“Never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel.” – Mark Twain
I am so lucky. I really am. Things have not gone the way that I planned for several months, and the disappointment of plans gone awry coupled with the inappropriate actions of others has hurt me deeply. Yet, for more than a year before that, everything went as I hoped, thanks to the unexpected support of a few friends. Now, as I rebound from this recent time of fear and disappointment that felt more like three years than three months, I can appreciate with renewed awe just how little we can control in our lives. Things could have turned out much differently for me. Having peered into the abyss for a moment, I recognize my good fortune. I have lived to see another day and that is always a good thing.
As much of an open book as I am now, showing you my soft underbelly is not something that always came naturally. It’s scary to be vulnerable with people, to share your thoughts and fears and dreams. Just the other day, someone warned me that I should be careful about what I share, especially on this blog. They said that there may be people who would try to use my words to manipulate me. While I appreciated the concern, I recognized that they were telling me something about themselves, not about me. Their concern reflects their worldview and their fears. It has nothing to do with me.
You see, I have lived a lot of my life in fear. I have sweated over secrets and I have worried over what others thought of me. I have put on masks and pretended to be someone I was not. In fact, I tried so hard to be what I thought others wanted me to be that I lost myself in the process. It broke me, trying so hard to be accepted and liked and loved by other people. But I survived, and I grew strong, and I am not that fearful person anymore.
It is precisely my experience with trying to be what I thought others wanted me to be that has changed me. In this past decade, as I was learning about myself and how better to be me, along the way I learned that my opinion of me is the only one that counts. Don’t misunderstand; I need others and value the love and friendship of those closest to me. Giving and receiving is at the core of my life now. As John Donne said, no man is an island. But if someone decides they don’t like me or expresses their disapproval of something I do or say, it does not destroy me. Disapproval can sting, and rejection hurts for a while. But that’s just real living, part of the human experience. I don’t live my life externally anymore, so I am not easily manipulated. What matters to me is being true to myself. You can wound me with your words, but you can’t take anything from me because you have nothing I need.
What attracts me to other people now is authenticity. People who are comfortable in their own skin are distinct. They are most always in the moment, not distracted by concerns over the past or the future. They may not always be polished and perfect in their actions or words, but they are genuine. You can see their intent because they wear it on their sleeve. They are passionate and caring and a bit too honest for some tastes. They are kind to others but not at the expense of sincerity. They are simply themselves. At long last, I am myself.
One of my core beliefs is that to be helpful to others you have to show them who you are. If you want to connect, you must be connected. If you want to be trusted, you have to trust. You have to take the first step. I want to be helpful to others, to those who are hurting, to those who need an ear or a hand or some hope. I am not a professional helper, nor do I have any special skill or license that qualifies me. I have only my experience, my story, myself to offer.
So offer it I do. No one has such power over me as to put me in fear of being myself. I have boundaries and I work hard not to cross them, but this is more to avoid hurting others than it is to protect myself. I have learned to embrace pain as evidence of my authenticity. Experience has taught me that it is only my secrets that can be used as weapons against me. If I don’t have any secrets, if I don’t harbor any shame, then there is nothing to fear. Authenticity is its own armor, protecting me from the attacks of others through my lack of ulterior motive or closet full of bones. I do not live in fear of losing a job, a home, or any worldly possession. It may be stressful to face such things, but I do not fear them. There is really nothing that someone can take from me that would change a damned thing at this point. I am not those things. I am myself, and no one can take that from me.