This may be my last post of the year. It may not – I always like wrapping up December with reflection, but perhaps just being in the last month of 2014 is enough for now. I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting lately, and a lot of it has revolved around the evolution of strength.
For most of my life, I never considered myself a strong person. I fought so hard against my sensitivity, thinking it weak, and wishing so desperately that I didn’t feel things so very strongly. Then, after reading a lot about INFJs (MBTI’s recent bad rep aside, its roots are still founded in psychology and the understanding of humanity, and it’s got me through a lot in life), as well as realising I’m not the only HSP in the world – I started accepting it instead of seeing it as something abnormal that had to be changed. Handled differently, perhaps, but not eliminated. Feeling things to the extreme is something unique and it genuinely means I care an incredible amount. I’d much rather feel things fully than experience them half-heartedly just to avoid potential heartache.
The thing is, in a few months, I’ll be thirty years old. I’ve had a lot of heartache. I’ve also had a lot of awesome. The good thing about experiencing something repeatedly is that each time you go through it, you can look back and say I made it through. You can reflect on the other things in life that aren’t terrible, and, very importantly, you can count your blessings. You can choose to focus your thoughts. Be consumed by feeling, or feel them and deal with them accordingly. Learning how to process them doesn’t mean they need to be suppressed.
My sensitivity is no longer a weakness. I’ve learned to see it as a strength. But with that change has come a lot of hard work, a lot of reflection, and a lot of practice. Reforming all those neural pathways and stuff that used to see things a certain way; they’re being repaved and lead to a place where everything I once told myself is dying. It’s a good thing.
I remember, years ago, a colleague asking me why I insisted on putting myself at the front of a classroom and leading workshops, teaching adult learners, when I was terrified of being the sole focus of attention and actually gave up on my education degree because I knew I’d never be comfortable in front of a group. She saw how much it shook me up, how scared I got, and how I felt like throwing up afterward. Yet I kept doing it, week after week. Why do you do this to yourself when it causes you so much discomfort? I remember struggling with it; I’d read something that I kind of agreed with, but that went against my reasons for pushing myself into things that made me physically sick.
1. Focus on what you’re naturally good at. If you try to be better at something that doesn’t come naturally, you may go from a 3/10 to a 6/10. But if you focus on improving that in which you’re already skilled and/or passionate, you can go from a 7/10 to a 10.
This makes sense. If I practised calculus, I’m sure solving equations might take me three hours as opposed to 12. But it’s never going to be easy, because it’s not something I give a particular crap about.
2. If it’s outside your comfort zone, you should definitely be doing it.
Also agree. Because if I hadn’t pushed myself with things, I’d likely still be riddled with social anxiety, I’d never have tried doing music or making art or videos – things that bring me such joy today. I was blown away with the reaction to this – something someone once told me I’d never be able to sing, because my voice wasn’t strong enough. I hope I did it justice and proved that I could.
I started a discussion recently in a local photography and modelling group. I was curious as to why those with low self-esteem when it comes to body image choose to volunteer repeatedly to have their photos taken if all they’re going to do is tear themselves down afterward and point out every flaw. I’ve done it myself – I’m sure there are many of us who’d jump at the chance for some cosmetic surgery or laser hair removal if we could afford it. I was curious to see others’ motivations for doing so, because I’d been there myself. And this train of thought does indeed come back to my original one about the evolution of strength, I promise.
I used to need external validation from others in order to feel good about myself. Many commenters said something similar. But hearing this just made me feel bad, because it’s such a temporary solution. In my early twenties, I was a bit of a serial monogamist. I’d go from relationship to relationship thinking it was absolutely necessary, and only in another person would I find my true worth. When they inevitably ended, so did my entire world. I lacked the self belief and inner strength to feel good about myself on my own. One thing I’ve learned is that needing attention/external validation is not going to elicit inner strength and self worth. I only felt worthy when others made me feel I was needed. But I’ve learned that feeling unsure of your worth is a self-fulfilling prophecy: if you don’t personally know that you matter, then perhaps nobody will ever believe you do. If you don’t feel you do, then do something about it. Make art. Follow a passion. Take up a new hobby. Push yourself out of your comfort zone. It doesn’t matter if you fail, because inside, you’ll have all the validation you need: that you had the courage to try.
I’ve also learned that I am the owner of my own time. People complain about being too busy all the time. Too many social obligations, too much work, too many chores, not enough time for the things they want to do. Well, guess what? You get to control what you say yes to. Everyone has the same twenty-four hours in a day. Everyone has to pay the bills. But there are people in the world that still get to do exactly what they want. Why? Because they learn when to say yes and when to say no. We all have desires. Sometimes they involve going to house parties and socializing with thirty people. Sometimes they involve having a friend over and a bottle of wine. Sometimes they involve spending a Sunday morning curled up in bed with a good book and staying there for a good four hours. Sometimes they involve going on adventures, and sometimes they involve going to bed at 8:00 on a Friday night. There will always be demands on our time. But you get to choose whether you spread yourself thin, or put yourself first once in a while. This year, I will be spending more time Google calendaring dates with myself, writing songs, going on photo adventures, and finishing my book.
I used to also let anybody and everybody in. Let me rephrase: I still let anybody and everybody in. I’ve always maintained that by putting absolutely everything out there (come on; I have a blog, a YouTube channel, an active Facebook account and dearest words tattooed all over my body; being known deeply and knowing others is kind of what I live for), you will attract the most authentic relationships with people. They won’t be based on the superficialities of being what you feel you should be. But I also used to need the company of others in order to feel worthy. Learning to love being on my own was a big thing this year. I spent most of it living and being solo for the first time in a very long time. Solitude used to terrify me, but realising just how much I want to learn, make, create and accomplish has made me cherish my time alone, and realise that if I’m going to spend it with others, it will be with a select few awesome human beings; with those people that make each others’ lives mutually better.
I also began 2014 afraid of ever loving again. My heart had soared through what seemed like fairytale highs and been dragged through the most painful of lows. I decided that if I just didn’t invest it, it wouldn’t get hurt. I remember sitting in a food court with a friend saying this, and how I’d given up on magic; that I’d already had it and I was so strange that perhaps I wasn’t meant to find someone that fit, and that I was resigning myself to being a cat lady. I remember being told that was “a crock”. That I had the biggest heart and that I’d been hurt, but there was no way any of this was true. That I’d been “KO’d”, but not killed. I didn’t feel like myself saying the words anyway; and of course they were bollocks. I live to love those dear to me, completely and fully, and I hope with everything I am that those people know it. Now, after a convoluted journey of growth and reflection, understanding and exploration, I feel like myself again. Home, hopeful, and ready for whatever life brings.
Finally, this year reinforced something I’ve tried to practice for a long time: that happiness is a choice. People may make all sorts of new year’s resolutions in a few weeks, or tell themselves that 2015 will be better… but these are just words, said every year around this time. Words are nothing without action and conscious commitment. 2014, 2015, 2016… life’s going to happen. It’s going to keep happening. The only thing that determines your mental well-being is your own choice as to how you react to it.
The last year of my twenties has been far from what I imagined, but I’ve learned an awful lot. I still have a long way to go, but that’s the brilliant thing about life – it keeps happening, you keep evolving, and you keep learning. Never stop. This Christmas, I hope you spend it in a way that makes you smile. I hope you count your blessings, and I hope you enter the new year equipped with things to be thankful for and dreams to chase, capture, and make reality.