“What was I to you?”
“What was I to you?”
I’m pretty sure if I hadn’t closed my eyes I wouldn’t have fallen asleep. Here I am after all, four hours and a few drops of tears more after, up and about. Awake, but not on the inside. Conscious, but not on the inside. Alive, but not on the inside. Replaying in my head scenes from the night before. Feeling the burn of the silver beads. Seeing him walk away, get in his car, turn the engine on, set it to reverse, and watch the darkness pull him away and away, farther and farther. Running my fingers through the air, convinced that after I had run them on his face, his shoulders, his arm countless times in an effort to memorize his every detail, his memory would suffice. But each trace in the air only proved to be a futile attempt to remember.
It’s almost daybreak now, the light giving unfitting colors and shades to all within my view. With almost fully exhausted efforts I reach for the strings overhead and lower the blinds. Ah, darkness. Much better. Much more appropriate.
I lie awake for some time, my entire world still pretty much a swirling eddy, my insides lurching, bringing me to a cringe, my heart being stabbed through and through with knives, my mattress in a constant spin, far too big for something as small as this, as flat as this, as frail and wispy as this body, my whole being on the very brinks of desire. Just desire. In want. Not necessarily for anyone or for anything. Just simply, in want.
I haven’t turned on the fan. And my blanket is up to my neck. I wipe beads of sweat off of my forehead, shift to my side, avoiding that side of the bed with already slightly clammy sheets. And yet despite the warmth, I feel cold. Cold as cold can be. The kind of cold that goes down to my fingers, travels down my spine, burns my skin. At this very moment I don’t understand what people mean when they say that summer is the warmest time of the year.
“Stay true to who you are.”
This line operates under the crucial and foundational assumption that you have a healthy and accurate perception of yourself.
Up until I was 25, I don’t believe I had enough knowledge about myself to be able to know what it’s like to “stay true to myself.”
I had a good grasp of the kind of person others expected and wanted me to be, but the kind of person who I truly was, not so much.
To be so isn’t unheard of. We live in a world bombarded with infinite sets of should’s and oughts’s. We are constantly made to believe that the only way to be successful in life is to improve on our weaknesses, thereby causing us to be fully aware of everything we are not, and in the process, lose sight of who we are.
As a result, subconsciously, I subscribed to the mindset that I needed to be someone else other than just myself, because my self as is it is, is incapable, inadequate, and unsatisfactory – constantly and perpetually needs improvement.
While it is always a good habit to continually strive to be better versions of ourselves, at one point, we’ve taken it a little too far. We started setting unrealistic expectations for ourselves, envying others and pounding ourselves for being something we innately are not.
We’re all capable of change and growth. No one should ever be able to underestimate one’s ability to change for the better. I am a big believer of that. However, I’ve gotten to know that there are some aspects about ourselves that remain to be the core essence of who we are. We have certain tendencies and predispositions that pretty much turn up by default, regardless of the circumstance or our life’s state of affairs. And sometimes it’s these things that we need to build on. It’s when we turn our attention to such things – who we are rather than who we are not – that we are able to yield extraordinary results.
I’ve found that a good way to become familiar with one’s core essence, is to take psychology-based personality tests. I have personally found both the Enneagram and StrengthsFinder to be particularly comprehensive, useful, and accurate for me. I’ve diligently studied my results for both, and it has helped me tremendously in understanding the way I am wired.
Although these personality tests are unlikely to give you specific recommendations for career paths, they can provide you with valuable insight for realistic self-improvement. Knowing your personality type can also be a good way for you to understand how you interpret your experiences, how you think, and what conditions are best for you to learn and grow.
In a world of much pretense, distractions, and ostentatiousness, somehow we’ve become derailed from this core essence of ours, and to teach ourselves to be ourselves might just be the very thing that we need.
Of course to “stay true to one’s self” should never be meant to condone stubbornness and mediocrity. An unhealthy sense of self uses his or her dispositions and tendencies to resist change. To “be yourself” is meant to empower yourself to leverage on yours strengths, stick to your core essence, and live your life not the way others do or the way others expect, but exactly the way you are wired.
