“Know, first, who you are; and then adorn yourself accordingly.” — Epictetus
I’ve been a lot of different people in my life. Not very many of them were really me.
Because I was such an insecure child, I became both a straight-A honor student and a sullen argumentative “hippie”, to impress both my parents and my peers at the same time. It was a pretty big task load. All that skipping school to be with the cool kids made for some VERY long nights of make-up work to keep up my straight A’s. I did it, though. I’m sure there are still teachers out there that think I was the perfect student, and students that think I was the perfect radical. I really am neither of those things.
Once I started “dating”, things got even worse. Like a chameleon in a rapidly changing environment, my personality would transform to fit whatever man I happened to be dating at the time. In the span of a couple of years, I went from being an overzealous religious “fanatic” while dating a “good Catholic” man, to a bar-hopping, beer-drinking groupie when I dated a local musician. Other versions of “me” included the reluctant beach bunny, who suffered through the humiliation of displaying my skinny, scrawny bikinied body at the beach to be with my surfing boyfriend. Or the ‘hermit’, who quit my job and moved away from my family to try to find the right place where my un-sociable boyfriend-du-jour could feel comfortable in isolation. Then I was the New Ager, who ate tofu and bean sprouts and thought I was actually going to pass out and die while I tried to reach enlightenment by sitting through the searing heat of a “sweat lodge” while I tried not to think about the sweaty naked guy sitting right next to me with his sweaty naked bottom on the sweaty, naked ground.
I’ve worn high heels and hot pants and push-up bras and dressed like Madonna and dressed like THE Madonna and all just to please somebody else. I was NOT me for so long that I eventually began to forget who the real me was. And the really sad, sad thing was that I thought I had to do those things to fit in and be accepted. And the even SADDER thing is, that when you do that, you either have to choose to not be yourself for the rest of your life, or you need to face the inevitable place in any relationship where you do decide to be yourself, and your mate or friends are sitting there wondering what in the heck happened to the girl they fell in love with.
I was actually over 40 before I realized what a mistake I was making with my life. I went to a guy’s house for a date and he didn’t like the way I was dressed and he actually took me by the hand and led me to the store to get me to buy different clothes that he approved of. It’s funny how we sometimes need Life to give us a little slap in the face like that to make us realize what we are doing to ourselves. The guy might have even loved me for myself if I had given him the chance. But it was easier for me to become myself again while I was BY myself again, so I left him at the store and went home and began the difficult process of trying to find “me” inside all the layers that I had put up around myself to please others.
I’m still working on the process of being comfortable being me. But writing helps. Oddly enough, although I’m sometimes reluctant to show the real me to individuals, it isn’t that difficult for me to write my innermost thoughts and deep secrets and life experiences and have them published in newspapers and magazines for the whole world to read. So that’s what I do. I write about life and the things I have learned that have helped me to find my way and I hope that some of the things I’ve learned in life help other people to find their own way, too.
Because it really seems like once I began to live my life my own way, then everything I always wanted in life and asked for in life began to come to me. It’s almost like Fate was looking for me all the time with a big sack full of goodies. It just didn’t recognize me in those high heels and hot pants.
The story was published in a Chicken Soup for the Soul book entitled Find Your Happiness in 2011.