This year has been the most life changing year I have experienced thus far. Not because I met the person of my dreams or had a baby. This year has changed my life because I have stopped following other peoples’ rules and expectations for me and I have embraced being real. Now granted, 2017 has offered more joy and more pain that I could even imagine. Tough skin has never been(and likely will never be) my forte. This year had its ups and down. When it was good, it was sooooo good. The opposite is also true. And lordy, I felt it all. Yet the biggest goal and struggle I have faced is learning to truly love and embrace my authentic self. In this post, I will discuss 5 Things I Let Go in 2017: A Woman’s Guide to Authenticity.
A Preface of Burden
Listen, I don’t have everything figured out. I may (or may not) have learned quite a few lessons in my 31 years of life. But far be it from me to shake my finger at another and shame you for losing yourself in this world. Being a woman is tough stuff. Being an authentic person is even more of a challenge. From early on, we are socialized with a heavy burden of patriarchy and puritanism. We learned to lose our voice. To adapt to the needs of others. We learned to set aside desire for duty. We felt the great strain of first wave Feminism drawing us out to advance our careers and yet we feel the real weight of being overtaxed emotionally and over-committed to various roles and activities. All the while, feeling a certain level of anxiety of “This is it???”
I cannot take credit for this original thought. My mediocre attempt to convey the oppression of women has been put more eloquently by smarter people before me. Research points out that women have higher rates of depression and anxiety. They have higher levels of pressure to maintain career and family and be an amazing wife, sister, neighbor, mother, etc. These inevitably doomed standards paired with lower wages, high expectations for achievement, and a deep-seeded notion that we are STILL not doing enough is a recipe for death. Death of our souls, our dreams, and our true nature.
The Female Dramedy
Granted, I don’t pretend to speak for every woman. While we are all woven together, my perspective is bespeckled with my own experiences. I have been harassed, victimized, shamed, manipulated, and gaslighted. I have been dismissed, ignored, and taken for granted too many times to count. I’m not trying to conjure sympathy. After all, surely there are more important things to tackle like hunger, poverty, and racism, right?
As a feminist, I do care about the suffering of the oppressed. I care about those who have less, whether it’s social or tangible. I am not advocating that anyone stops caring about the plight of others. However, my priority in life is to care first about my own suffering and free myself from whatever shambles I may have acquired. One of the sneaky sneaky ways that women have been socialized is to put themselves aside for the good of others. To minimize their own needs. To come up with various reasons that they can’t or should not have what they want. I call this the Female Dramedy.
It’s tragedy for the obvious reasons. We aren’t meant to live life appeasing others. It’s a terrible way to stifle our minds, talents, and gifts. The fact that this is the norm is even more depressing. We internalize this role for so long we feel it is normal. And if we deviate, someone somewhere (or our own selves) will put us back in line. With shrewd remarks like “selfish bitch” we become a social pariah. And if we are sensitive, it causes us to retreat back, timid with shame.
The comedy of this condition is that we are smarter than this. We are brighter, stronger, and more resilient. Like the robots that reach sentience and rebel against their counterparts, women have long awaited to be freed from ancient subduing.
5 Things I Let Go to Embrace Authenticity
I haven’t mastered the goal of perfect authenticity. And each day has its own provocation, some with victories and some with loss. I have made conscious strides to let go of that which was not serving me. Certain things have helped me to unlock buried treasure, the treasure that was already within me. Certain aspects of my life were causing me turmoil and were only perpetuating the cultural oppression. Here are the 5 Things I Let Go of in 2017.
1. I let go of obsessing about my appearance.
Look, I still shave my legs and I still bathe. I enjoy taking care of my body, like nourishing my skin with good lotion, pampering, getting exercise, etc. But I let go of the need to always wear makeup when I left the house. I stopped weighing myself entirely. I stopped judging myself (for the most part) based on my appearance. Instead, I started focusing on how I felt. A certain amount of freedom comes from worrying less about your appearance. It’s like shedding a layer of very heavy, thick clothes. I feel so much more comfortable in my skin. I don’t feel I need to hide my body or face and I don’t feel I need to flaunt it for approval either. All I need is to feel good about myself, which comes from so much more than the surface.
2. I let go of trying to “keep up” with everyone else.
I have seen everyone around me getting married, landing (and keeping) good jobs, having 2 or 3 kids, traveling abroad. It was hard not to wonder what I was doing wrong. Or worse, what’s wrong with me. My life didn’t look like this. And it didn’t feel like I was nearly as happy as everyone seemed in their Instagram or Facebook posts.
I had only recently graduated with my Master’s and already felt “behind.” I was always striving to get somewhere, to gain some elusive social approval. Finally, enough was enough. I had to cut the cord with social comparison. To bravely embrace authenticity, I had to care less about what others thought of me. I had to let go of trying to fit the mold and follow the path of so many others. This year, I made it a priority to accept that I was going to march to the beat of my own drum.
3. I quit my soul-sucking job and let go of a career path which demanded high levels of self-sacrifice.
Quitting my job (with no plan to get another one) was probably the scariest and most exhilarating thing I have ever done. In January of this year, I did exactly that. You can read more about that here. Ultimately, I had to listen to my gut and my own needs which were blaring at me “Get the hell outta here!” I needed some time to clear out the negativity that had been building for years. I would dread waking up for work every morning. Every day I would leave work feeling completely drained, mentally and emotionally. I was feeling irritable, fragile, and had little energy for anything I truly loved or enjoyed. That is no way to live, people!
The career path I had chosen (for complicated reasons I will not go into here) felt empty. I was constantly caring for the needs of others (ie counseling, social work) but it took a toll. Once I quit and took a step back, I realized there were other, more fulfilling avenues I could pursue. Other paths that did not require intense stress and pain of helping people with their most difficult life problems. It was such as relief to know I wasn’t stuck in a career path that could have damn near killed me. I let it go and felt so much more hopeful and free.
4. I let go of the need to follow the rules.
As a woman, we follow rules and prescriptions, often blindly. I had internalized messages that if I follow the rules, I was deserving of love and acceptance. If I disappointed someone, god forbid, I felt like a failure. It was imperative for me to let go of this poisonous mindset.
I stopped trying to fit the mold. No more following the unspoken rules about matching clothing, appropriate times to wake up in the morning, how often to eat, and whether it was okay for me to be at square one at age 31. I cared less about whether or not I was living up to the standards of society, the subtle expectations to have a partner and a baby by now. Honestly, the less expectations I have to fulfill, the more energy I have to give to things that actually matter. Like if I am making time for projects, hobbies, and health practices that serve me. Thus, letting go of all of the unnecessary rules and expectations in society, albeit slightly rebellious, helped me to get in tune with my true authenticity
5. I let go of making excuses for why I was stuck.
While it’s easy to place the blame on various social/cultural issues, the realization was that I was causing a lot of my own suffering by buying into the bullshit. I was pushing myself. I was criticizing myself. And I was blaming my job, my environment, Trump, religion. Anything to externalize the guilt and shame I was feeling for not living up to some idealized standard, real or imagined. Ultimately I was playing the part of the “victim” and I wasn’t doing much about it.
Generally, I have always been an advocate for change, but more on an individual level rather than a broad context. Change takes time but making excuses only keeps you in the situation or mindset that kills your spirit. I no longer wanted to feel disempowered and helpless to change my experience. Finally, I decided to take some responsibility for my happiness and be willing to boldly do what was necessary. I let go of all of the excuses keeping me where I didn’t want to be. And more importantly, keeping me from my authentic, true self.