It was the summer of 2000. I was driving to the continuation school that I had to attend in order to earn my general education diploma. You see I had failed my senior English class. Not because I did the work and failed, but because I stopped showing up for class.
As I was driving I was reflecting up my life. I was trying to define who I am as a person. Trying to figure out how I see myself. The question that we all try to answer, “Who am I?”
Sitting at a red light I realized that I had absolutely no idea who I was. I did not know what I wanted in life. I did not know what I desired. I did not know where I was going or what I was doing. I did not understand myself at all. All I knew was that I needed to survive. That was my mindset. Survive at all costs.
Eighteen years old and all I had on my mind was surviving. Financially, physically, mentally, and spiritually. I was working dead end jobs that paid just enough to live off of. I had few friends that understood my situation. I was constantly stressed out, to the point that I developed an ulcer. I had unhealthy was of coping with my stress and life in general.
I was like a leaf in the wind. Never knowing where I would land, Never knowing when the wind would blow me somewhere else. Constantly changing my colors, because I did not know what I color I was.
Due to this I was easily influenced by others. Not in everything, but in a majority of things. You see I grew up with more negative attention from others than positive attention. When I hit puberty I did not have a male role model in my life to guide me through adolescence. I was left to bumble my way through life.
I was generally content in who I was, yet when I look back I see that when I received criticism about myself I would work at changing that one thing about myself. Generally the motive behind this rapid change was because I wanted to avoid criticism or feeling bad about myself.
Even as a child I would avoid things that I was taught were wrong because I would feel bad or guilty for participating in them. This is really no way to live. I say that because the reality is that our lives will never be problem free and our personalities will always have some flaws in them.
I now realize that what I experienced and how I saw myself has more to do with my level of self-esteem. I had a low level of self-esteem. Self-esteem plays a huge role in how we interact with the world around us. As well as how we interact with ourselves.
For example, I believed that because I needed to survive, as I mentioned previously, that meant that I could not have dreams or aspirations in life. I thought I was not good enough to have anything better than a dead end job that I hated. Along those same lines I was not good enough to be with a woman that I wanted or open myself up to people because I was fearful they would use things they learn against me. This lead to poor friendships, poor romantic relationships, and a poor sense of worth.
Due to this poor sense of worth I valued what other people thought or felt about me more than I valued what I thought or felt about me. I would constantly change my colors to suit other people’s needs. I quickly learned that others would either take advantage of this or they would see me as untrustworthy because I was willing to change so quickly.
Once I learned this life lesson the hard way, I switched to the more ridged side. I became sure in myself and who I was. This assurance became my way of standing up for myself and show people that this is who I was, no one was going to change me. This thinking became a problem as well because I was not open minded to other people’s perspectives or willing to enjoy people who were not like me.
I have recently being working on trying to find the balance between these two thought processes. Allowing myself to be proud of who I am, while also having a willingness to engage in things that I do not normally allow myself to. Things that I desire to do, but would not allow myself to do because it was not how I identified myself (that rigid thinking).
Ultimately this is challenging. It is challenging because I am trying to be authentic. Brene Brown describes being authentic as, “… a daily practice of letting go who we think we are supposed to be and embracing who we are.” A daily practice. That means that every day that I wake up I am working at being who I am rather than who people think I should be.
This is challenging because every day I am bombarded with messages of who society thinks I should be, of who my family thinks I should be, and of who my friends think I should be. Society is telling me I have to work at being this perfect looking, money making machine. Family is telling me I need to be a nice person. My friends are telling me all kinds of things.
The thing is that just because people are telling you things does not mean that you have to apply those things to your life. They are talking from themselves. Many times they are talking from their own insecurities or self-limiting beliefs. It is up to us to make the choice to be who we are.
We have the freedom to make a choice about being who we desire to be or who we are. For the longest time I felt that I was being true to myself, but I recently realized that I was being true to the mask that I wanted to show everyone around me. The mask that shows off how sophisticated and intelligent I am. It was simply a mask that I put on so that people would like me. A mask that I wore to protect the vulnerable side of who I am. The side that my mind thinks others will judge me for. When in reality I am just trying to be an authentically vulnerable ME.
I learned this life lesson at a young age, but it was not until the last 3 years that I began working on my rigidness. I still find myself backsliding into my old self sometimes, but once I become aware I can correct course.
This is one of my many paths that I am on. You might be able to relate and if you do. Please share some ways that you have faced this challenge in the comments section. Thank you for reading.