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When you’re young, you trundle and bubble along in your life, doing your thing, being in your body and living with your mind, and not really giving too much thought to who you are.
And I feel like in some ways, that’s a really good thing. It’s very freeing to think back to feeling that way.
After all, why would you want to be constantly focused on who you are and who you want to be? There’s all this lovely life to live.
And growing up, that’s what we did – we just lived life.
In retrospect, I feel so appreciative that my life growing up feels to me now like one long sunny holiday.
Even the rainy days.
Sure, it probably didn’t feel that way the whole time that I was living it. There were aspects that were less than fun, like waiting with my sister in the car for what seemed like hours while Mum did a “quick” grocery run (remember when it wasn’t a bad thing to let your kids wait for you in the car?).
We were probably 8 or 9 years old, and it was just what people did at the time. And we did choose to wait instead of shopping. It just got boring. And hot. And we became impatient to get home.
BUT . . .
The overwhelming memories are things like family beach time on Sundays, coming home and hoping against all hope that Dad would enthusiastically suggest that we stop off and buy fish and chips on the way home.
I remember waking up with a big smile each morning, throwing open my yellow bedroom curtains to let in the glowing yellow morning sun, skipping into the kitchen where Mum was setting the table for breakfast and preparing our lunches with the little radio playing in the background. We’d have a big morning hug and the day would begin.
I remember the smell of Autumn, always so fun because that’s when we took our family holidays (Dad always preferred Easter to the summertime to avoid all the crowds). We took a month off school every year until we were about 14 years old and drove a few hours away to a rented holiday house near the ocean. We’d beach, swim, ride bikes, go out on our little boat altogether, have BBQs, go on outings . . . so relaxed and so fun.
I remember a million little details, from daily life to special occasions, and all these memories fill me with joy. I can recall them as if I’m actually there – the aromas, the angle of the sun, the atmosphere, the sense of happiness and contentment – they all come flooding back to me as if I’m living it now.
You could most definitely say that I was a happy child.
But in all those memories, I do not recall ever having any focus on who I was and who I was being.
I just was.
I was just living.
I felt free and it feels free thinking about it.
Now in my mid-50’s, I still feel like a happy child, but there has been a shift.
I’ve now quite intentionally begun viewing the moments of my day through the lens of who I am. Of noticing who I am in comparison to the vast array of other people, of deciding who I want to be in the face of differing opinions and attitudes.
And I’m becoming more and more sure of who I am, and gaining the confidence to be that.
I wasn’t always like this. Happy as I was within myself, I would lose that sense of well-being when I felt I was being criticised or judged. When people would come into my life filled with confidence and very strong opinions about . . . everything . . . and being very vocal about them, I would start to question if I was supposed to think the way they think, too. If that was, in fact, the way we were supposed to be.
Being unsure of my own opinions, I had nothing to say in return. I would shrink inside myself and feel intimidated.
So it’s been a journey for me, discovering that in fact, yes - I actually do have points of view about things, and no – I do not have to think the way other people think, or react the way they react, and that neither do I want to.
It's taken me 30 years of adult life to get here, to this place of knowing who I am and choosing to be me with confidence and joy.
And I like it.
As Dolly Parton once said, “Figure out who you are and do it on purpose.”
It has brought with it another sort of freedom.
It’s a freedom that comes from cultivating the art of knowing who you are and enjoying being you.
This art is layered and composed of two colours . . .
The first layer is the colour of knowing.
Knowing who you are at your essence (which I personally discovered by seeing who I am not), deciding to be completely cool with that, then choosing to love being that way, then allowing yourself to grow and evolve and choose new qualities that you like and weave them into your personal style . . . intentionally becoming a more expansive you.
It's actually pretty fun!
The second layer is the colour of allowing.
Allowing everyone else to be exactly who they are, a bunch of really different people! Then choosing to enjoy the variety.
The art is in feeling so comfortable being yourself that you can remain in that lovely, steady feeling of knowing and allowing, even when others are not quite in that place yet. Others may feel as if they must force their opinions on you until you see the light of their ways. Kind of funny when it’s put that way! Perhaps we’ve all done the same thing from time to time.
Everyone’s on their own journey, right?
And sometimes the journeys clash.
And when there are different cultures and backgrounds involved, the layers of the journey and potential for clashes are multiplied.
If you can be ok with that, then you can be ok with life.
For me, knowing who I am and how I want to feel and behave in those instances makes it all much easier.
I want to be steady in myself, allow the others to be whoever they are, and have the confidence and sense of self to choose whether to express my own opinion or simply allow them to express theirs, whatever their emotion. Do I see value in their perspectives and actions and want to incorporate them into my own, or do I not?
I’ve learnt that we all have this surprising tendency to want others to change the way they are so that we can feel better. But ultimately, that’s an impossible dream. It’s impossible to change others (and also not very nice to want to), and it’s impossible to feel genuine happiness if we need others to behave in a certain way so that we can feel it.
Personal happiness really does have to come from ourselves. Being self-aware and then making deliberate decisions about how we want to show up and enjoy being our genuine selves is truly where it’s at.
It brings with it a different sort of freedom.
The freedom that comes with knowledge. And understanding. And appreciation of the great variety that exists within people. All the contradictions and hypocrisies and idiosyncrasies that exists within each one of us.
Reaching for being able to smile at it all, even when you’re in the middle of it.
Secure in your own sense of self.
Now that’s a freedom that’s worth cultivating.