Sunday, September 20, 2015

Musical Chairs

Not long ago I was chatting with a friend. She’s one of the few friends I can routinely lament to about the frustrations of single life. Even though she’s happily married with a one year old, she well remembers the struggle of walking through singleness in your 30s. She even described her single years in this way: “It was like marriage was a game of musical chairs and everyone else sat down in their 20s.” That beautifully captures the feeling, at least at times. It’s that awkward sense of embarrassment when you think everyone is looking at you and you feel left out.

I use singleness as an example often because it’s my experience. But really, that left out feeling applies to any number of life scenarios. The conversation caused me to consider how many arbitrary markers we have in life. It seems like a given that you go to college and maybe even graduate school. You get a full time job. You move out on your own. You own a car and eventually buy a home. You get married and have a few kids. But what happens if these things don’t fall in place so easily? What happens if you don’t make sufficient progress by societal deadlines? What if you enter the workforce first and finish school at 35 instead of 22? What if you marry for the first time at 40 instead of 25? Or what if something that’s considered a measure of successful adulthood just isn’t part of your life path at all? Then what?

Unfortunately, I think most of us internalize shame. We’re loaded down with expectations that are placed on us (or we place on ourselves) and we feel bad for not meeting them. If all my friends are done with school and I’m still working my way through…If I should be out on my own by now, but I’m still living at home…If I should be married by a certain age and I don’t even have prospects…If I should want kids but I’m not sure I do…If I want kids but struggle to conceive…If I should’ve lost my baby weight by now and I haven’t…If I should own a home by now, but I’m still renting...The unspoken answer to all these should questions is what’s wrong with me? I don’t think that’s really fair and I wonder if we can change the conversation.

The reality is that maybe there are certain paths that are typical for most…certain markers that the majority of us will meet. But if, by chance, someone goes in a different direction (assuming it’s not harmful), why not just honor it? Why not celebrate diversity rather than shame divergence? Why not show equal love to those that go a different way as well as those who follow the usual mold? Let’s stop placing value judgments on people’s lives. It’s not always about good or bad, right or wrong. Sometimes it’s just a matter of difference.

As much as I enjoy the game musical chairs, in a perfect world, no one would ever be excluded. There would always be a seat for everyone. But since that’s not life, my musical chairs revision would be that the seated ones offer applause to the one without and the one left standing would break out into their own unique dance while exiting stage left.


Monday, September 7, 2015

Bravely you

When I was younger I would pretend I was other people. I’d come home from school, go down into my den, and carryout entire play sessions re-enacting what I saw the cool kids doing throughout the school day. I desperately wanted to be someone else. As a shy kid with a gap in her teeth and hairy legs, you can understand why. If I’m completely honest, I still carry this tendency to pretend sometimes even today. It’s no longer a play session, obviously. Now it’s more like imagining what my confident ideal would look like. Would an external change help? Perhaps my style is too simple. Maybe I should take more time with my appearance. Honestly, not much changes from 13 to 30 with regards to wanting to be one of cool kids.

But here’s the thing: Each passing year allows me to learn something new and exciting about me. While I can acknowledge that tendency to want to change at times, I’m learning to accept myself just as I am. So, inspired by Mandy Hale’s list of “Things I’m No Longer Apologizing For,” here’s my short list.

1)      I don’t like shopping. When I absolutely have to shop, I know exactly what I want and get in and out within an hour. Anything else feels like a waste of time.

2)      I don’t like putting on make-up. I’m not opposed to wearing it. But if the application takes more than 10-15 minutes, forget it. At times even that’s too much.

3)      I don’t like high heels. My feet just aren’t designed for them. They hurt and fashion is not worth pain to me. Plus, hobbling around or tripping and falling would counter the sexy vibe I’d be going for anyway.

4)      I don’t get regular manicures. They’re lovely for sure. Unfortunately, I’m the girl who messes it up before even leaving the salon. I’m too active to worry about messing up my nails.

I realize my examples might seem superficial. But, I think we discover who we are by ruling out who we aren’t. By making this short list, I’ve confirmed I’m a low maintenance minimalist who sometimes has dry cuticles. Not only that, but I love to run and dance, neither of which are supported by rocking heels all the time. I’m casual. I’m earthy. I like to be outside. I prefer comfort and utility over fashion. I wear a natural look because I equate it to authenticity. I want to see and be seen and that comes from removing real and symbolic masks.

As I read back over my list of characteristics, I really like them. I would totally want to be friends with me. Why, then, is it so hard to be oneself? Why do we put ourselves through the frustration of comparing? My belief is that comparing and pretending come when you don’t know who you are. I think as you devote yourself to learning your unique identity, then you’ll get excited about all the little things that make you special. Then, and only then, can you go forth and be bravely you.