As a child, I was seemingly fearless. I’m not sure whether I didn’t know to be afraid of what others might think, or whether I just didn’t care. Either way, childhood Vera was a force to be reckoned with. Seemingly oblivious to social pressures, I bravely catapulted myself into the world (bucktoothed and chicken-legged), excitedly carving my own path.
Without reservation, I tried my hand at just about everything. You might not know it looking at me now, but it turned out that I was quite the little athlete in my youth. I competed in nearly every athletic event known to man (including shot-put and javelin) and brought home trophy after trophy. Admittedly, my “talent” didn’t take me much further than regional competitions, but those shiny trophies sure did make me feel like I could do anything. I never worried about being inferior to others; I was just having fun.
I also loved being creative from an early age. My saint of a mother allowed me to stake claim to our dining room table for days on end, and to my father’s dismay, dinner was often served among craft supplies. Nothing made my heart sing more than loosing hours of my day in this way. Well, truthfully, nothing except maybe the moment where I could proudly share my work and beam, “I made that!”
I was never afraid that others would not like my handiwork. Quite the opposite, in fact. I saw worth in what I had made and I created opportunities to share it with others. I would walk door to door in our neighborhood, fearlessly selling my “masterpieces.” I even had my own booth at my school’s “Entrepreneurship Day” and was pretty excited when my classmates sported my jewelry. As a child, I felt confident in myself and unstoppable, really. I believed that the world was my oyster.
When I look back on those days now I can’t help but miss the innocent optimism and fearlessness so characteristic of my youth. As is the case for many of you, growing up meant learning tough lessons about social acceptance and the penalties of putting yourself out there. I quickly learned that my best efforts would not always win trophies or be received favorably. Instead, there were now others who seemed compelled to remind me that the world was in fact not my oyster. In tough times my dad would lovingly say, “The tallest trees catch the most wind!” Honestly, sometimes it really sucked being a tall tree.
Over time, life’s experiences rendered me more withdrawn in an effort to protect myself. My adult self was no longer a fearless trailblazer. I worked hard to fit in, because standing out was really, really tough sometimes. Fitting in wasn’t a cake walk, either. It takes a lot of energy changing yourself for others in an attempt to win approval. Not to mention that playing chameleon also causes you to lose track of who you really are and what makes you come alive.
Somewhere in my late twenties I suddenly woke up and realized what I had allowed to happen. I think what summarizes my epiphany most is a quote by Albert Einstein. He said, “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.” In my case, I was a tree trying my very best to swim with the fish. In hindsight, trying so hard to fit in was not the best of strategies. I wasn’t fooling anybody, and I was feeling really stupid and insecure most of the time because of it.
So I decided that I was no longer okay with hiding the best and truest version of myself. I made the decision to start chasing my fire. The years that followed have been a time of celebration as I remembered and reconnected with distant parts of myself. I found love, built a new home on the other side of the world, pursued a Doctorate (a shiny trophy of a different kind), and started crafting to my heart’s content. Most importantly, I bravely learned to be myself again.
I learned a few very important lessons in the process:
Each one of us will experience resistance from others at some point in our lives. Our human tendency is to resist things that we don’t understand because it is easier to reject than to change our views of ourselves and the world. I’ve learned that there is power in expecting that about a third of people will love you, a third will dislike you, and a third will not care either way. With 6,973,738,433 people in this world today, I’d say you’re okay either way.
Though you might have been made to feel inferior and treated unfairly at times, never doubt that you are worthy of love. The trick is to be brave and to love yourself abundantly first. “Be weird. Be random. Be who you are. Because you never know who would love the person you hide.” (Unknown author). Also love others without reservation, because giving love will often mean receiving love.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that those around you – especially the ones who put you down – are not insecure. Everyone is insecure about something - whether big or small. I’ve come to understand that while we all walk around acting like we have our “stuff” together, very few of us truly do. My role as a Counselor has confirmed that even though we work so hard at hiding our vulnerabilities, in reality we would feel much less lonely if we would just share our struggles with one another.
How boring would life be if we were all the same? If no-one was brave enough to blaze their own trail, our world would be a much poorer place. Nelson Mandela would never have helped move South Africa past Apartheid. Gabby Douglas would not have been the first African American gymnast to win all-around Olympic gold. Cesar Millan (the “Dog Whisperer”) would likely never have shared his gift with millions of people around the world. You see where I am going with this? As Robert H. Schuller said, “If you listen to your fears, you will die never knowing what a great person you might have been.”
Bravely show the world what you’ve got while believing that there is a place for someone like you in it. Don’t allow your true self to be stifled; fight it with all your might. Be like the tree that breaks through concrete to grow and bloom against all odds. Celebrate what makes you different and work to show your true colors. And remember, as Aibileen Clark said in The Help, “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” So go be these things, bravely.
Happy blooming, friends!
PS – This post was born out of something very brave that I did this past weekend. For the first time in my adult life, I shared my “masterpieces” with the world again. This is me at our city’s Maker’s Market, where my mosaic art nearly sold out. I think childhood Vera would be proud. I know I am!
“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” – E.E. Cummings
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