I have this part of me that feels hungry for adventure, aching with wanderlust, and in want of a bigger life for myself than the one I currently have. I’d like to think I have a desire to travel and to see the world, to take in new cultures and experiences, and to make my time on this earth as exciting and full as I possibly can.
But there’s also another, much more overbearing side of me: a part that is apprehensive and unsure, a part that fears the unfamiliar and thrives on stability and surety. It’s a part that lets my anxiety get the best of me when I bail on weekend plans or when I sit stagnant letting the final boarding call for my flight ring out from the airport gate because I just can’t bring myself to get on the plane. I know this part of me more intimately than I’d like to. I’ve known it since I was a young kid, panic-stricken and walking off of field trip buses before they even departed, crying in the parking lot unable to understand myself and this fear of any deviation from a normal routine. Of absolutely any unknown.
You see, that first part of me is more in line with the person I want to be. I want to be brave and worldly, fun and simply magnetic. I yearn to take up every opportunity that I’m presented with and have no regrets of “what if?”, only stories to tell. I want to be fulfilled, to lead a life that I can be proud of. Sometimes I force myself to fit into this mold, making impulsive decisions after a few drinks at the bar with a friend, booking spontaneous non-refundable journeys as I laugh and brim with excited energy. Sometimes I will get on the plane, will go on the trip, will take the plunge, and it will all work out for me while I bide my time as an undercover anxious recluse, worrying how or when I’ll expose myself. And sometimes it doesn’t work out for me, as the guilt and debt of canceled plans (not always financial in nature) loom over my head.
I do believe that people have the power to change themselves for the better and to manufacture their own emotional landscape. It is less about what happens to you than how you choose to perceive it and react to it. But what happens when there is an unignorable chasm between who you are who you want to be? When you consistently show yourself to be a different person than you’d like? We can follow a diet and fitness plan to change our bodies. We can take classes to expand our knowledge. We can even think positively to alter our mood. But can we change the basis of who we are as people?
There are times I find it imperative to challenge the negative or nervous talk in my head, and to make it a point to follow through with things for my own development and happiness. But there are other times, the really difficult times when I can be aware of my own limitations and allow myself to take a step back to reassess – Is this activity/trip/plan really that important to me? And why? Where are my hesitation and anxiety coming from? Is it a part of myself that I should try to fight for personal growth, or am I simply forcing myself to do and be things that just aren’t me? Can I be okay with myself for not following through this time? Can I try to make decisions that I’m more comfortable with in the future? Can I enact kindness towards myself to make this any easier?
I don’t want to be a quitter for my whole life, and I will never give up reaching for more or trying to be better. But amid this internal grappling has come a certain level of acceptance for myself, and an appreciation of the need for self-compassion. Maybe I’m not as fun-loving, intrepid, or even interesting as I want to be, and maybe these are aspects of myself I can consciously work on. But I don’t have to constantly pressure myself to abide by a certain blueprint for personhood that goes against my very nature. At my core, I’m a worrier, an over-thinker, and oftentimes simply scared. I’m bad at making new friends, not the best at enjoying things outside of my comfort zone, and would often prefer to stay in than go out. These may not be the traits of the easy-going, fascinating type of person I look up to. But they are me. And instead of beating myself up or pretending to be someone else, I can be alright with that.