I want you to think of the friendliest person you know. He or she is a person that is many things, including warm, funny, thoughtful, and boisterous, right? This person probably makes you feel good when you spend time with them and rarely makes anyone uncomfortable. Now I want you to ask yourself, do I know a lot of intimate things about this person? Does he or she show me emotions other than happiness? Do I know their secrets, their insecurities, or their fears? What makes them tick? Who makes them smile? Why does he get mad when I say that to him? Why does she always get upset when she hears that song?
I’ve known a lot of different people in my life. I was best friends with the bubbly and friendly girl from the big city. I took shots with that guy in college who never knew how to speak to (or treat) a woman respectfully. I cried sad tears with people that were filled with regret for a bad choice. I said hateful words that I couldn’t take back to my timid college roommate. I had sleepovers filled with makeup and music and candy with the popular girl in high school. I fell in love with the shy guy.
All of these experiences with all of these people were just that: experiences… maybe it was one or ten or a hundred. Regardless, this is how I remember these people. The popular girl in school wasn’t always confident. Those people filled with regret weren’t ashamed of their actions forever. That best friend wasn’t always friendly and kind. The shy guy (that is now my husband) is actually really freaking funny and quirky.
Truthfully, all we know of the people in our life is the things they want us to see. Do you ever tell a story to a friend at work and leave out the part that embarrasses you? Is there something you wouldn’t hesitate to tell your mother but would never tell your father? Why do you avoid telling people specific tidbits of a story or avoid showing people random details of yourself? Because you are afraid to be vulnerable.
We only show certain people certain shades of ourselves, the shades that they already know or the shades that we know they will understand. The more you get to know someone, the more they open up to you—and vice versa. Over time, we peel back those layers, we reveal those shades we might not otherwise show to someone.
Why does it take some of us so long? Why do we doubt and question ourselves? Most of us are incredibly fearful of being hurt, by friend or lover or acquaintance. Showing someone your vulnerability or shortcomings could potentially lead to a great deal of pain in the future. Or maybe it is because we are ashamed of certain parts of ourselves, like that part in which I get so mad I slam the door and drive too fast away from my problems or that part in which I cry myself to sleep because of something I can’t change yet I still somehow feel heartbroken over.
For years I only showed different shades of myself to certain people. The shy guy, for months, only got the cool, nonchalant side of me. I didn’t want to show him my anger or my baggage or my past. The popular girl from high school only got the funny, badass side of me (what little badassery there is). I didn’t let her see that she intimidated me. The people that I cried sad tears with? Yeah, they got the version of me that was ‘really good listener who pretends not to understand what regret is, because then she might have to tell you something that will make you think differently of her’.
The guy from college that didn’t know how to treat me well? He should have gotten the badass version of me that didn’t give two f*cks about attention, but instead he got the vulnerable brokenhearted girl who dealt with it because she was so lost that she didn’t know which way was up. They all got different versions, different shades, of who I am. And a lot of them still only remember and know those parts of me.
But that version of me that they know does not define me. I am all of those shades and all of those version of myself. And what’s really great? I can change—no, improve—those shades of me any time I want to. I’m still learning and working to show all of me to everyone I meet and everyone I already know. I am no longer afraid to tell stories of my past because I learned from every bad choice I made. I am not scared to talk loud or laugh louder just because someone in the room is shy and timid. I am not intimidated by people that do judge me because, frankly, that is their problem.
I am learning that showing all the shades of yourself is good. It is good for your confidence and for your soul, and it is good that you aren’t going through life, only showing people parts that you know they will approve of. Because, PSA, you do not need their approval! The only approval you need is your own. So show those shades, run them up the flagpole and let them wave. Turn the spotlight on and let them shine. Because all your shades are great—they make you who you are!