Since I can remember, I never felt comfortable in my skin. I would watch everyone else, and it seemed as though they knew exactly how to be themselves. Even as a toddler I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t like everybody else. From those earliest memories I thought something was wrong with me if I didn’t feel, understand, or think the same as someone else.
My insecurities started young and grew as I got older. I would observe the other kids at school; they had interests, hobbies, and seemed to know who they were. I wanted to fit in so badly that I began to morph into whatever I thought I needed to be to belong.
I would see someone and want what they had. It didn’t matter if it was clothes, shoes, or musical interests. I thought their happiness came from the life they lived, and I wanted so badly to be happy.
I grew up poor, in a single parent home. I was overweight, and other kids bullied me daily. I told myself this was why I didn’t have hobbies: My mom couldn’t afford to put me in classes, and I couldn’t play sports because I was fat. This was partially true, but it was also true that I didn’t like sports and never wanted to play them.
I just longed to fit in to a group, any group, and it was easier to make excuses for who I wasn’t than to admit that I didn’t fit in anywhere. I’ve always been a people pleaser, and I wanted everyone to love me. I craved love so strongly because there wasn’t any inside of me.
The façade would constantly blow up in my face, and I’d get called out for not knowing things I acted as though I knew. There was always someone skinnier, smarter, and better than me at things. I needed to be the best at everything to feel good enough. You can imagine how often I felt unworthy.
The issue was that I wasn’t looking inside of myself to find out what I enjoyed. I wasn’t following my heart. Instead, I used that energy to watch and mimic other kids. I constantly compared myself to others and saw only where I was lacking.
It didn’t get easier as I headed to high school and into adulthood. I was still trying to be what I thought others wanted me to be and fighting who I really was.
The further I pushed my feelings down, the more my social anxiety took a hold of me. Living a lie made me feel constantly on guard; it was exhausting thinking that at any moment I could be called out for being phony.
Because I never allowed myself to be who I really was, I felt more alone than ever. Nobody understood me, and I didn’t think anyone really loved me. How could they? They didn’t even know me. Heck, I didn’t even know myself.
The hole inside kept getting bigger, and by thirteen years old I started filling it with drugs and alcohol. I spent the next twenty years of my life using my addiction to numb the feelings of loneliness and fear, a fear that I wouldn’t be accepted if I wasn’t what others expected.
I attracted men who didn’t care about me because I didn’t care about myself. I got taken advantage of in so many relationships, including my career, because I didn’t think I was worthy of respect. I took what I would get, and I was getting what I was giving. My world was responding to who I believed I was.
It wasn’t until I found sobriety in a fellowship and started my spiritual journey that I began to love myself for the first time in my life. I removed alcohol, and what was left was emptiness. I had a lot of space to fill (that hole in my heart was thirty-six years big), and I got to work.
I started meditating and looking inside myself instead of looking for acceptance from others.
I stopped observing other people and looked at my part in every situation that brought me anger, sadness, or anxiety.
I worked on cleaning out all the resentments I had built over the years and forgiving the people who had hurt me.
Most importantly, I forgave myself for not believing I was worthy.
I learned that nothing anyone does or says about me has anything to do with me. They’re acting out their own feelings based on the perceptions they’ve obtained through their own life experiences. I learned to let go and breathe.
For the first time in my life I felt comfortable being me. Through practicing self-love, I was able to spread true, unconditional love to others, and it started to come back, twofold. The relationships and people I attracted in my life were different. They were more meaningful and loving because they were meant for me.
Everything I do today has feeling behind it. I no longer have to defend myself because I live with integrity. I know my intentions, and I’m able to see that we’re all living our own battles. When I started to see things with compassionate glasses, I realized how my experiences could help others.
I also learned that I do have interests! I like to read, write, and hike. I love meditation and helping others. By stuffing who I was inside, I was keeping the world from an amazing human being with so much to give.
My people-pleasing character defect turned into an asset—instead of needing love and approval, now I love hard. I give my heart without conditions and expectations. I no longer live in fear that people won’t like me. I’ve attracted people who love me for who I am, because that’s who they see.
The more I accepted myself, the more I started to realize I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t the only one who felt like they would never find their place in this world.
It had taken me thirty-six years to realize that so many people are dealing with social anxiety and feel unworthy. I know I’m not the only one who was living a life they believe someone else wanted for them. So many of us are lacking the self-love to show the world who we really are.
Not everyone understands me, but that’s okay! I no longer feel the need for everyone to like me. I don’t crave love and acceptance because it’s already in me. I’m full of it. It pours out to the people around me. It’s like one of those self-powered waterfalls. It flows to everything and everyone around me, and then comes right back around.
I finally realized that as long as I accept myself (whoever “I” am), everything that was meant for me would come into my life.
The most important thing I’ve learned so far on this beautiful journey of life is to follow my heart, to listen and pay attention to what my body is telling me.
If something makes me unhappy, I investigate why and remove myself from that situation. Likewise, if something makes me feel good, I pay attention and gravitate toward that.
I believe we’re all born with innate gifts and talents that allow us to help each other grow. When we do what feels right, we find out what those talents are.
I no longer compare myself to others. Instead, when I’m unhappy, I look at my part in the situation and what I need to do to change it. I ask myself what I can do to be a kinder, more compassionate person. Every perceived win and loss is an opportunity to share our experience with someone else later.
Whether you want to find your life purpose, or just be happy and fulfilled, you don’t have to go searching. It’s already in you. Just get in tune with your inner self and watch yourself blossom.
Notice what brings you joy or anxiety and adjust your path accordingly. Finding happiness really is that simple; we, as humans, make it difficult.
Being yourself is the greatest gift you can give this world because you never know when someone might need the real you.
We don’t have to “fit in.” We just have to follow our hearts and love unconditionally. When we do that, the world fits around us.