Outgrowing the Masks

I realized a moment ago that tomorrow is the last day of November.  How fast, and how slowly, this year has gone by.  December will soon bring us Christmas and I'm certain I'll be just as amazed at the speed of time then as I am now.

To say that 2020 has been chaotic will be the understatement of this decade. I can't imagine what the new year will bring but I hope and pray that it's not more of what we have endured due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

As this month comes to an end I've made an effort to reflect on these last eight months. Even during the uncertainty I realized that staying positive and counting my blessings was the only way to survive the long days, weeks and months.

I have so much to be grateful for; my family is healthy, we have adjusted our routines (okay, let's be honest, we've discarded routine altogether), and we've learned that our priorities have changed, too.

One of the best things about quarantine is that I've learned what matters most to me. Being forced to change my focus, routine and priorities has brought many things to the surface; self-realization being the most profound.

Yesterday, I was sitting outside watching the sun rise and had an epiphany.   I've gained more self-knowledge in one year than I have in my almost forty-two years of life. 

One of the most uncomfortable lessons I've learned is that how I see myself compared to how others see me differs greatly. Some have described me as stubborn, but I know I'm strong-willed and determined.  I've been called a push-over, but I'd describe it as being compassionate and empathetic. I'm smart and witty, but also creative and articulate. I have many abilities and talents but I often hide them out of fear of rejection or judgment.  

When my outward behavior doesn't match how I feel inside, I become disconnected and insecure.  That insecurity causes me to sell short my own intellect and inner authority. And I know this. I simply ignored what I believed to be a flaw.

Recently a friend of mine gave me a compliment that I've never heard anyone say to me before.

"I love your confidence.  You know who you are.  You know what you want.  You go after it."

His words stunned me for a moment.  I have never believed myself to be confident. I spent most of my 20s seeking validation from others and worrying about what people thought of me.  Turning 30 had me worried I wasn't where I was "supposed to be" at that time in my life.  

And then it hit me. At 40, I no longer cared what others thought.  I had my mini mid-life crisis and then told myself to get the hell over it. For too long I believed I was split in two:  the woman I want to be and the woman everyone else wants me to be.

My "outside self" and my "inside self" were at odds with each other.  How could I trust what others think of me?  How can I appreciate the love and admiration of those people? I want to be loved for who I am, but who am I?

I have been thinking about this for months.  And I realized that this "split" began in my childhood.  Perhaps instinctively I learned that life is easier if I behave the way the world wants me to, rather than how I feel.  When my thoughts, feelings and beliefs didn't align with those of my family, friends or society in general, the pressure to hide my true self became intense.  Going against the grain was too much for me to handle.

In some ways, hiding my true self made life easier.  Less was asked of me when I behaved as others expected, but sadly I gave up my inner authority in the process.

Now, as a forty-something woman, I've become bored with the old ways.  I'm tired of being told what I "should" do.  I have outgrown the masks I wore for too long.  I'm ready to be my true self.  I know me, and gosh darn it, I like me. That's confidence.

So, as this year comes to a close I'm looking toward the future.  When the quarantine first began, three weeks in I was begging for the return of "normal" life.  I wanted things to be as they always had been.  Now I know with certainty that I don't want that at all.  These life lessons emerged in the midst of crisis and I'm beyond grateful.  Going back to my old life would be to squander this gift of knowledge.

In a year that has been out of control, I felt powerless.  I'm taking back my power. I'm taking control.  I'm owning my authority and authenticity.  2021...I'm ready, but please be kind.



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