A word about self-confidence from the girl who (almost) shit her pants in 10th grade.
At 16, I came thiiiiiis close to being the first girl at Trinity Christian to crap her pants in the hallway.
It had to have happened before… and it probably happened after I graduated… but, to my utter shock and relief, never to me.
Thank God. And my sphincter.
I don’t know if my fragile, middle-of-the-trash-heap reputation could’ve survived that scenario.
And the worst part: it would’ve been entirely my own fault.
I was the genius who agreed to try the cabbage soup diet – something my friend, Natalie, decided was absolutely necessary before the impending summer swimsuit season.
Weight was never really a focus for me, but it was for Natalie.
She had this way of bringing up, in a rather accusatory tone, the fact that my thighs didn’t meet when I walked. I’d find myself wobbling away in an attempt to introduce my thighs to one another.
I didn’t want her to feel badly on account of me.
She was my best friend.
And one of my favorite people.
She was charismatic, confident, funny. She had no trouble talking to anyone, of any age – peers, younger kids, older folks, even older guys. She was fearless, socially speaking.
All of my best friends were like this. They were everything I wanted to be.
They were born to lead, and I was delighted to follow.
First, there was Monica, who treated me like a literal walking snack. Had we not been forced apart by means of different zip codes, I’d probably be covered with bite marks to this day.
Next came Gracie. She wore her bangs in a ponytail on her forehead, like a unicorn.
She also had an older brother who told her all about sex, so she thoughtfully shared this information with me… as well as the fact that dogs don’t like to be watched when they poop.
Then, there was Jess. Her parents let her watch PG-13 movies. She introduced me to Forrest Gump and Necco wafers and the logistics behind holding your breath until you pass out.
And Leila, whose favorite game on the playground (or anywhere) was pretending to be a horse. We ate a fair amount of grass together that year.
After that came Hailey, who loved watching Olson twins movies and making fake music videos to Spice Girls and Aqua. She convinced me to accompany her to an open audition for a local modeling agency; I’ve never felt so entirely out of place in my life.
Next was Brittany, a creative savant who liked to wear earrings pierced into her fingernails.
Then Shannon, who mocked me incessantly and spit when she spoke – hey, I never said I had great taste in friends – and whom I followed only briefly before she switched schools.
After that was Katie, whom I stuck by for the rest of high school. She had enormous boobs, and therefore several boyfriends. She also dyed her hair a different color almost weekly, prompting me to do the same… sometimes with disastrous results.
I can still recall pilfering all of those little fake hair samples dotting the hair color aisle.
I’d stare intently at each box, really believing that this time I’d look just like the beautiful woman smiling back at me, who had all the money in the world and her pick of men.
Inevitably, I’d look more like Taylor Hanson or that girl from The Ring.
College allowed me the opportunity to finally experience important parts of life for myself, rather than vicariously through someone else. I dated. I developed my own style and personality.
But still always modeling myself after the best parts of the people around me…
… bubbly Krista, who was sought after by all of the older guys…
… hilarious Bonnie, who never met a stranger and felt completely comfortable bursting into song in the middle of the dining commons…
… and then, of course, a pieced-together framework of the woman I’d be after college.
Smart. Sophisticated. Respected. Admired. Stylish. Independently wealthy and well-traveled. Author of highly praised books.
Over the course of the next seven years, I carried this picture in my head. No matter where I went or what I did, she was my eventual destination.
She served as my eternal measuring stick for whether or not I was successful, and I had every intention of becoming her one day.
Then, kids happened. And they had feeding problems and cried a lot and made me feel generally ineffective and worthless.
Every minute of every day I spent mothering felt like another moment wasted. I could feel myself being dragged farther and farther afield from where I should be, where I’d always intended to be.
Which made me very angry.
But I surrendered to it, in fits and starts.
I wanted my kids to survive. I had to feed them, clothe them, try to teach them right from wrong. I didn’t want them to end up on Maury Povich, complaining about their mom who didn’t give a shit.
