I’ve always known who I am with a singular certainty.
With an unerring loyalty to the definition I’d given myself, I lived my life determining all the aspects that added up to me. I feared change — and not just the external ones I could not control. I feared becoming a person I wouldn’t recognize. A caterpillar, never imagining the existence of butterflies. A fragile glass, never imagining the beauty in being broken, or the bewitching wonder of a mosaic.
I was intimately familiar with my own thoughts, with what I believed, and with the way I would live my life. When I felt a tug of something other, when I wanted too much or too different, then I hid it well. The change would not come for me if I didn’t let it.
I wonder sometimes why I thought being stunted was more desirable than growth.
But life happened to me — as life does if we’ll let it. I was shaken out of my complacency. Life threw down the gauntlet: Would I continue wasting years of my life, or would I finally embrace it and make it my own? Not a thin, fragile thing handed to me that never fit but something lush and wild and wonderful and meant only for me.
Sometimes, I think the start of my slow evolution came at a book club.
Picture it: a small bookstore nestled in the heart of Woodstock, Georgia, an adorable fox blazoned on the logo of the shop, a vintage door turned charmingly into a counter, an array of wonderful books just within reach, and a group of women gathered for the shared love of reading. They chose Lost Horizon, and I found myself swept up in the story. I read it once. I read it again. I began asking myself what I would do if I had unlimited time. I began asking myself how I would live if I could choose.
Because it didn’t seem to occur to me that I could choose.
My life felt scripted, everything chosen for me. My religion. The order of my education from high school to post-graduate work. A marriage. A house. Children. Ticks in boxes. Work, work, work. Squeeze joy in between. Live, breathe, work, die.
But my life was largely absent of meaningful relationships. Joy felt outside of my reach. Romance was a genre of books I read. My life certainly contained none of it.
I decided who I was, and I was staying within that strict definition. Even after I outgrew the marriage and the jobs and the life I had before, even when I began those first steps into the life I live now, I put myself in boxes. I told myself a story. I allowed myself only the kind of growth that I’d already decided would be right for me.
So, when a global pandemic upset all my careful plans, I had to learn myself anew. I began to question everything. I began to look at the life I created and asked if it still fit. I asked if it could fit better. I asked myself what I really wanted it to be.
And I asked myself who I am now.
My favorite color had changed, and I didn’t even realize it. My favorite flower had shifted, too. My style was changing. My thoughts were opening. My interests turned in new directions. I stopped telling myself who I should be and started getting curious about who I am now, in this moment. And then asking again when the moment changes.
I am no less steadfast, but I am not rigid. I am learning to flow and to grow in the life I’ve created for myself. I am not following anyone’s plan, and I’m only loosely shaping my own. I am allowing for possibilities, for opportunities, and for magic to assert itself. I am fearlessly open to my potential in a way maybe I never was before. Today, I am grounded, serene, and ready for whatever beauty this moment can offer.
Sometimes, I think we decide who we are, and that’s the end of it. We commit ourselves to our favorite things like we’re not allowed to change them. We commit ourselves to relationships, even if they drain us. We commit ourselves to the lives we think we should be living and give up the dreams of the ones we’d choose if we could.
And we can.
We can choose. Not just those large and often overwhelming life decisions. We get to choose how to shape our lives — if we do so intentionally.
It starts with choosing our routines, the ways in which we choose to shape our time. We can decide to wake up to a full glass of chilled water or a stretch or a thought of gratitude. We can choose to end our days with the routines we set for ourselves. We think the time is not our own, and yet we can fashion it if we consider what we want and how to achieve it.
I say that as a single mother who has struggled this year to work from home and homeschool and deal with the behaviors of children who have had challenges of their own. There’s so much that’s outside of my control — but so much within it as well. I look at my day and shape it around what I need, what they need, and how we can have the life I want for us as a family. Sometimes, I try and fail, but I never stop trying.
We’re learning to appreciate the small moments, the little often-unnoticed beauty around us. I’m learning as I go. They’re learning through me.
And it’s changing me. For once, I am not resistant to the change. Instead, I welcome it. I wonder who I’ll be next, how many possibilities are just waiting inside me to be recognized.
I’m no longer an adolescent intent on defining myself by a handful of characteristics. I’m no longer an adult, foreclosing on my identity because I don’t think I get to break away from what everyone else wants me to choose. I am a woman, growing into something I never anticipated and, for once, embracing the process.
We can decide that we already know exactly who we are. We can say it with confidence and move through life, never-changing. But think what would happen if we got curious and allowed ourselves to explore all the little fascinations we have in life, think of all those beautiful possibilities just waiting for us to notice them!
Crystal Jackson is a former therapist turned author. Her work has been featured on Medium, Elephant Journal, Elite Daily, and The Good Men Project. She’s also the author of Left on Main, the first book in the Heart of Madison series. When she’s not writing for Medium and working on her next book, you can find Crystal traveling, paddle boarding, running, throwing axes badly but with terrifying enthusiasm, hiking, doing yoga, or curled up with her nose in a book in Madison, Georgia, where she lives with her two wild and wonderful children.
Image courtesy of Taylor Smith.