Thursday, March 5, 2015

Our Former Selves

Youtube started the #DearMe campaign on Tuesday and it's taken over the female half of the internet. Famous women youtubers have posted videos of encouragement to their former selves telling them: you're good enough. Stop trying so hard to fit. Loosen up. Life will be okay.

Chesca Leigh's video is especially poignant as she talks about years of trying to fit in.

"Just be yourself. Don't compare yourself to anyone else."

"I spent so much time hanging out with people that I just didn't really like that much. But I wanted them to like me and I wanted to be like them."

How many of us had those years as teenagers or early twenties where we tried to fit in with groups of people who were utterly different than us? We look back and laugh remembering the music we never liked but listened to anyway, the styles we thought were stupid but wore because everyone else did. Why did we try so hard?

Chesca's advice strikes a chord because its true. Being yourself is one of the purposes of life. Becoming more human--and more uniquely human in the way you were specifically, individually designed--is a great joy.

~Melissa Ramos

But for me, the journey of becoming started with discovering. I couldn't be myself until I knew who that self was.

That process meant going through and discarding a lot of former selves. It meant trying to fit in here or there and discovering, in the process, that I wasn't meant to. 

It took listening to Jack Johnson and beach-bum music to discover that it wasn't my thing. (It does remind me fondly of where I grew up in San Diego though.) It took going to a few concerts to find that the loud music and obnoxious crowds was too overwhelming to be fun. On the other hand, attending the opera with my mom showed me that I am intensely affected by the strains of an orchestra filling a concert hall.

I dated guys who tried to take care of me and guys who left me to my own devices, and discovered that I am independent but deeply trusting, and thus married my husband. I hung out with my track teammates and AP classmates and discovered that the latter understood me better: I am an intellectual. I tried different looks: ultraconservative clothes, shirts that showed my midriff, hippie skirts and bare feet, paint-stained jeans and a t-shirt, old polos that I tucked in to my pants (probably my worst phase), frilly blouses with colorful flats.

Through all of this trying and learning, befriending someone and finding we were different, attempting to be someone and finding I couldn't be, I eventually found who I am. Or some of me. It didn't stop in college or the years that followed. At every job, the process started over again: which clique to ally with at Trader Joe's, what nanny-look to rep, whether I'm a pajamas-all-day or a dress-up-anyway person when working from home.

I found my peeps in Southern California, and found them again in Northern California, and then started the process all over in Virginia. Who will I be? Where do I belong? Who do I fit with?

Who am I?

It's a question we never fully answer.

Should you care too much about fitting in? No.  No more than necessary to stay employed. But also, don't worry if who you are changes. Go and experiment a little. Try new things, new people, new ways of being. Chances are you will discover something new about who you are. Even though you may not end up fitting in there, you will take away new experiences and knowledge that will shape you as you look for the people you do fit with.

That's what this is about as much as finding yourself: belonging somewhere.

The drive to fit in with the cool kids as a teen is about being worthy to someone. But here's the thing: if you have a group of people where you belong, people who share your tastes, people who understand you, you won't go trying to fit in elsewhere. We all want to belong, and once we do--once we belong somewhere without having to be someone else to do it--we stay. (Tweet this.)

So, in the end, there's nothing wrong with fitting in. As long as you're being yourself to do it. Go, find your peeps. You might have to try being different people until you find out who you are and, thus, who you want to be around. That's okay.

Dear Me,

Thank you for all those experiences. You discovered who I am. Thanks to you, I walk into new situations with a lot more knowledge of myself. It makes it easier to find the people who are like me, because you spent the time getting to know what kind of person I am.

So thanks. Don't stress if you don't have somewhere to fit in yet. You find it pretty soon.



Word count: 838.