For my birthday, Elisabeth + Sarah (the leaders of CHAARG) gave me the book “Figure That Shift Out.” I read most of it while in LA, and it was incredible. Going through a period of transition, it really helped me be aware of my fears, my strengths, and my path. However, I didn’t finish it. Instead of reading at the airport, I blogged, and I somehow slept the entire red-eye home. Every day, I said I would read one chapter before bed (all less than 10 pages), yet I never did.
I finally did this weekend, and it was a perfect way to finish the book after Elisabeth had challenged all of the CHAARG leaders to engage in Spring Cleaning for the Soul. She asked that this spring, we give up one thing and give birth to another. I struggled for a couple days to decide on my foci. I kept reflecting back to what I had read in the book, and upon finishing it, I was able to solidify my mental health goals for the season.
First, I want to give up my fear of judgment. In the book, there are 9 different fears which explain the bulk of your actions and reactions. I struggle with Fear 3: not belonging anywhere. I’ve realized that I constantly worry about how people judge me or perceive me because I fear that I won’t belong.
“If this is your fear, you are constantly looking for a place to call home. You hope that finally, this will be the relationship where you can be fully known for who you are. Or finally, this job or role will be your tribe. People that are driven by this fear want belonging because they aren’t at peace within. They are trying to get peace by focusing on belonging so they can forget their problems. By obsessively trying to fit in, they distract themselves by kicking their problems further down the road. They don’t have the energy to solve their problems because they bought into a lie that peace is the absence of problems.”
This hits home for me — hard. Since I was young, I never felt like I belonged. I always stood out, I always felt excluded, I always felt different. To this day, I still feel like I’m never quite in and am always the odd ball out. I’ve learned in the last few years that the only time I truly feel at home is when I’m alone, typically traveling. Whether I’m in a different state or country, I feel at home and at peace when I don’t know anyone and don’t fear being judged. Then, I start to worry about how others perceive me travelling alone. Do they think I’m weird? Are they judging me?
It still takes constant affirmation for me, but I’m beginning to embrace my uniqueness. What makes me stand out is what makes me me. No one has to understand why I’m weird, and I don’t have to explain myself to anyone — ever. The more I become comfortable with my internal sense of identity, the less I feel like I have to justify my life and decisions to anyone else. I know I am loved and respected by my family, my friends, my peers, and I don’t need validation from anyone else to make me feel worthy of that love. So, anytime I worry that I will be judged for my actions, I tell myself that I love my bravery to be me.
Although I am letting go of fear, I am also letting go of toxic relationships to give birth to fewer, stronger relationships. As an introvert, interacting with people drains me of energy (except coaching group fitness — that is the one exception!). With this fear of belonging, I always tried so hard to satisfy everyone. I tried to maintain relationships with everyone, even if they were shallow and I wasn’t always focusing my full attention on that person. I would mindlessly text an old friend to catch up or I would meet up with someone for coffee and not be fully present for the conversation, my mind full of chaotic, unclear thoughts. You could say I was social and very well connected, or you could say I was very overwhelmed.
I’ve somehow created a brand of being the “cool girl” — I seriously have no fucking idea how because I am NOT — so people I barely know will not ask, but expect me to hang out with them. This pressure to fulfill a socialite persona led me to making all these promises I knew I wouldn’t keep. Even if I did make plans, I would dread them and imagine ways I could make an excuse to avoid the social interaction. This meant I was also sacrificing time with my closest friends. I was truly spreading myself too thin, and I’m aware of it now.
I’ve also been holding onto toxic relationships: Friends that I know don’t challenge me to be a better person, guys that I know don’t have good intentions, and peers that I know will tear down my goals if given the chance. With a fear of not belonging, I developed a fear of burning bridges. I worried I would create enemies in the process, not at all considering that these false friendships were actually driven by fear. It’s time to let go. I don’t need to burn any bridges, but I do need to stand up and stop letting others pressure me to be someone I’m not.
I also need to improve on the relationships I do value most. When your own mom worries about telling you her health problems because she knows you’re overwhelmed with life… that’s when you know you have too much on your plate. I always say I’m going to call my parents, but it unfortunately only ends up about once a week. I always want to FaceTime my best friend, but it’s never actually happened. I always want to have a girls’ night, but I end up so exhausted from other, smaller interactions that I cancel. My priorities have been out of order, and it’s time to change them.
I want to call my parents more and I want to be fully present when catching up with friends. No more half-assed text conversations that are intermittent throughout the work day. Let’s talk on the phone or let’s FaceTime. I want real relationships. Now that I’ve become confident in my personal identity, relationships are no longer about me. They’re about loving others, especially loving them how they need to be loved. I’ve still got a lot to learn, but I can’t wait to learn more about myself, my relationships, and my loved ones this spring.
++ Mary K