“I am who I am.”
That’s what we all tell ourselves to convince us with the reassuring notion that each and everyone of us is special—that we are all unique in our own ways.
This one sentence builds up our self-esteem. It deflects all the insults and criticisms from those who try to bring us down. It helps us brush off our insecurities and accept our own shortcomings.
We see a lot of articles about acceptance and these always end with living a happier life by not just accepting ourselves, but also accepting the people around us for who they are. They teach us to settle. They teach us to have less expectation thereby having less disappointment.
While this may already sound like a profound life-changing advice, it is not entirely true because it doesn’t really end there. What they don’t talk about is that acceptance is more complicated than that. Acceptance isn’t as clear as black and white. We live a life touching and connecting with other people, and when we do those, we get to understand them a little better. Sometimes, we see that they can be something more, even when they don’t realize it, so how can we truly accept them if we know there’s all this depth and dimension that we still haven’t discovered?
Yes, they have been living that way long before they met us, and that is even how they became the people we know right now—the people we chose to call our friends and loved ones. However, we also know that we are all flawed, and even though we can never be perfect human beings, we can still spend our lives helping one another change to be better versions of ourselves.
Sometimes, just our mere presence is enough to give them the level of confidence they need to freely show their true self—the beautiful creature that we all are. All they need is affirmation from their loved ones to realize where they want their lives to be headed and how they want themselves to be along the way.
A common misconception when it comes to asking people to change is that it’s not as easy as counting from one to three because what we’re often asking them to change is something innate. It can’t come from us. It has to be out of their own free will to change. It has to be them to decide and tell themselves, “Yes, I need and want to change myself.”
And it’s okay if they don’t. We don’t have to feel disappointed or take it against them when they don’t because our role isn’t to take the wheel and drive their cars for them. Perhaps, all we have to do is walk beside them by helping them discover the person they can commit to be.
One powerful quote I’ve read that struck me was posed by the President of Ateneo de Manila University, Fr. Jett Villarin, SJ—When you ask people to change, do you do so for them or for yourself?
In the workplace, when we have meetings and some colleagues are always late, do we ask them to be more punctual for the intent of them becoming more responsible creatures or just for the selfish reason of them not ruining our schedules? Would we even have cared if it weren’t our meetings that they were tardy to?
On a more individual level, when you ask your partner to be more romantic to you even if it’s not in her personality, but you know that she loves you just as much as you love her, are you really helping her be a better version of herself? Or just someone who fits closer to the ideal person you expect her to be?
No matter how much we would love these people to change and match the ideal people in our minds, they just won’t. And even if they do, it wouldn’t feel right because what’s important is still seeing the silver lining in between—the quality, attitude, or any characteristic that drew us to them in the first place. Only from there can we realize how it’s not about us benefitting from their change, but rather us helping them in their journey of self-actualization.
Life is full of ambiguity. People will often find themselves stuck between a crossroads of paths that are often at par. Unfortunately, we also can’t tell them which is the better path. It all boils down to the kind of person they can commit to be with the path they’ll be choosing. And truly accepting the people around us just means helping them commit to their choice, alongside accepting all the imperfections in between.
Finally, we, together with these people, can all say, “I am who I am” with conviction, not because we accepted the kind of person that we just are, but because we were able to commit to the kind of person we chose to be.