again, a very well written post, not pushy but one that forces us to pause and ponder.

    • How interesting – that you should view questioning established norms with taking the blue pill (per the Matrix). I like the idea very much!

      Thank you for your feedback,

  • Maxwell Maltz wrote about this over 40 years ago, and the Bible, written over 2000 years ago says in Proverbs, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he”. This is good stuff, but our focus can’t be on our selves. It must be on our creator, who gives us the reason for our hope. When our minds are fixed on God, then we find our purpose in life and become the individuals we are supposed to be. I agree we should not follow the staus quo “Broad is the way that leads to destruction”. Don’t follow everyone… follow your heart.

    • Yes, don’t follow others blindly but listen in deeply. Through our hearts, we become spiritually connected.

      Thank you for your comments,

/* ]]> */