“Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion.” – Rumi
“No gifts needed. Please bring a personal story to share,” read the invitation.
Those words turned excitement about a celebration into nervous anticipation. What did I have to share? I don’t have any stories, at least none that anyone would want to hear.
This invitation caught me at a time when I was already feeling a little lost, inadequate, and stuck. In short, I was feeling like an imposter. If I am being fully honest, this can be what my mind looks like many days.
I thought (agonized) about this story as the date arrived. I considered how I would portray myself and just how much of the actual me I should reveal. I tried to guess the host’s expectations. Did she want to be entertained? Moved? Inspired? I tried to account for what others would think if I somehow missed the mark.
I questioned whether I am who I say I am or if I am who I am supposed to be.
I arrived at this party uncertain about the words I would say. I watched everyone greet one another looking so confident and calm, while I felt out of place. I search my brain for that perfect story, the one that is somehow me without revealing too much, and I secretly hoped that I would be skipped.
Expectations are Limiting
This process can be all too common for any of us. Wondering who we are expected to be and whether who we actually are is good enough, we can avoid the situations where we might be revealed.
Our pasts teach us what is acceptable, what is expected, whose feelings need to be considered, and how to be appropriate, pleasing, and acceptable. All too often we’ve learned to make ourselves smaller and to change our true colors to fit in. We construct our personal story from this rubric, and we evaluate ourselves based on these rules. In the end, we are not quite ourselves, and it can feel like we just don’t belong anywhere.
Permission to Come as You Are
The host of the party had thoughtfully assembled gift bags with a personal note for each of us. Inside of mine, she’d written, “Not all who wander are lost.”
I was startled by this. Somehow I’d been seen. I felt exposed, and vulnerable, yet, there was also something freeing and inviting about this.
We are allowed to not know. You see, imperfection and uncertainty aren’t weaknesses or flaws, they are simply part of being.
Living can be a bit like wandering as we try to find our true selves. We’re not always sure where we’re headed, so we go in one direction and then maybe another. Sometimes the road gets rocky, but we carry on. These steps into the unknown take courage and trust in ourselves.
Living can also feel a lot like being lost when we try to force ourselves into a space that’s not meant for us. Trying live by everyone’s expectations to please or impress them is like walking through this journey in someone else’s shoes, too sizes too small and pinching us the whole way. We walk through the pain, assuming that it is us that doesn’t fit rather than seeing that this pain means that we are meant for bigger things.
What Vulnerability Looks Like
Shaking and flushed, I realized that this, this moment of permission to be seen as I am, was my story. So I began talking, not the safe story or the funny story, but the real story of that moment. I talked about feeling lost, feeling inadequate, and feeling unsure of what I was trying to say. I talked about how this was supposed to have gone – telling a brilliant story that would impress and entertain.
This was a pivotal moment for me, and each time I reflect on it I draw new meaning from the experience. To me, this was a story about trust and vulnerability. It is a story about doubts, insecurities, and courage.
We all have stories like this, whether we recognize them or not. Each of us has an awesome potential inside. We are so much more than we can see, and we don’t need to do anything fancy to be that person. We don’t need to be the most impressive, the best dressed, or the most entertaining. All we need to do is show up, as we are, and simply be there.
This is what vulnerability and courage look like. It is coming as you are and opening yourself to the moment, as imperfect as you may be. This is what it looks like when you give yourself permission to take up space, hold the floor, and let go of the need to be certain.
With that story, I said the things that I had previously thought might be too much. I shared insecurities. I let on that I wasn’t sure where I was going with it. I even shed tears. I’m still standing, and I am the stronger for it.
Share your story. Who are you when you simply come as you are?
Dr. Leslie Ralph is a clinical psychologist specializing in anxiety, self-esteem and confidence, perfectionism, and performance-related concerns. She is inspired by people’s stories and passionate about helping others live with more authenticity. You can read more about her thoughts on finding peace and living beyond expectations on her blog, Openly Being. You can find out more about working with her at Psych Evolved and follow her on Twitter or FB.
Image courtesy of Misty Pittman.