Fighting To Let The "Be Yourself" Thing Happen
I’ve always fought perfectionism and felt extremely strained under my own expectations and wanting to do things conventionally “right”, but also under this desire to be unique and stand out, fighting the conventional. This E.E. Cummings quote used to be my favorite: “To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else - means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.”
Today I realized two things:
1. This poet lived decades before us, in the 1920s. We are not some exceptionally easy to influence generation due to our circumstances or the internet, though social media can amplify it. As humans, we are always fighting battles and having experiences that make us feel heart-breakingly small, less than, incomparably lame, and examined by judgmental eyes.
2. We are fighting a battle to be ourselves in this crazy world, but it’s not the world’s fault. It’s our own fault for perpetuating the madness. Those who have the courage to stand up and stand out are the ones who are working so hard day in and day out to allow the rest of us to be our unique self. Are you one of those? Are you allowing yourself to show up as-is, therefore giving others permission to do the same?
I remember sitting in a stiff folding chair in the Principal’s office in middle school, slumped down, arms crossed, and eyes low. She asked me if what the school psychologist had told her was true, that I was getting rocks thrown at me during lunch. I shrugged, and then told her, yes it was true, but I didn’t want anyone to talk to the guy who was doing it, because that would just make it worse. I felt so very small.
I was bullied pretty badly when I was in middle school and into high school. I was picked on because of how I looked, kids called me names, other girls shared my most vulnerable secrets with others, passed notes about me, and overall made my life hell. I felt ugly, embarrassed, and ashamed to just be me. I hated my body because it wasn’t curvy, I hated my face because I looked so young (oh how times change!), and I really felt like I wanted to rise above it all, yet was so scared of other’s opinions of me, that I held shakily to anything approved by the popular, the masses, the cool. I knew I would be ridiculed the moment I stuck myself out there. I learned to deeply and completely bury my quirks, weirdness, and gifts so as to not stand out. It actually makes me feel a bit like I’m suffocating as I think back on it in this very moment.
To unbury myself is still work that I have to do every single day. Every day. To see myself and my gifts through the muck of my own and others’ perceptions of me is still a task. To see myself and my gifts as safe to share is still foreign to me, but I also like it. I like getting vulnerable and thinking there’s someone on the other end thinking, “I so get that” and smiling, or sighing in relief.
As I see my own life through the reflection in my son’s eyes, I am learning to shed the things that do not serve me anymore. Playing small is one of them. Being anyone but me is one of them. Caring about what the invisible rule book says, is one of them.
I hope you’ll join me in doing the same.
Photo by Iron and Fern.