“Can you remember who you were, before the world told you who you should be?” — Danielle LaPorte
I was the girl who played in creeks. I remember that now. I would skip along rocks and climb over logs and make up stories in my head about people I’d never met. Sometimes I’d come with friends and sometimes I’d come alone. But I loved the way it felt to leap frog across the rocks and not get my feet wet. I loved the smell of the woods.
I hadn’t gone to a creek in years. Somewhere along the line, I learned that girls shouldn’t play in the woods by themselves. It isn’t safe. It isn’t lady like. It isn’t encouraged.
But when I went camping last summer with my husband, we found a creek. I skipped along the rocks. I climbed over logs. I breathed in the smell of the woods. And I remembered.
I was the girl who wrote stories. I remember that now. I sat for hours at my family’s bulky desktop computer and wrote a story about a girl who could time travel. I wrote 10 chapters and never thought to save it. I cried when our computer crashed, and I lost the file. But I loved the way my fingers could tell stories faster than my mouth. The way the words just seemed to flow. The way the letters tumbled out in nice, straight lines on the page.
I stopped writing. Somewhere along the line, I thought I didn’t have enough talent. I gave up on writing because it wasn’t practical. It wasn’t interesting. It wasn’t cool.
But when I started writing again a few years ago, I couldn’t stop. I wrote chapters and essays and articles, and I made sure to save them. I cried when my first piece got published. I bought a new lap top computer. And I remembered.
I was the girl who played soccer. I remember that now. I played all year round on multiple teams. I was the goal keeper. I loved the way it felt when I made an important save. I loved how my body could take over, the way it always knew what to do. The way I felt when I was part of something bigger than myself.
I stopped playing soccer. Somewhere along the line, I thought I wasn’t good enough. I gave up on soccer because it no longer made me feel special. It wasn’t flashy. It wasn’t impressive.
But last year, I started playing again. I began moving my body and trusting my instincts. I ran and dove and kicked, and with every sore muscle, I smiled. I practiced in the back yard. I was part of something bigger. And I remembered.
Somewhere along the way, I lost myself. Maybe it was the drinking. Maybe it was the boys. Maybe it was my insatiable need to be liked by everyone I encountered. Or maybe it’s just the innate difficulty of growing up.
It’s not hard to lose yourself when you’re young and impressionable and craving to be liked. You stop doing things that others disapprove of or don’t understand. You begin more “worthy” pursuits in order to be popular. You’ll compromise yourself if it means you’ll be accepted. You’d sacrifice your soul just to be invited to the party.
At 13, I didn’t want to be the girl who played in creeks or wrote stories or played soccer on the weekends. I wanted to be the popular girl, the pretty girl, the cool girl. Why go to the woods when you can go to the mall? Why write stories when you can flirt with boys on Instant Messenger? Suddenly, the things I loved didn’t seem to matter. All I cared about was being liked and admired. All I wanted was to be seen.
At 26, the struggle remains. It’s easy to think that it’s embarrassing and shameful to be the woman who hikes in the woods. I trick myself into believing that I’d rather be at the bar, surrounded by friends. I don’t want to be a writer, I want to be a career woman with great benefits and a 401-k. I don’t want to play soccer, I want to decorate my house and post pictures of it on Pinterest.
Except I don’t want those things, not really. I remember now. I remember that it’s not fun to trade in who you really are for a shinier, more socially acceptable model. It doesn’t feel good to play by other people’s rules. It is exhausting to constantly strive to become someone you’re not because your real self doesn’t seem good enough. It’s like breathing with only one of your lungs- it can’t sustain you.
I’ve spent years trying to unbecome who the world told me I should be. Years spent trying to learn to love my body, even though I have love handles and thighs that jiggle when I walk. Hours upon hours spent pursuing a passion that may not amount to anything career wise, but makes my heart feel alive. An ungodly amount of time just accepting that I don’t like hanging out in bars or getting drunk or having a million friends. My heart feels most at home with a few select people, a good book, and a bubble bath. And finally, after all those years, I’ve learned that this is okay. It’s more than okay actually, it’s preferred.
Because becoming who the world wants us to be is not going to bring us happiness. The things that bring true joy, the things that make us feel alive, are the things that have been there all along. They are the things that cause our heart to skip a beat, our mind to pause, and our soul to scream yes, yes, let’s do THAT.
Things like playing in the creek and writing stories and playing soccer even when you’re not very good. Those are the things that count. Those are your things. Those are who you really are.
Remember them. And then be brave enough to own them.