We are multifaceted creatures, walking paradoxes.
We are on the hunt for true belonging.
I am always fascinated by people like Amanda Palmer or Maya Angelou, people who have found “sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness.”
For most of my life I thought if I could fit in with my peers then I would not feel so alone. But, in the process of trying to fit in, I ran away from my true self and lost the beauty of who I am. I am trying to reconnect with myself but breaking the habits and patterns of thinking, that only served to fuel my desire to be someone else, has proved to be a slightly challenging and continuous process.
I don’t think I’m the only one who has confused fitting in with belonging but I’ve wondered, where do these habits stem from? Why did I start falling away from myself and how do I get back to myself?
I want to, once again, turn to Dr. Brené Brown’s research because I can see that it’s true for my life. From The Gifts of Imperfection she says, “… our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.” And in Braving the Wilderness she says, “True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.”
And it makes sense: if we can’t or don’t accept ourselves then we can’t be who we are and are forever trying to change who we are.
Until recently I would have described my younger self as having low self-esteem, and while that may have been the case, I now realize my issue was having little to no self-acceptance. Self-esteem is action based – based on your accomplishments. Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines it as, “A feeling of having respect for yourself and your abilities.” Self-acceptance, on the other hand, is accepting all your attributes, positive or negative.
Growing up, the literature told me to work on my self-esteem, it never told me to work on my self-acceptance.
The concept of accepting all that we are, flaws included, can be difficult to grasp. We might say, “But how can I accept my body when I have a goal to lose 20 pounds. If I accept my body as it is then I’ll never reach my goal.” Self-acceptance isn’t asking you to give up your goals, but it is asking you to see yourself differently. It is you saying, “I have a goal to lose 20 pounds but my body, as it is right now, is beautiful and I’m grateful for all it has allowed me to do. I know that as I am, in this moment, I am deserving of love and belonging.”
And until we know better, we can’t do better.
My first and most constant source of running away from myself came from trying to change my introverted nature. Dissatisfaction with my quiet and sensitive self made it a battle of me versus the version of me I longed to be based off of the perception of others. I judged myself too harshly and epitomized “comparison is the thief of joy.”
The first time I heard of Susan Cain was when I watched her TED talk, “The Power of Introverts.” Reading her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, literally changed my life. I felt, for the first time, that being an introvert wasn’t a thing to hate; that I didn’t have to try to fit in with my extroverted peers. For the first time I saw the beauty in the quiet.
My own perceptions about myself changed. My belief, that somehow my quietness was an obstacle to be overcome, changed.
The great lie of our lives is being told that if we are not X, Y, or Z then we have to change who we are to fit. But this round peg does not fit in the square hole.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a strong advocate of growth and becoming the best versions of ourselves, but it has to come from a place of love and not a place of hate. It is possible to accept myself as I am but still want to become a better communicator or better at networking. But now I understand that beating myself up about who I am isn’t going to solve any problems.
Of course, I still have moments where I feel I don’t belong. Moments when I’m left out of a former co-workers birthday dinner or awkward moments surrounded by strangers at a networking event. But I also have those quiet moments where I don’t have the urge to try and fit in. Moments where I’m meeting friends for lunch and I’m content with just listening to the conversation.
I have accepted the quiet part of myself and that self-acceptance has led to me being able to forgive myself when I realize that I’m beating myself up about not being a great conversationalist or when I meet someone new and don’t open up as fast as I tell myself I should (because that’s what those people did). Or when I’m at work and I’m not actively interacting with my co-workers because today I’m drained and just need a bit of alone time.
Today I can proudly say: I am an introvert and I enjoy the quiet.
If you want to know more about Susan Cain or her work, visit www.quietrev.com