“What is necessary to change a person is to change his awareness of himself.” — Abraham Maslow
I spoke with my mother on the phone last week, where she made a pretty startling comment about the evolution of our relationship.
She said she used to wonder if we would ever get to the point where she and I would actually be able to connect with one another.
This wasn’t startling because of the comment. This was startling because of how close I was to allowing it.
Growing up (and still somewhat now), I was very much reserved in my self-expression. I wasn’t trying to ruffle any feathers. I wasn’t wanting to muck up anyone’s day. And I damn sure wasn’t trying to draw any extra attention to myself — I was plenty uncomfortable with myself as it was.
She regarded me as wading through school on “cruise control”, collecting A’s and B’s with little to no effort and little to no interest. I wasn’t bored. I wasn’t disinterested. I wasn’t hopeless, either.
I was simply a confused, out-of-touch, scared young man, unaware of the suffocating life limitations in which he had created for himself.
Until age 28, I stood pat within this realm.
“If you wish to find yourself, you must first admit you are lost.” — Brian Rathbone
As things went awry in my youth, I generated my own cognitive security system to keep the incidence from repeating. From an incongruence during childhood to a stereotype in adolescence, my defense mechanisms were constructed unknowingly — and without ever bothering to schedule an update.
For me, I produced several:
Severely lacking in confidence and not fitting into a particular friend group — reservation and selfishness.
Falling out of alignment with my initial perfectionist nature during college, and subsequently dropping out—cynicism and resignation
Uncertainty surrounding my sexuality and an underlying sense of loneliness — hyper-masculinity and anger
These all seemed to go against the boyish wonder I once allowed to ensue not too many years prior (which I remember serving me well) but after a while, I was convinced enough that the way I ended up being was who I was.
And because of my nature (and downright obstinance) to “never forget” an incident and blow it way out of proportion, I further exacerbated the falsehood into a blurred, faint version of the perceived truth.
“Expectation has brought me disappointment. Disappointment has brought me wisdom. Acceptance, gratitude and appreciation have brought me joy and fulfillment.” — Rasheed Ogunlaru
On the surface, reservation and resignation don’t sound so bad — it’s just a little pulled back and a little turned off. I fit right in with the rest of the world, never exposing myself to a potential attack on my psyche.
The problem isn’t so much the traits themselves. The problem is the ripple effect — the effect it has on others.
Case in point, me not being lit up by life kept me from lighting my mom up — both directly through my love for her and indirectly through her love for me.
All because I let somebody else create the rules for my life.
Some of the other unfortunate consequences:
Cynicism hides humility. Selfishness hides connection. Anger hides love. Hyper-masculinity hides empathy.
I made all of these knee-jerk transactions in my youth — carelessly trading away the potential for abundance for a guarantee for scarcity.
On the blind side, all that I couldn’t fathom the world knowing was actually my one-way ticket to a lifetime of fulfillment and significance.
But I needed the fix then. And far too often throughout my life, I traded what I wanted the most for what I wanted right away.
The farther apart my way of being was from who I really was, the more diluted my experience of life became. It was filtered by virtue of past experience, biased listening, and a gross cynicism toward expectation.
By the time what actually moved me reached my core, my mechanism had already numbed my real identity from fully experiencing it.
I get what I give in life. And if I have nothing to give, I’ll get nothing in return.
“I exist as I am, that is enough.” — Walt Whitman
So how did I find out who I really was?
Put simply, it was what my mechanism was hiding from the world.
It’s the knot deep in my stomach, alerting me to blurt out a secret. The extra beats from my heart as I inch closer toward my fears. The shortness of breath I feel before I do something really, really brave.
My mechanism unapologetically hides all of this raw beauty. And until I stepped in and own what owned me, life was always missing something. I must choose what I’ve been hiding, and take full responsibility for it.
Decision is a conclusion made after consideration. My considerations created this monster in the first place. To be free, I must be free from consideration.
Choice is a freedom to select from a range of possibilities.
Possibility is what stands before me when I become an open book and acknowledge what stops me.
So I choose my insecurity. I choose my imperfection. I choose my openness for love and connection. I choose my sexuality. I choose my lack of formal education. I choose my small amount of wonderful, passionate friends. I choose my discomfort with silence, my crooked teeth, my freckle-covered skin.
I choose it all.
Never again will I allow myself to hide.
The consequences are too dire, the repercussions too severe.
For my self-expression may inspire the destruction of someone else’s mechanism that’s robbing them of their happiness.
Or maybe not.
But who I am is loving and curious — not resigned and cynical.
So I intend to find out.