All the while feeling split into two personalities driven by two very conflicting goals, constantly at war with each other.
Two weeks ago, these personalities simultaneously reached a breaking point.
I was going through all the right motions, doing what I had to in order to get by. But I was deeply unhappy, extremely unfulfilled, and seriously lost.
My partner and I both had a unique and amazing opportunity, after returning from our year of travel, to redefine ourselves. We had a chance to be new people.
Nick was doing a splendid job at this. As a newly minted yoga instructor, he was absolutely killing it. He found some new friends. Took up climbing. He started to evolve beyond his old ways.
I, however, remained stuck. Bound to an ideal vision of life that wasn’t matching up to my reality. Sinking deeper and deeper into an anger that I was having increasing difficulty hiding.
I felt like the goals I’d envisioned for my life were just within reach, but never really attainable because: kids / partner / other things.
And right there, in the midst of my self-loathing, seething mess, God spoke.
You’ll never find happiness until you give up on the outcome. Let go.
My response? No mutherf*ckin’ way, dude.
I knew what I wanted.
My dream of money, fame and all the fancy things wasn’t, in itself, bad.
If I could just attain those things, I’d be set. That’s all I needed. I wasn’t ready to part with a dream I’d held onto for more than a decade.
Then, I ran across a podcast about “Digital Wellness.”
It was an interview between one of my favorite content creators, Jocelyn K. Glei, and Cal Newport, the author of Deep Work. In it, they discussed the merits and setbacks of modern social media engagement.
And I promptly decided it was time for me to call it quits on Facebook.
I’d casually considered quitting social media for several months. But how could I live without my lifeline? This thing which sustained me while I was an isolated stay-at-home mom? The place where I’d unearthed a few lucrative freelance gigs?
Who would I be without it?
Would I still exist?
After hearing that podcast interview, I didn’t really care anymore.
For once in my life, I cared far more about who I was becoming in real life than I did about the person I projected online.
And who was I?
I had no idea. Without anyone to lead me or compare myself to, I was a blank slate.
What kind of music did I like?
What activities did I find intriguing?
Suddenly, I found myself with all of these pockets of free time and no social media to fill it… I could feel my creative energy replenishing itself.
But where did I want to spend it?
Which direction should I go?
Later that same day, I found myself on a walk with Charlie – something I usually do in the afternoon with Nick.
After my morning work time is over and just before picking up the kids, we like to hike up the hill behind our house and smoke a joint in preparation for the real and present threat of children shrieking and whining.
On this particular day, alone and jointless, I barrelled up the side of the hill at a breakneck pace, listening to a podcast.
I rounded the top of the trail, pausing to wait for Charlie to finish barking an ecstatic hello to a neighbor, and caught my breath.
Why the f*ck am I walking so fast?
That’s when it hit me: I usually paced myself with Nick, whose longer legs require that I double my speed. Without him, I could walk at my own pace.
Wait… what IS my own pace?
I had no idea how I liked to walk. Or what hobbies I enjoyed. Which foods were my favorite. Whether I even liked hiking.
I focused the next week and a half’s worth of mental energy toward planning my next move.
Floating freely in the abyss of Facebook-less living, I was actually making decisions for myself. Not based on what others might do, whether it might make a good post on Facebook, whether so-and-so would approve…
And I realized: I liked myself. I really did.
Or, at least, I didn’t feel as frustrated with myself as usual…
… when I was ruthlessly holding myself to the standards set by everybody else and continuously failing.
I felt something closer to contentment. I discovered that I had the ability to forgive my shortcomings far more easily than I’d realized.
I felt powerful, in a way.
It was such a relief.
For the first time maybe ever, I felt hopeful about and excited for the future – even one that didn’t include two vacation homes and a personal chef.
For once, the outcome didn’t matter.
It was the journey itself I wanted to experience.
And that journey would definitely not include cabbage soup diets.
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