I have spent many years of my life wishing that I was more like someone else. The number of times I have said to myself, “I wish was I _____ like her” is mind-blowing. That blank has been filled by all kinds of adjectives – pretty, stylish, confident, thin, funny, sexy, outgoing, uninhibited, popular, ripped, strong, beautiful – the list could go on ad nauseam.
I thought that all of the pain and heartache in my life stemmed from the fact that I was inherently flawed in a way that other people weren’t. That people didn’t love me because there was something fundamentally wrong with me that needed to be fixed. That people mistreated me because I wasn’t good enough, and if I just tried hard enough, I could become a version of myself that was so wildly perfect that I would never have to suffer disappointment or heartache or rejection again because everyone would finally love and accept and approve of me.
I’ve written before about my ability to be something of a chameleon with people. I tend to pick up on what other people value, and I can adjust the way I present myself to align with what someone else finds desirable, which ultimately was both selfish and manipulative on my part. There was a time in my early twenties where I entered a series of romantic relationships by portraying myself as what I believed the other person was looking for, which of course turned out to be rather short-sighted. As a result, I never really connected with the guy on things of substance because I was too busy playing a part instead of being myself. I could only keep up the charade for so long, and once I dropped the pretense and starting acting more like my true self, things fell apart, which only served to reinforce the notion that there was something wrong with me that made me unlovable.
I turned 29 a week and a half ago, and birthdays always tend to be a time of reflection for me. It sometimes feels like my “real” life didn’t start until two years ago when I left Phoenix for Charlotte. That was the first big step I took to becoming unfettered by my past heartaches and being released from the cage of expectations that my 26 years in Phoenix had constructed. I could start over, not necessarily in the sense of reinventing myself, but in the sense of discovering who I actually am.
It is a bittersweet realization that at 29, I am just now starting to embrace and feel comfortable with who I am. On the one hand, I think about how long I have been chasing perfection in its various forms, most often in the physical sense, and it feels like a huge burden lifted from my shoulders to know that I can stop that pursuit and just be. On the other hand, I think about how much time, energy, and tears have been shed over the past decade and a half, and it makes me both sad and angry that I wasted it all trying to be something I wasn’t for the sake of people who turned out to be unimportant blips on the radar of my life.
If I could sit down with my 21 year old self and tell her one thing, it would be, “You are awesome, just the way you are. Own it. If someone mistreats you or rejects you, it is not evidence to the contrary. It is simply as sign that that person has no place in your life. For every person who doesn’t love you, there are ten more who will.”
I wish I could lay out a road map for others on how I got here because I know I am not alone in this struggle. The best way I can describe it is this:
- I did what I had to in order to have a clean slate. For me, this meant moving away from where I grew up and starting over in a place where I didn’t know anyone.
- I put myself out there, over and over again. I did (and continue to do) things that scared me because it was the only way to conquer my fears and to learn to live more boldly.
- I did my best to drop any “personas” I had created and to just be myself, even if it meant people thought I was lame or weird (I am still working on this one).
- I tried a lot of different things until I found ones I was truly passionate about. And when I found one of those things, I invested in it and committed to it.
- I removed my exposure to a lot of mainstream social conditioning, especially TV. Facebook was another one – I altered my News Feed so I only see things that inspire and motivate me, not things that feed my insecurities or my tendency to compare myself to others.
- I made a ton of new friends – people who loved and accepted me for exactly who I am, and I let go of the people who did not.
- Finally, I rooted my identity in the God who created me down to every last detail and in the Savior that loved me so much that He suffered and died on my behalf so that I could receive the gift of undeserved grace and forgiveness.
I am obviously still not perfect and never will be. I have my moments where I feel “fat” and my heart still breaks when I am rejected. There are still some situations in which my old insecurities rear their ugly heads. But there are so many more moments and days where I look in the mirror and smile at what I see. Moments of pride in something I’ve done because I appreciate how far I’ve come from where I was. Times where I choose to be true to myself and not to what everyone else is doing or thinks I should do.
It breaks my heart to see so many people who think they aren’t enough and who don’t appreciate how amazing they are. I’ve met so many people over the past two years, and I see something special in each and every one of them. I think in a lot of ways, recognizing that truth about others is what ultimately opened my eyes to my own truth. When you consider your own hang-ups, think about them in the context of the other people in your life that you care about. Would the flaws and quirks you can’t accept in yourself change the way you feel about the people in your life that you love? Do you care that your best friend isn’t a size 0? Does it matter that your significant other will never grace the cover of GQ? I have friends that are introverts and extroverts, bodybuilders and average Joe’s, party animals and bookworms – and I love them all.
Isn’t it time you love and accept yourself the same way you do your friends?