I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s. In my teens, everyone spoke about “finding myself” or “searching for myself.” What did that term actually mean? They spoke of traveling to different countries for that search. Of course, I learned we were all like Dorothy, in The Wizard of Oz with our ruby slippers. All she really had to do was to click her heels together three times and she would have everything she was meant to have, be and appreciate. Her authentic self was in her grasp all along, as was the case for her three friends. It was the smoke and mirrors con man who put her through unimaginable emotional and physical contortions and interactions with evil that eventually led her to see the light- her true light, the light within…
The World as a Mirror
As children, we seek acceptance and most young people try to fit in with their peers. Peer approval is key to many. Sadly, one can be lost in this social dance, losing their greatest partner in life, themselves. How does one learn who they really are while trying to fit in with societal norms and expectations? How does one not become a slave to others’ expectations of what is acceptable and normal?
I was always an observer. I never belonged to a particular clique at school, nor did I desire to. I was content to bond with a kindred soul or two. I always watched the social dynamics with great fascination. If my close friends were absent from school, I was happy to spend time during recess, reading a new favorite book. I abhorred exclusion and nastiness and always questioned why children who were treated badly by their peers came back for more just to be accepted or pretended to be who they weren’t. How uncomfortable that felt, how unauthentic…I have a really lovely memory of my perpetually smiling, breezy, sparkling friend Cindy. Everyone wanted to be in her presence. She was friendly and warm and a true trend setter. What stood out to me was how she was so nice to everyone and was also in the popular group of students. We had a number of social dates and interactions in elementary school. For some reason, we drifted and I had no further memories of her in junior high and high school. Years later, we reconnected through Facebook and saw each other socially.
Cindy reminisced, “Susan, you know what I remember about you most? You were always comfortable in your own skin. You never tried to be like anyone else. I wish I had felt that way. I was way too influenced about what other people thought of me. I would have made better choices.” This resonated with me in multiple ways. She added that she would have been in the chorus and the school plays. I never even knew she could sing! (Yes, I found out that she indeed had a beautiful voice!) It just wasn’t cool enough she told me; her friends would have made fun of her. I found this incredibly frustrating that she couldn’t naturally do what she loved because of societal pressures to fit in and fear of unacceptance and criticism. If we don’t know or accept ourselves, how do we experience joy in life? How do we truly know to learn and accept who we are- a definite prerequisite to finding a life partner. We must be acquainted with our authentic selves before giving ourselves fully to relationships, both platonic and romantic.
Twenty Plus Years Later
I must say, I stayed true to myself through the years. I explored every passion that felt right to me, those that did not, I left quickly. I relished the friendships and relationships that were free, easy and delicious. As soon as ideals were revealed that I was not comfortable with, I moved on- learning lessons from each and learning about myself throughout this precious journey of life, which at times is meant to be painful to learn, process, and know the difference. The people who stayed in my orbit, were meant to be there, to share ideas, thoughts and joys. We enriched each other through the moments and the clarity became more and more apparent; each life experience and the people who entered my realm was another layer peeled away, revealing who I was, who I was meant to be.I learned early, that relationships are less about compromise and more about joy, laughter, shared beliefs, passions and dreams. One needs to be surrounded by people who appreciate the true them and you in turn appreciate his/her authentic self. That is where true happiness and contentment begins and sustains…