There are going to be a lot of heavy-handed metaphors in this essay. You’re going to roll your eyes. Bear with me. Or don’t. I think you should.
The older I get, the more I embrace that I am my actions. I’m not who I say I am. I am who I behave as. The identity is in the actions. At times, this is deflating because when I examine my actions and they don’t align to my rhetoric, I feel like a fraud. But if we are our choices, then we can change at any time. The story of me or you or anyone else can be rewritten. There is a story. It is not THE story.
I used to see myself as too much—this gargantuan mass of emotion plowing through the world. My creativity, loudness, brashness, demand of candor is a lot. I am a lot. I don’t see myself as that any more. I don’t regard my existence as an apology. I also used to define myself by my damage. I was broken at times, and I saw that as my identity—that my name was everything that bruised me. And when I saw myself that way, it became ammunition weaponized against me by people who saw that. But if a forest succumbs to a fire only to have the trees rise again, does it see itself as only ash? No. I’m not my praises nor my faults.
Most things aren’t personal. Things grow to be personal when we allow them to embitter us. Other people’s behavior only becomes my responsibility when it influences mine, when the compass of my character shifts direction to accommodate theirs.
I’m a deeply flawed person who still deserves good things. Sometimes, I do bad things. That does not mean that I am bad, though. It means I am growing and learning. And guess what? Everyone is right there. We’ve all been slighted and hurt. Everyone is strapped to a different baggage. That’s not what matters. How we chose to engage with it matters. How we choose to relinquish perfection matters. Because everyone is insecure, covered in doubt, and aspires to be loved and liked. The only way we can wrap our arms around each other is to unshackling themselves.
The grizzly truth is that I am not the hero in every story. At times, my vices are the villains. At my worst, I am the villain, but I am not A villain. It’s hard not to feel like a piece of garbage when someone takes you out with the trash, but I’m trying to not be that person to myself. The only way I know to go easy on myself is to do better moving forward. I can either distract myself from a poor choice and its consequences or I can invest in my progress. I can start now, little by little, to do better in the hope I will be better.
I don’t subscribe to positivity culture. Good vibes only is how we sanitize the prickly parts of ourselves. Not to be cheesey here, but the sweetest part of the pineapple lies inside of the prickliness. There is no sweetness if we cannot interact with the skin. To be true blue is to witness the parts we don’t want, knowing that they are inextricably tied to the parts that we do. Anger and sadness are two sides of the same coin. The whole coin is grief, but if we can see it, name it, flip it, it becomes less heavy to hold. It becomes easier to engage with it when we have to.
The story of me on the edge of 26 will not be the same as me half way through 26 or in ten years. And I’m happy with that. Twenty-five was good, but not good enough. Life will wind and go awry. I cannot control how life unfolds for me. I cannot control the narratives other people are writing about me. What I can control are my behaviors and thoughts. I choose to welcome all of my feelings without this worry over the unpleasant ones. I try to act ways that align with my values. I don’t expect other people to do the same, but I hold them accountable when they don’t. Accountability is love in practice. The opposite is enabling. Enabling is a selfish bend to my comfort, a divestment in the other person’s growth. Accountability is reading another person’s worst chapter, and giving notes make the next one better. Enabling is people pleasing’s aunt, the one who wants to be liked at any cost, even if the price is another person’s character.
I don’t have an obligation to stay with those people. I don’t owe my presence to people as a sign of my love. Mistreatment is the exist sign we’re afraid to read because if we leave, emptiness will greet us. Emptiness is liberation, is freedom. Emptiness is a blank page we can feel empowered to author with all the good and pulsing things.
I won’t be proud of every story in my life. When I cringe at things I’ve done, I picture my most empowered, captivating, badass self. I image her conduct, and then, I do that. Because the thing is, the only thing separating us from that fictional “best self” is behavior. Act yourself into the story where you are her. You are her, right now.