“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”
I was 17 years old when I read those words from Zora Neale Hurston in Their Eyes Were Watching God for the first time, but I don’t think I fully understood them until now, more than 15 years later.
When I look back—as one does at this time of year—it feels clear: 2020 was a year that asked a lot of questions, and 2021 was a year when I started finding some of the answers.
The years that answer are harder.
The years that answer challenge us to confront hard truths about the world, about the ways we live our life, and about ourselves.
And this year, one of the answers I found was that so much of who I am and how I interact with the world was built on a shaky foundation because it was all external—it was all about appearing perfect and seeing myself through the eyes of others. I defined myself using the words other people had used to define me, which feels good when the words are good but also means you’re constantly looking outside of yourself for answers to the big questions asked in years like 2020: Who am I? What do I want? Am I worthy of love? Does my story matter?
At times this year, I honestly didn’t know the answers to any of those questions.
But then, this year answered back in a big way.
It gave me BTS.
And somewhere in the middle of countless YouTube videos and car singalongs in my bad attempts at Korean and talking to my best friend about these seven men who’d stolen my heart, some of those answers, which had been evading me for so long, started to become louder and clearer. The part of me that had always known those answers—that voice in my gut that has stubbornly stuck around even during years when I didn’t want to listen to her—grew more confident.
Maybe it was the therapy I finally decided to commit to. Maybe it was the self-compassion journaling and the hard work I started putting in to understand myself and to be gentle with myself instead of always looking to shame and punish.
It was all of that.
But it was also BTS.
Because it can’t be a coincidence that the year that taught me that I hadn’t ever learned to love myself as I am in an internal way—independent of how other people perceive me—also brought me into the orbit of a band who sing songs with lyrics like:
You’ve shown me I have reasons I should love myself…
I am the one I should love in this world…
You can’t stop me loving myself…
That’s the big lesson I learned from BTS this year—and it’s the answer to one of the questions asked by years like 2020, years when I felt isolated from the other people I always looked to when I needed to see what about me was worth loving, why I should love myself:
Loving myself doesn’t require anyone else’s permission.
And there are times when that seems easy and times when that seems like such a lofty concept that it’s impossible to put into practice. But luckily, BTS has illuminated the path not just for the big picture of self-love, but also for the million little ways we can actually put it into practice. From each of the seven members of this band, I’ve learned lessons about what it means to love yourself and why that should be the most important resolution I make going forward—to commit to a practice of truly, completely learning how to love myself.