In spite of my hatred of the phrase,”navel-gazing”, I am going to use it because it is the only word that accurately describes what I’m doing here. As much as I’d like to think of myself as an “up with people” philanthropist, the truth is that I am quite self-absorbed of late. I didn’t start out this way. When I was a kid, I used to pretend not to know the answers to questions because I didn’t want the other kids to feel bad that they didn’t know. If I expressed an opinion that was unpopular, I changed it because I didn’t want my friends to be angry with me. I took sides in disputes, when in truth, I wasn’t invested either way. I said things I didn’t mean because I wanted to fit in. I kept my feelings to myself because I didn’t to be a burden to anyone, and I gossiped about people I didn’t know because everyone else was doing it.
When I turned 28, a shift happened. All at once, I went from a people-pleasing sycophant, to a God-pleasing loner. (With a small group of trusted friends.) During that time, I experienced a lot of personal turmoil. It was as though everything was stacked against both me, and everyone I was related to. The 4 years that followed were a mixture of sublime, ridiculous, and sad. I am grateful that I had the support of my family and friends through all of it. I found out how short life really was in those years, so I made up my mind to stop living for others, and start living the life God intended me to live.
The first thing I did was reconnect to my faith. I was raised in a Christian home (with two activist parents), but during my teens and early twenties I renounced my faith and adopted the beliefs of any creed that would allow me to do whatever I wanted. However, I am not the type of person who can live without believing in someone. A few years ago, I read The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy. In it, she writes about te human need to fill the ‘God-shaped hole’ in their lives. That is, in the absence of God, people will inevitably find something or someone else to worship. I spent a lot of time worshipping my own misery. My prayers were complaints and criticism, and I had a small choir of equally miserable people to encourage my negativity. (I also had dysthymia, which did not help matters. At all.) After years of suffering in silence, I decided that I was not invincible, infallible, or untouchable and that I needed help. When I abandoned my pride and admitted my weakness, I was able to get the help that I needed, and start living my life.
The first casualty in my war against inefficiency was my need to please everyone. I’m not the type to try to make another person miserable on purpose, but, if a person is not happy with me as I am, it is not my job to make them happy with me. How people feel about me, is their business, not mine. Seeking comfort is normal, but growth always comes with discomfort, rather, my acceptance of times of challenge and inconvenience as a part of life instead of avoiding them because I feel I am entitled to something better. Learning how to like the person I am in spite of what other people think was not always comfortable. But once I realized that I didn’t need the approval of the crowd in order to live a good life, I didn’t want their approval anymore.
So now, I am all about me–with a twist. I am all about the plans God has for my life. I am all about being myself. I am all about nurturing my own gifts and talents instead of coveting the gifts and talents of other people. I am all about being comfortable in my own skin because, let’s face it–this is the only skin I have so I may as well accept it. Not everyone will like me for this. Not everyone should like me for this. I was not born to be validated by the crowd. Per my contrary nature, my being validated by the masses means that I’m doing something wrong. (My M.O.: If everyone is going left, go right because it’s less crowded.)
If history has taught me anything, it is that the pervading popular opinion is often incorrect. I made the decision not to allow what is commonly believed to sway my views. I read a quote that explained how we all see the people in our lives as extras, and we’re the stars, but we fail to recognize that they are the stars of their own story. All this navel-gazing, self-awareness, and unabashed confidence are just a byproduct of my realizing that, while I may be a mere extra in another person’s life, in my own life I am the key player. When I accepted myself as the key player in my life, I was able to live with the fact that everyone is a key player.
My confidence is not derived from the knowledge that I am somehow superior to anyone else. (I think you’ll find that any person who clings to the belief that he or she is superior is deeply insecure. Arrogance is just a cover.) I can be confident because I don’t need anyone to tell me who I am. I already know. I can confidently admit that I do not know it all. I make a lot of mistakes. I am often rude, self-absorbed, and standoffish. I am intolerant of people who waste my time. I cannot abide gossips. Once a person betrays my trust, it will take years before I trust them again–that is–if I ever do. I cannot stand anyone who uses manipulation as a means to control other people, and I am relentlessly stubborn when I believe I am right.
I may be a navel-gazer, but hey, at least I’ve learned something from it.