Dan Allender says this: We are written to be real, and there is something in every heart that knows when we are and when we are not.
So go on and invest in yourself – seek to understand who you truly are, and don’t be afraid to stick to that. To go on in this life with no sense of self will compel you to conform to other people’s yardstick, and be motivated by other people’s opinion of you, causing you to live every other life there is but your own.
And that is no way to live a life.
For a while, I held this belief that insecurity and self-doubt were circumstantial.
I used to believe that the reason why we feel insecure is largely because no one seems to affirm our abilities. We aren’t spoken well of enough, we aren’t validated enough. We have low self-esteem because everyone around us seems to fail to see our true worth. We have much self-doubt because our environment doesn’t allow us to operate according to our strengths. We keep settling for jobs and people and tasks that don’t quite bring out the best in us.
When I was still at my full-time work, I had much insecurity and self-doubt. I had this perpetual sense that I didn’t belong – I didn’t belong in my department, I didn’t belong in the institution, I didn’t belong in the field. It wasn’t just that I wanted to go do something else someplace else – no, that thought came much, much later. The nagging feeling that I didn’t belong stemmed from the thought that I wasn’t good enough – I didn’t have a brilliant mind like the rest of the people I worked with, I didn’t come up with the greatest ideas, I didn’t’ have the best written outputs, I wasn’t even quick enough to join in on the witty conversations over lunch in the pantry.
My mind constantly hummed of reasons why I was not enough. I was constantly on the lookout for my next mistake. And I never ran out of ways on how I knew I was going to fail.
I practically had zero self-esteem.
I tried to remedy this by having these daily pep talks with myself. “You can do this. You have what it takes,” I would tell myself, or other variations thereof. There were days though, that the voice deep inside my head was all I heard, that it overpowered whatever ounce of resolve I had.
I also tried to seek encouragement from others. Thinking that the way that I viewed myself largely had to do with how other viewed me, I started hanging out with people with whom I felt a little bit more appreciated. I spent more time with people who made me feel safe – safe from all forms of judgement and expectations.
Still, a thousand if only’s plagued me, night and day. I thought, if only I wasn’t here. If only I had a different set of workmates. If only I didn’t have to take part in any of the exasperating mind games. If only the office wasn’t so full of unspoken expectations. If only the job wasn’t so mentally and emotionally demanding.
Eventually I became thoroughly convinced that the problem was not me, but the kind of environment I was in. It wasn’t doing me good at all, I thought to myself.
It was costing me my sanity.
So I left.
Much to my chagrin and surprise, all of the insecurity and self-doubt never left me.
Even when I started to pursue my dream job, even when I started to pursue the very things I knew I was good at, even if I was no longer surrounded by people who I felt did not see me for who I truly was, I still had much, much doubt about myself.
That’s when I realized that self-esteem, or lack of it, is not just attributable to a circumstance or event. Take out that event, and the self-esteem issues are still likely going to ensue. Change the circumstances, and the self-doubt will still manifest in one way or another, at some point or the other.
Because the way that you think about yourself isn’t dependent on the people around you, the environment you’re in, or your circumstances.
How you see yourself depends on how you choose to see yourself. It depends on the meanings that you choose to attribute to all of your life experiences, to the way you were brought up, even to the things people have said to you and about you at one point or another.
So the culprit in all of your insecurities and self-doubt is that tiny, constant, unrelenting voice inside your head telling you what ought and ought not to be, compelling you to always compare yourself with others and rank yourself according to this gauge that is supposedly unspoken but universal.
That tiny voice inside your head is real, as much as you are.
But it hardly ever tells you the truth.
We all have conversations with ourselves. It’s a phenomenon that psychologists refer to as inner talk.
Innate and inevitable as it may be, there will be instances when you will have to sift through these internal monologues. In fact, there will be instances when you will have to learn how to shut them off entirely. To a certain point, you will realize the need to learn how to unlearn everything that your “inner speech” has told you about you and the world you live in.
Remember that you are only as good as you allow yourself to be. And only you should get to decide who you become – not the people around you, not your circumstances, not your environment, and certainly not that voice inside your head.