I listened to an ancient Amy Grant album this week and these lyrics jumped out at me from the song We Believe in God: "Don't be afraid to know who you are, and don't be afraid to show it." This really sums up the long process I've been working through since my late twenties. I was so other-focused for far too long, tailoring my personality to fit each situation I was in, instead of being genuinely myself at all times and letting the chips fall where they may.
We all create these personas to one extent or another, but in my case it was fairly extreme. None of this was a conscious decision, but over time, when I gained maturity in other areas, I began to notice how fractured my personality actually was. I was trying to be all things to all people, and essentially ended up as nothing to myself.
Who I was came very low on my own priority list. When I slowly realized this, I began putting together who I thought I was. This was a hard process, fraught with self-doubt and panic. I feared being accepted by others if I was not what I thought they wanted me to be. In time, I began to separate the wheat from the chaff, and understand who would accept me and who wouldn't, and learn to not be devastated by rejection.
Writing helped here, because rejection is part of the writing life. I began to separate my writing from who I am, as one is my product and the other is my personality. When my product was rejected, I knew I could fix it. When I am rejected personally, I have to choose whether to fix what the person didn't like, or leave it as it is and walk away from the relationship. It's all part of knowing who I am, and working through my fear of showing it.
My goal was to be myself in all situations. I used to work overtime keeping track of who I was in which setting so I would be consistent. I was an actor playing a role, and mistakenly believing that my self-worth was tied into how well I met the other person's expectations. Of course, those expectations were never stated clearly to me, so I had to fill in the blanks of what I thought they wanted, and who knows how close I actually got.
What a ridiculous way to live. That seems so clear to me now, but until I knew I was doing this, I couldn't see it or alter it. Every day, I lived this way, not realizing there was an alternative. Now that I know who I am and I'm not afraid to show it, it's the difference between the light and the shadows. It's colour versus black and white; 3D instead of 2D. It's everything where nothing was my previous option.
I love my life now. I know I'm not everyone's cup of tea, and I'm learning to be okay with that. I am me, with all of my strengths and glorious imperfections, and I'm not hiding either of them anymore. I want to go forward from here and not back, and I believe that authenticity is the map that will get me where I've always longed to go. I won't pretend anymore in order to be loved, not when I can be myself and experience love that feels so true and deep and meaningful compared to what I ever felt before this.