It’s no secret that we live in a world where we try to define ourselves, fit ourselves into little subsections and subtypes of people and of life. We’re conditioned to think certain ways and want certain things and as a result we spend our whole lives trying to find a place where we belong, trying to find ourselves. Well, then people are saying that life isn’t about finding yourself, it’s about creating yourself. I don’t like that either. Why can’t we just be??
I want to tell you some of my story in the hopes that you will take the things I’ve learned and find a piece of yourself in there too…
I’m passive and anxious and socially awkward, I hate conflict and confrontation, and I’m an introvert to my core. I used to hate these things about myself. When I was going into my sophomore year of high school I made the decision to change them – or, at least to not come across like the scared little rabbit I felt like I was. I put on my mom’s heeled knee-high leather boots and forced myself not to shrink beneath intimidating eyes. I found myself drawn to mostly black or grey clothing and threw on some lipstick. Just wearing those boots greatly changed my attitude. I was confident, indifferent, was more engaged with my friends, and I was on top of the world. My sister, who I had idealized from a young age, gave each of her friends a book called “She” for Christmas. One of the pages said, “She lived the life she imagined.” In mine she wrote in the margins: “You are the only person I know who has successfully done this.” I cried. For some reason having that come from her meant so much to me. And I had. I had an image of who I wanted to be, how I wanted people to see me and I accomplished it. But it wasn’t everything. There was a lot of myself that I was suppressing and kept beneath the surface. It wasn’t an act – that girl was as real as anyone ever is – I just forced it out of me; but in the process I was also trying to force certain things down deeper because I didn’t know how to deal with them and I couldn’t accept that.
Then I moved to Chicago for college and I had a super-extrovert for a roommate and I immediately fell back to the “scared little rabbit” I thought I had defeated. I was alone in a new state with people I didn’t know and I am an introvert: I’m not good at initiating conversations and, coming off of that, friendships. Just ask those closest to me now (SIDE TANGENT :D)
Ha I laugh every time I think about it. After I moved to Chicago, I tagged along. Again. After winter break I stopped following my then-roommate around and hung out at home. Orly, my current roommate, moved into our little dorm apartment (6 girls total) and would bring two of her friends over to hang out. Every single time they came over I was either napping on the couch or eating in the kitchen (I’m a cat, it’s ok). They invited me to hang out over and over again, but the social awkwardness/anxiety in me felt like I was still intruding so I politely declined, over and over again. Finally, one night they grabbed my arm and literally dragged me into Orly’s room where they were eating some form of takeout. They’ve been my best friends ever since, and I had nothing to do with it :]
Anyways, it’s my third year of college and I just went through a spell where I made some decisions that went against so many things I believe in, and I lost hold of myself. Coping with that all semester has made me realize so much. I’ve learned more about myself in the last few months than I had in my otherwise 20 years of life. The main thing I learned?
Ok, no, not literally, of course, but sometimes I sure feel like I am. I’m moody, I’m dramatic, and I’m emotional. As my sister says: I have overactive tear ducts. I am passive, I am afraid of talking on the phone, and I have a great fear of losing the people dearest to me, whether it’s through tragedy or just distance by circumstance. I learned just this month that I have social anxiety. I always have, but hearing a friend who was just diagnosed talk about it, I was thinking, “I relate to this.” For her and for many others, having a name for it gives them comfort, helps them deal with it. That’s wonderful! But for me? Recognizing it for what it was didn’t make me feel better. It’s made me feel crazier. I dealt with it better when it was just some anonymous part of who I was and didn’t have a label attached to it. For some reason hearing the words “social anxiety” made me lose my handle on dealing with it, and that’s another thing I realized: I felt the most in control of my life while in high school, when I was consciously thinking of everything I said or did; when I was in control of this image I had of myself.
I didn’t know how to just be.
That’s a gift I’ve been given this semester. The best kind of blessing in the worst disguise God ever came up with. Somehow, out of the mud sprung stronger, more loving relationships, a strangely disguised sense of peace, and a lovely kind of truth. Do you want to know what I really learned this semester?
It’s ok. We shouldn’t have to define ourselves, in any way. All you’re doing is confining yourself to one way of living when there is SO much out there, and SO much inside of you. It’s ok to be an introvert. It’s ok to not see anybody for weeks at a time. If they’re your true friends, it won’t make a difference. It’s ok to think and say and do what you want. For too long I didn’t follow my gut or my intuition. For too long I listened to my head over my heart, and the head has a lot of negative and, quite frankly, stupid things to say. Something my Feldenkrais instructor said that I absolutely love:
“Don’t fight with yourself. Because in the end, one of you loses.”
Don’t go against your intuition, and while I’m right there with ya while living a life that’s always trying to make others happy…if it’s a life that makes you miserable, don’t do it. If you make a choice that initially makes you feel guilty or insecure or downtrodden, if it was the best decision for you and your life in the end, it was a winning choice. If something is bothering you or angering you but you think it’s petty and frivolous, don’t be afraid to talk about it, because it’s real to you. It’s ok to be angry. It’s ok to get mad at people and let them know if you’re mad or hurt. They won’t break into little pieces. I promise.
Finding yourself? We evolve. We change. I hate change. But we can’t stop it from happening. Who you find yourself to be today might not be who you find yourself to be tomorrow. We have to embrace new perspectives and make the most of new things to come. Creating yourself? It’s good to make choices, make goals, make changes if you so desire, but don’t deny yourself in the process. Try to appreciate the beautiful things, the things you love. Accept yourself, embrace yourself, and work it! It’s a lifetime adventure. I’m still learning. I’m only 20 (and 9.5 months). I’m still evolving. I’m still a heaping bundle of crazy. I have a sword tattooed on my ribs to remind me that that girl with the lipstick and the leather boots still exists. I’m just so much more than that. I’m excited to actually start life and make new discoveries along the way. Once you learn to love yourself, “it’s a love affair that lasts a lifetime.”
Don’t worry so much about labels and belonging and finding a crevice to fit yourself into. You’ll get there without realizing it. The world is yours. Just be.