Years ago, I wrote a poem titled “Bone China” about the frailty of assumption. I often experience people assuming things about me from a first impression, as do most of us.
How accurate are others’ first impressions of you? Usually, people find their assumptions of me lacking. It’s not the ignorance I enjoy, but the space between ignorance and learning the truth.
I’m a bit of a social chameleon. I learned this skill as an introvert’s survival tactic. It’s recently been useful in hostile work environs, too.
Blending in with scenery seems ideal when the notion of mere conversation stresses you out. Self-camouflage makes you appear less threatening to those individuals fearful of your firm will and more potent opinions. If you find yourself blending in out of fear of standing out, that’s another problem entirely.
Although I’ve recently learned the value of shutting up and putting up, as well as the benefit of intentional silence, concern for how you “should” be, is not a valid reason to silence yourself.
The immature need to fit in is a severe problem in this day and age. So many of us let fear hold us back. We stress the fabric of our realities by trying to match assumptions of how we should be.
The problem with blending in too much is you make yourself disappear. Worse still, you might forget yourself. Consider where you already are and how those in your life work with or against you.
For example, my strong opinions are only a problem when disconnected from logic and compassion. When I forget, I have honest friends who remind me to forgive and forget. I’ve also found a productive way to channel my passionate spirit in written words.
It’s not exactly how I want things to be, but I’m no longer straining myself to fit into an assumed version of my life, nor am I forcing myself or others into unnatural change. It’s amusing how our assumptions of reality overlook the impermanence of most situations.
The more we assume the world’s out to get us, blame external sources for our problems or indulge our self-centeredness, the more we pull on the ties that bind. These ties are those things that, when pieced together, form the pattern for our lives.
The struggle to meet persistent assumptions pulls at the woven threads of your reality. The dimensions of your world involve various threads: relationships, goals, values, basic needs, and so on. Each dimension may contain multiple threads, making it stronger and more integral to your life.
Others may be less plentiful but vital, decreasing the overall strain these threads can bear. These dimensions may fray if pulled on too often (i.e., you expect too much from a loved one).
The beauty of a broken thread is that it can be retied. It can be rewoven into the fabric of your reality. Another important thing: it can’t be erased.
The knot of the broken thread will always be there as a reminder. You can’t cut yourself off from certain parts of your life without consequences. It’s an important thing, not trying to forget something on purpose.
Fitting in too much strips the dye from threads. It slowly tugs at frayed edges and worries over previously tied knots. Fitting in for the sake of fitting in will unravel the pattern God made for you.
Tying knots, adding new threads, and maintaining the fabric of your life are transformative experiences. Secure your loose ends by living out the divine, grand design you’re a part of.
Leaving the Nest: A Story About Growing Up
Two years ago, I did the first adult thing I’ve done in a while: I signed my lease for my place.
In undergrad, I lived on campus all four years. Free room and board are some of the financial incentives for working as a community advisor.
When I graduated college, I moved back home with my parents. I needed to figure out where I was headed next and had no money to do this with.
If I were a butterfly, I’d still be in my cocoon as liquid mush. I’d be an undeveloped liquefied version of myself. Instead, I’m more like a bird. Sometimes.
My parents have spoiled me for the entirety of my life. They’ve bailed me out when they shouldn’t have and have been there for me when they certainly didn’t need to be.
It’s been mainly out of love and the desire for me to have what they believe I deserve. Most of our parents think this way, in some fashion. It’s how they act that’s critical.
Some parents don’t want us to leave their nests. They smother us with constant hovering and need to overprotect us from life’s harsh realities. We’re flightless birds in a downy world when not given a chance to fall.
My parents aren’t overly concerned, so I’ve been able to make my fair share of mistakes. They’ve provided more than their fair share of support and patience, which I’ll probably never fully repay. That doesn’t mean I won’t try, thus my transformation.
As to why I’m a butterfly (for this story) and not a bird: This latest transition was much less severe than a bird’s first flight.
Although the personal importance merits this same level of natural drama, I prefer the mariposa metaphor instead. My muse, also my roommate, signed the lease with me today. She mentioned these creatures’ migratory patterns; thus, their mental pertinence over previously flocked to avian analogies.
She mentioned the movements of monarch butterflies and their unchanged journeys, even after millennia. Their flight paths must be genetically encoded to remember key details, such as fallen mountains from ages past.
They merely divert westwards around where the landform used to be, despite its current nonexistence. This way, I like to think of myself, following those independent fliers’ patterns before me, pioneering a path predetermined, yet-still-changing.
I could go another way with this, of course. I could talk about the problems of never changing course and the inherent boredom which accentuates this in-the-box thinking. When it’s programming over prerogative, you need another comparison.
Birds might be a better fit, then. I’m still sticking with the butterflies because of their beautiful struggle. I’ll take blobby, amorphous me who’s still herself–forming and yet to emerge–before a flightless tragedy with clipped possibilities.
Today, two years later, I continue to regally champion my inner growth like a true monarch. The progress I’ve made on my migration has led to season after season of transformation. And I’m (more or less) getting used to being a blob in a chrysalis and then a winged creature the next.
Finding Strength in Vulnerability
Even though I’m on some metamorphic journey, there’s not predestined or genetically coded flight path for me (or anyone).
