When I was little, the idea of going to outer space creeped me out. In fact, it scared me to death. It wasn’t the fact that almost all the stories I heard of space exploration ended up in explosions or tragic crises and near death situations. Nor was it the idea of being blasted away from the earth at 28,968 kilometers per hour.
It was simply because I dreaded the idea of being disconnected from the world, far away from everything I ever knew, with the possibility of being lost forever.
As time went on, I realized that my possibilities of going out into space weren’t so high, so my fear diminished, but the horror of disconnection nevertheless remained. This translated into wanting to fit in. I wanted to be everybody’s friend. I wanted to be part of the in crowd. I was kind to everyone, going out of my way to make friends even with those I didn’t like, avoiding everything that could be annoying or bothersome. I studied hard to please my parents and teachers. I worked hard so people would think me dependable. I reached out and welcomed others letting them know that they always had a friend.
And to a certain degree, I achieved my goal. I quickly and easily made friends and got along with pretty much anybody.
But the reality was that no matter how much I went at it, no matter how much I tried, at the end of the day I wasn’t happy.
And I didn’t understand why.
Everyone told me that a selfless life led to happiness. Wasn’t I living that way?Wasn’t my life focused on making others happy? Wasn’t I living my life in service?
I lived my like seeking to please, to make them happy, I adapted to them, did what they wanted. So why was I unhappy?
Then I realized the sad truth. In the attempt to connect with everyone, I was so focused on being like them, that I started losing myself, casting aside who I was. What I was doing wasn’t coming from who I was. In fact, I hid myself, afraid of not being accepted for who I was, and I lived how I thought others would like me. I realized that I didn’t really connect with people and that I wasn’t their real friend, because I didn’t give them my real self. I didn’t show them who I was, but who I wanted to be.
No. Not even that. I showed them what I thought they wanted me to be.
I wasn’t true to myself, to who I was, to who I am.
So the solution was simple. Just start being myself, being the real me. Then everything will be fine. Piece of cake, right?
You might as well tell me to jump off a building.
I was terrified.
All my fears of disconnection returned once again. I felt like that seven year old afraid of going into outer space. If I show others my real self, would they stick with me? How about my friends? My family? Will they accept me or will I be misunderstood? Disconnected? Left out? Alone? You have no idea how scary that word sounded to me.
But I had to do it. Life’s tough.
So, did I go ahead and take the risk and make my life wonderful and happy? No, I didn’t. How could I? I was terrified. Bare my soul for the whole world to pick apart and devour? Expose what I held in my heart to the dark and cruel unknown? Let go of myself?
But I couldn’t keep at it. Now that I was aware that I wasn’t myself, I couldn’t live with hiding myself. I would hang out with my friends, but feel distant. I’d do my schoolwork, but doing it, I felt pointless and empty. I’d smile and try to be happy, but I felt like such a hypocrite. I remember at times sitting in my room feeling like the loneliest person in the world, because like an island, I was surrounded but alone.
“When you’re surrounded by all these people, it can be lonelier than when you’re by yourself. You can be in a huge crowd, but if you don’t feel like you can trust anyone or talk to anybody, you feel like you’re really alone.” — Fiona Apple
“Loneliness does not come from having no people about one, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to oneself” — Carl Jung
I couldn’t live with myself. Something had to change.
I met a friend of mine and wanted his input on some drafts of blog posts. After reading them, he looked at me and simply asked, “Is this you?”
A little bit puzzled, I looked at him and asked him what he meant.
“I don’t know. I just get this feeling. It seems that you’re hiding yourself when you write. As if you’re trying to be someone else.”
His words began to worry me and my interior defenses tried to shut the door. “What’s wrong with the drafts?”
Who cares if I hid myself from my writing? It was the content that mattered, right?
He lifted his hands with his palms out, “No. Nothing’s wrong with them. They are quite good and they have very interesting points.”
I already knew what was coming next, “But?”
“But I just feel that these drafts are not the real you. The great writers are those who open themselves up and let their true selves shine through their work. If you want to take your writing to the next level, you’ve got to do that.”
A pause followed and my face darkened, “But… I just can’t. I don’t really want to.”
“Why not?” he asked, his tone marked by concern.
“The truth is…I’m kind of afraid of letting myself be known. I don’t like feeling vulnerable. Who I am is quite precious to me. I guess… I’m just afraid of what people would think.” My heart was beating a little bit faster. I couldn’t believe I was actually opening this up.
“Hey,” he said. “We all are afraid to let ourselves be seen for who we are, but that’s the only way we’ll be truly accepted for ourselves. There’s so much that you have to share. You just have to have the courage to be vulnerable.”
Shortly after that, I made a decision. I was going to try.
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it.
“Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy — the experiences that make us the most vulnerable.
“Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” — Brené Brown
After that conversation, I began to open up and, little by little, started to share my real self, my thoughts, my dreams, and even my fears. At first it was excruciatingly difficult. I still remember one time when I mustered up the courage to actually share a personal experience in front of a group of friends. The silence in the room was deafening as the others listened to me. I guess that they weren’t used to hear me voice my thoughts, and so they all paid full attention. Maybe it was just shock on their part. As they listened to me and looked at me, I felt like they were looking past my eyes and into the depths of my heart. It was so hard for me that I began to shake. It took all I had to continue, but I did it.
Afterwards, some of them actually came up to me and thanked me. They told me that they really appreciated my honesty and that what I said really touched them. I realized then that people were interested in the real me and that they appreciated getting to know me a little bit more.
I began to share a little more, taking baby steps in letting myself be known. I opened myself up to one member of my family, then another, then a friend here and another one there. Soon enough, I mustered up to put my heart into my writing and to share who I was. And I even applied it to when I spoke in front of public audiences. I have to admit that the results were beyond my greatest dreams.
Instead of losing friends and being misunderstood, my friendships multiplied and grew stronger. Instead of being distanced or disconnected, I felt closer to others than I ever had been. I became more interested in who they were, their lives, and their experiences. Most importantly, I realized that I wasn’t alone in this world. Even though everyone is unique, everyone is human, and everywhere I looked I found so many others who shared the same opinions, fears, ideals, and dreams as I did. I felt that even became comfortable with my differences and with those of the others. I no longer felt the need to hide myself in order to fit in. I felt more understood, more connected. I finally felt like I, my whole self, fit in.
Now, some time has passed and I have to admit that I’m still not perfect at opening up, but I’ve made it a long way from that seven year old kid afraid of outer space. Opening up takes a lot of work, but what price is too big for true happiness? It wasn’t easy and I had to drag myself do it. I had to be the real me.
I realized that it was only in embracing yourself that you find your true place, and that only when you have no fear of disconnecting, only by taking the risk of going out of your comfort zone, by not being afraid of being you, that you truly find yourself.
This post was originally published on Medium.com