“Never apologize for who you are. It lets the whole world down.”
― Jen Sincero, You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life
I did not expect my late thirties to become a period of new awakening in my life. I knew the old adage says we all go off to find ourselves in college, but I assumed that by this point, as a successful, established adult, I was pretty set in who and what I was.
I was wrong.
I have discussed this theory in depth with my coworkers and friends. At some point in our late thirties or early forties, many women reach a long-sought reprieve. We have the career we worked to earn, a home, a marriage, children - everything we have worked so hard to achieve is happening. But at some point we might realize we have checked all the boxes and accomplished everything that was expected of us. We meet everyone else’s expectations. We have been the daughter, the wife, the mother, the employee, but now who are we to ourselves? In my late thirties I arrived at this juncture and asked the same questions. What have I done for myself that was not an expectation from someone else? What do I want to do as a person? I am a mother, daughter, wife, teacher, coach and more, but those roles are not the sum of me. Who am I when no one else is looking?
These questions prompted an inward journey of self-examination. Whether I am writing, reading, conversing, lifting or practicing yoga, I have realized that before I can do soul searching, I have to be awake and willing to seek and create answers for myself rather than simply look to others to provide them for me. While it has been rewarding to flame a fire for writing and craft words into authentic messages or delve into a new way of using my body through weightlifting, it has also been painful to peel back the layers of who I have been for the past 37 years. I have moved forward and celebrated new accomplishments, but I have also dug deep into my actions and life choices to uncover my authentic self. Part of this process has involved making decisions based on my choice, not the influence or desires of people around me. The playing field shifts when the question moves from: “What am I supposed to do?” to “What do I truly want to do?” There is no guidebook to being myself. As one of our family’s favorite children’s book reads, “I am the only ME I AM who qualifies as me.”
So why does this process have to be painful? It could be a daring adventure to try what we haven’t tried and see what we haven’t seen. Instead, it is often isolating and solitary. Our entire world has been built upon who we have been for the first half of our life. If we are to suddenly change and make new, different choices, we cannot expect our surroundings to instantly fall in step with our new perspective. Some people close to us might feel hurt or confused. They might interpret our new self as an insult to the self they knew, loved and helped to create. A face off can ensue with the whole, “You be you, and I’ll be me” mantra hopping in the mix. It can get messy, and we know that people ALWAYS take it personally (I partly know this because I also take it personally when I am on the other side of this interaction).
A long-time friend texted me last week. Her life has been full of positive transformation as she has stopped living only for everyone else and connected with her authentic self. She has become a better mother, wife, friend and an all-around happier person as a result, but she has also felt the backlash. Her text was lamenting that some friendships have fallen apart this year. She has put herself together as a different person, and some of her old relationships clash with her new, improved self.
Here is my response to her:
Have you seen the new Jungle Book movie? There is a scene with the elephants. They have to come in and knock down all the trees after a fire. They have to tumble everything down so the whole jungle can start anew. You are doing elephant work, sister! Nothing is falling apart. You have grown, and you are discovering your truest self that has been there all along just waiting to make her debut. When others around us do not experience similar growth, they are confused and fearful. That is a ‘them’ thing, not a ‘you’ thing. You be you! Your journey is beautiful and necessary.
It’s possible I was talking to myself there, but it worked for her too. She got it. Before we can begin a fresh start and enter the world as new, best versions of ourselves, we have to clean house and stomp the ground flat. We have to clear out everyone else’s ideas of who we are supposed to be and discover our own identity waiting to be revealed. It is a painful process of unbecoming and learning everything we thought was a given - an unchanging truth - might not be set in stone. We discover there is fluidity that can sweep us up or pull us under. We open our eyes and hearts to listen, learn and create a space for a new day to be born. We do elephant work.