As I mentioned the other day, I've been reading Karen Walrond's The Beauty of Different. The first chapter is about individuality-- on the struggle so many of us face of trying to "fit in" to some imagined standard, and hiding or even feeling shame at the things about us that make us feel different, awkward, weird. So many bells in my head went off. I kept thinking of all the time and energy I have wasted over the years questioning and doubting myself, wondering what others must think, keeping quiet for fear of others thinking what I had to share was dumb or silly. Looking to others for guidance on How You Do Things because I didn't trust my own instincts or perceptions. Feeling embarrassed about things I liked or ways I did things. A while back I read something about impostor syndrome, that fear of being discovered as a fraud, and felt that overwhelming sense of oh my god that is so me. It is part of why after years of devoting much of my free time to photography I still hesitate to call myself a "photographer" (god forbid I dare use the term "artist") because well it's not what I do for a living or whatever so I can't really call myself that, as if what brings an income is what defines us. It is also part of why, to this day, I still honestly feel a little surprised to find that people genuinely like me or find me interesting, unsure of what it is they see in me. That creeping self-doubt is something I've gotten better at shaking off over the years, my own confidence and self-assurance slowly growing, and yet it still rears up too often. I still worry way too much about "looking dumb."
What a fucking waste, isn't it?
It is a waste of time and energy, of which I don't exactly have a ton to spare. But it's also been a waste of opportunities-- of discovery, of learning, of connecting with others, all because of fear of some imagined judgment that would probably never even come, or if it did would come from people whose judgement doesn't really matter anyway.
The funny thing is I have always felt more drawn to those who wear their quirks on their sleeve, unapologetically. Those who know they are different and embrace it. I admire that courage and strive for it. I'm much closer to that now than I was years ago, but I'm realizing just how much of that self-doubt and self-consciousness I still have that I can let go of.
In the book Karen, the author, interviews her friend Helen, and one part of their conversation really struck me:
I asked Helen if she noticed whether her newfound focus on authenticity and individuality had an effect on those around her-- for example, did she notice a difference at work?
"I believe, as a result, my career took off" she said..."it's very energy-intensive to constantly try to second-guess what it is people-- bosses, managers, coworkers or even friends-- are expecting of you, or how they want you to behave, or how you should look or act. I found that by focusing on my own inner strength, I was able to determine with far more clarity what I wanted out of my own career and my own life....By staying true to what felt authentic to me, I was able to focus on things around which I had a passion, and therefore I was more successful."
"Do you think people respected you more because of it?"
"I have no idea if people respected me more," she responded without hesitation. "The point is, I respected me more. And really, that's what counts, for me."
I've also picked up Brene Brown's Daring Greatly, which is about vulnerability and very much goes hand-in-hand with everything here, and which also feels like it will be filled with many lightbulb moments. These are lessons that are one thing to "know" on an intellectual level and a whole other beast to incorporate wholeheartedly. I also have a feeling that, if one can manage it, the payoff is very worth it.