I found this old photo of myself again today. It pops up every now and then. I think I was about 20 years old. I was so cool. I dressed cool. I looked cool. I said cool things. I did cool stuff.
Every time I look at old photos of myself I do that whole – I wish I still looked like that -thing, but only for about 60 seconds. I mean, let’s be real. When I looked like that, I wished I looked like someone else. I didn’t appreciate it. I didn’t love myself enough to appreciate it. I was in-fact not at all “cool”. I didn’t even know who I was. How would I be able to decide if I even liked myself without knowing who I was? So how could I be cool? I wasn’t unhappy. Not at all. I was just young and…unsettled. But really it has nothing to do with age. Or looks. Nothing at all.
Unsettled. Like waiting for customer service to come back on the line with the life changing solution you were hoping for after putting you on hold 10 times. “If they fix my phone my life will be so much easier.”
Can I place you on a brief hold?
I was always trying to be somewhere else, be someone else, do something different. I never settled. I don’t mean that in the sense of “Strive for more. Never settle.” I mean that in the sense that I rarely felt content. I rarely felt at peace.
The girl in the picture was afraid of being alone, people not understanding her, people judging her, people thinking she wasn’t “smart”. The biggest thing she was afraid of was changing who she is for someone else.
So what did she do?
She changed over and over again. For years. For so many other people.
Why? Well because even though she was terrified someone would change her…check out the beginning of that list of fears. Those things can’t live in the same brain without a circular effect. A vicious, vicious circular effect.
If you are afraid of being alone and afraid people will judge you but you are also afraid people will change you then how can you make sure you don’t die alone and make sure people don’t misunderstand you without changing who you are… (insert imaginary frustrated scream here…and still screaming…maybe some dramatic head clutching). How did that feel?
Unsettled. Unsettled for sure.
I was optimistic and hopeful and motivated. I was daring and adventurous. I was all that good stuff for sure. The girl in that picture made me who I am today. But if I stayed her, I would not realize how lucky I am today. How “cool” I am today. That girl never really…just WAS.
And I still WASN’T until about 3-5 years ago.
Now there were moments in life (from about 10 years ago until now) where I felt like I had finally settled. And I think I had. But it didn’t stick.
I was in the process of ending a very toxic and short relationship with someone who most certainly hadn’t settled. That is a whole other post (and carefully written to avoid backlash and legal issues which is why my timeframe is super vague. There were a couple of “winners” over the years so it could be anyone. Yay me!).
The process ended up changing (really remembering what I learned and using it finally) just about every aspect in my life. I started exercising again, started painting again, started spending time with friends regularly, decided to change some goals at work, started helping people, spending time with family, feeling confident again and finally ending the toxic relationship. Anyway, I think I had lost myself so much during that (thankfully) short relationship that when I did finally end it my brain decided it would not be able to handle something like that again. My heart agreed and eventually (about a year or so after) I met D when I still thought I didn’t want a relationship and certainly was not looking for one. I definitely didn’t need one. I was happy. All of this made me even happier. So I started doing more of the things I loved and found new things I loved and found people who loved the same things. I felt (I feel) alive. And I finally felt (I finally feel) settled.
The list in the above paragraph sounds like a list of things (minus meeting D of course) everyone does after a break-up. And this isn’t about a break up. Those are not the things that actually changed. They are all true but it was something (or a few things) different that made me approach everything differently and see everything differently.
It’s hard to explain exactly what being settled feels like but I will try.
Maybe I was so sick of talking so much about that stupid bad relationship. I think I was really just sick of just talking and telling people about myself. I started listening. Like really listening. I stopped worrying about what someone would think of me and just listened. It’s amazing what you learn about yourself when you stop thinking and talking so much. You realize how much you actually do understand about life and how much you can help people. Then something else happens. You start understanding people more because you are listening and watching and paying attention. You start helping people by giving them a friend and ways to help themselves. This is different than worrying all the time and doing things to try to make other people happy. Or doing things you think will make other people happy. You start to recognize who you are to other people and how they feel about you. This helps you make valuable friendships. It also makes you feel really good. Then you do end up talking again. But now you understand who you are talking to and you can choose to talk to people who want to hear about the real you and no matter what you say (unless you are a complete asshole), they still love you. They love you as your friend, your sister, or whatever you are to them. It also helps ditch the fear of losing friendships or relationships.
Sometimes we hang on to things because we think they are what we want but it’s the idea we love and not that particular person or relationship. We aren’t paying attention or listening. We are just pushing a ton of our own energy into something that will never change. We can’t change other people. We can’t change a relationship. We can change our reactions to other people. We can change how we communicate. We can choose what relationships to continue or end.
When you listen and pay attention you realize that when some relationships and friendships end, it isn’t a loss. It is a relief. You are not sad when it ends. You are more than just ok when it ends. You are better.
Now you can be yourself. You know the people you are dealing with and you can be yourself. This gives a confidence that no diet, exercise or typical resolution can give. You start believing that everything is ok now and will always be ok. No matter what you have to go through. You start remembering what you have been through and that you are strong enough to not only survive but to help other people. You start feeling settled.
I do understand how lucky I am. I have been able to meet and become friends with some of the most amazing and inspiring people in the world. People who have had to overcome unimaginable things. People who have actually survived being almost burned to death, almost decapitated, lost limbs, lost sight, people who thought they would never walk again, people who will never walk again. People who faced their fears to save the lives of others. People who survived cancer and the horrible pain and sickness the treatments caused, people who are still sick and living, people who don’t feel sick but their bodies don’t respond to what their brain is asking, people who have lost spouses and children and sometimes their entire family. So many awesome people and so many different stories. Pain and suffering is relative. There is no harder life or better story. There is, however, a lot to learn and a lot to appreciate from and in others. Spend some time helping others, listening to others. It will help and mean something to them and you will be surprised how much it really does feed your soul. You will learn more about yourself than you can imagine. Those people want to hear your story too. It does the same thing for them.
I don’t want to look like anyone else now (aside from my younger self in those occasional quick moments). I like how I look. Don’t misunderstand…that is not to say that I am not SUPER excited that I am losing fat and feeling a million times better now that I am back in my regular routines. That feels amazing and I am excited to feel even more amazing. But there is something to consider here. As I think back, I never felt like that before. No matter what shape I was in, I always wished I looked different. The reason is because I was not settled. It really had nothing to do with what I looked like. That would have never mattered then. I was too afraid of what everyone else thought. I would have never liked how I looked. But remember, this is not about looks. No diet or exercise resolution will fix how you feel about yourself if you are not being honest with yourself and who you are. This is not about looking like an old photo or someone in a magazine. This is about feeling settled.
Listen. Be quiet and listen.