I believe God speaks to us through our experiences. If we listen, we can learn a lot about what isn't working and how we can change for the better.
While it may be tempting to accept underwhelming explanations for our interactions with others (because it allows us to dismiss responsibility for ourselves), I genuinely believe there’s more to life and self-improvement than random, blameless events.
My experiences lately have led me to realize how detrimental misperceptions can be, and that it’s frighteningly easy to misrepresent yourself and negatively affect someone’s opinion of you. The good news? It’s fairly easy to prevent, if you’re aware of it.
I know I’m speaking in a lot of generalities, but bear with me.
It all started brewing more intensely a few months ago, but definitely culminated in a fairly innocent conversation I had the other night with my life partner, Buns. I was absent-mindedly scrolling through Instagram on a night where we had both opted to stay in and came across a photo of a girl we know who’s typically rather preppy wearing very dark lipstick and a bizarre outfit in a photo she snapped of herself before an event.
“What in the world…?” I asked, passing my phone to Buns.
“I think she’s trying too hard to be #edgy,” she replied, dismissing it.
I studied the photo a little more carefully, and finally realized why it was so off-putting: That’s just not her, I thought, I feel like she’s trying really hard to look like someone she isn’t. It just didn’t feel authentic.
I struggle sometimes because I’m young and still figuring myself out (much like many of us, I’m sure). To make a long story just a little shorter, I become conflicted sometimes about just who it is I want to be. I find inspiration in so many different places, but sometimes I feel boxed in by my commitments and type-A, responsible nature — almost like I can only be this one thing, because that’s what’s expected of me and that’s who I am. I’m sure you have a persona you feel obligated to fulfill, too.
I touched on this briefly in my previous post about young women deciding to get married young, and made the joke that some days I wake up and hope to be a Tahoe-driving, tennis skirt-wearing mom married to a lawyer living in Buckhead, and other days I crave the comfort of a fitted blazer and a well-executed communication plan and dream of the day I’ll sport a résumé longer than this blog post.
While these examples may seem humorous or exaggerated, they’re accurate depictions of two very different paths I’m drawn toward — not to mention the very small part of me that wants to invest in a rainbow array of patterned pants, braid my hair and say things like ‘go with the flow, man’ and actually mean it.
When this sense of obligation becomes overwhelming, I tend to overcorrect. And what happens when someone’s first or second impression of you is influenced by an overcorrection? They form a radically inaccurate perception of who you really are. Sometimes I try too hard to fight my sensible, wise-beyond-my-years side by compensating with a whole lot of (what I think constitutes) youthful fun, and it ends up making me look far less mature than I really am (spoiler alert, it usually doesn’t deliver me to very fun consequences).
As this is something I’ve struggled with for as long as I can remember, my recent experiences weren’t surprising — just frustrating. I finally accepted something that’s taken me years to truly realize: You can’t fight who you are, and trying to be someone else will only alienate those who already (or might eventually come to) love you for you.
Of course, this is easier said than done (reference patterned pants example — they’re comfortable, and hippies seem so happy). It’s O.K. to deviate from the norm and explore outside your comfort zone, but it’s easy to run into trouble when your efforts are contrived or borne out of a sense of inadequacy.
Any person or situation that makes you feel like you have to betray who you are or what you believe is not for you. Developing a strong sense of self doesn't always happen naturally. If you ignore your experiences, the feelings they elicit or the message God is trying to teach you, it’ll take a LOT longer to determine who you actually are and why it’s important to be faithful to that person.
Thanks for reading, and happy Monday!