I always thought the phrase "be yourself" was just a common suggestion spewed off by comforting grandparents and older siblings that wanted you to feel comfortable in your own skin. I really didn't even know what it meant, except that it seemed to be used as a response to a negative event and as a kid those words meant nothing - you just wanted to fit in. You wanted the bad feeling to go away.
Since I can remember I have felt this irrational fear of rejection - constantly feeding into the belief system that I had to have certain things, behave a certain way, be a certain type of friend and daughter and worker to be the best version of myself. What if those things weren't me at all? In those attempts, I was only trying to be something - more and different - I didn't really like who I was, but now I think that's just because I never got to know WHO that was. Feeling different from a lot of people as a kid, and even more so as I got older, changing myself seemed like the answer.
There was a very nervous image in my mind about being out of ordinary, being on my own. It made me scared to stick up for myself, hesitant to disagree, concerned that people might not like the person in hiding. Concerned that I might not like her either. A people pleaser at heart, there was a guilty pleasure I felt in pleasing myself. One part of me dreamed about how magical it would be to take care of myself in the way I do others - I could be the best friend I ever had. But the other felt safe in this corner of appeasement that was undoubtedly dangerous.
For years I said no to a lot of things I would have loved and yes to a lot of things I did not. I had a behavior based on response and there was always something missing. Even in college, I wasn't choosing things for me, but instead, for this plan I had that "made sense", one that would make people proud, make me liked and successful and worthy. Even if I didn't see it in my own eyes.
I always loved writing but didn't tell anyone for 7 years, scared that people would judge me or think what I had to say was stupid. I never thought that I could write articles one day - ones that people actually wanted to read, but I do now and I've gotten better feedback than I ever imagined. Up to this point, it's my proudest accomplishment. It could turn into something because I took the chance to go off my perfect path of business degrees and money. I didn't share the interest with anyone in my family, nor many of my friends, but I fell in love with it anyway. How freeing it was, the ability it gave me to finally let go. Every part made me feel 100% real and it was the first time I could feel my own authenticity. It made me very different from the people around me, the things I admitted to and how I chose to illustrate my story. But, for the first time, the difference was worth the fear it instilled.
Relationships were applicable just like writing. I was scared to be in one, usually concerned that it would cause me to lose close friendships or miss out on "opportunities." I wanted to love someone, badly, but I chose not to get too close. I knew it would be harder to actively please others while simultaneously fostering a romantic relationship. I would come to walk away from many relationships, for this reason, each time wondering if I would get another shot and usually terrified I wouldn't. I wanted my own feelings to matter more than what other people thought. I wanted to be strong enough to not care.
In this very moment, I can see, I can even feel, that being different, for me, may just be the most fulfilling thing I can do. Being like other people, trying to make them happy at the expense of myself, didn't get me very far. I know I will always care, but I'm learning to care for "me" just as much. I am starting to see that something will always be missing if I don't let myself embrace the "unfit" pieces I tried to stuff away.