You can’t predict the sharp twists and turns of life, so you gotta keep yourself open to anything and everything. Growing into something strong means taking risks.
Most of my struggles come from within my head and heart. I’m blessed and cursed in that it makes people think I’m stronger than I feel. I often struggle to balance this assumed strength with my weaknesses.
I’ve called weaknesses demons, shadows, and other poetic obscurities. These are just metaphors for depression, shame, anxiety, and other mental health problems.
Open yourself up to the fact that you’re a flawed human being. Those flaws don’t necessarily define you, but they limit you if you’re closed to the truth of their existence. This openness is key to strengthening ourselves from within.
Strengthening my heart is essential for who I am. I took a hiatus after burning myself out last year. I was at a point where I called into question my innate gifts and vocation.
I’ve always had empathy and compassion within but wondering if my heart was strong enough to bear counsel was a sign. It was a sign I needed to work out the pains in my soul.
I’ve learned to be open. Do something that makes you want to get up every day. I find making things is the best way for me to connect with
Make something that helps you feel life’s energy. Creation is one of the most human and divine things you can do. Use your past as the canvas, plot twist, drumbeat, punchline of your next creation.
Uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure are critical for vulnerability. I’ve reflected spiritually on my need to embrace uncertainty and how much fear of uncertainty has limited me. Cursing the future and the unknown is only a waste of time and energy.
Your energy is better spent on greater risks for even greater rewards, knowing that the risks you take will bring you the unexpected. Wearing your heart upon your sleeve (i.e., emotional exposure) is one of the greatest risks you can take a few people will ever appreciate it to its fullest.
Some will gratefully embrace your love and return it in kind, but you’ll never meet them if you don’t expose yourself emotionally.
Openness isn’t roadkill for vultures. It’s not open season for gossip-mongers. Openness isn’t an excuse to dump your baggage onto others and overwhelm them. Openness shouldn’t be used as a smokescreen.
You get to pick and choose what you are and aren’t open about. I’m not advocating oversharing; don’t do that. Some things need time to bloom in your heart before you put them on display.
You can’t choose only to be open about the things you feel comfortable sharing. If you expect people to trust your sincerity and authenticity, you’ve got to be genuine with them. Don’t share only what’s easy, but what is meaningful.
Pour out your heart to a trustworthy friend. Be humble and ask for help. Otherwise, you might find the net only becomes more tangled the more you struggle.
What Does It Mean to Be Brave?
So often, people assume bravery and courage mean the same thing. And they don’t. Synonymous doesn’t translate to exact likeness but similarity.
The same applies to bravery and courage. I think one is more about action, while the other is more about feeling. I believe acts of bravery are sourced from the movements of courage within the heart.
I love to look at the etymological denotations of words and see how they’ve changed in interpretation and application over time.
Take bravery, which comes from the Latin barbarus, and translates to foreign or strange. Yet, bravery is defined as “courageous behavior or character” in a modern context.
When you read barbarus, the next word that comes to mind is barbarian, which historically has been the label of the ‘other’ or ‘uncivilized peoples’ or ‘invaders.’
(Maybe that’s why people like Braveheart so much. The crazy, uncivilized, barbaric Scotsman who saves the day, despite the incredible odds he faces. He has a brave heart, full of courage.)
Now, courage translates from the Latin cor or “heart.” This complicated organ has whole novels inspired by it.
I think the feelings within William Wallace’s heart accurately represent the modern definitions of courage as “the ability to do something that frightens one” and “strength in the face of pain or grief.”
If you can stare yourself in the face, despite the gnawing ache at your core, that’s bravery. The question is: can you face your pain or grief and muster the strength to overcome it?
I can’t say I’ve always felt like a brave person. I’ve felt like I’m chasing who I’m supposed to be for much of my life. I wasn’t courageous at heart and thus didn’t act bravely. I was no Merida or William Wallace.
I was the nervous, anxious little bookworm who read about others’ adventures. I don’t remember being outspoken, as much as bossy, critical, and controlling.
I’ll tell you what: Bravery doesn’t have time for control freaks. In my experience as a former perfectionist, feeling the need to control everything just means you’re afraid of everything you can’t control.
A Personal Resolution: An Anecdote on Maturity
Reality check: that’s life. On my thirteenth birthday, I resolved to act my age. I wanted to feel like a kid. I was sick of being told I was so mature for my age.
Maturity in middle school meant you weren’t cool or made friends with people who acted your age. Thank God for the great friends I had who had no problem with my seriousness.
After I made this personal resolution, life was much more enjoyable. I felt less and less like I was chasing who I was supposed to be. No longer was I chasing a mystical idea of how I should be, but letting God and my soul show me the way.
There are those who say fate is something beyond our command. That destiny is not our own, but I know better. Our fate lives within us; you only have to be brave enough to see it.Merida, Brave
As another brave Scot so aptly puts it, our fate lives within us. I finally began to feel, believe, and know this concept in high school and college.
My teenage friends saw me as this bold, bubbly, spontaneous girl who could light up a room effortlessly. I still was afraid all the time: of being alone, of embarrassing myself, of being myself, of doing the ‘right’ thing, of fitting in.
Adolescence is all about succumbing or overcoming your fears. And I did a little bit of both.
I began to understand the taste of feet somewhere in my freshman year when I told a boy I didn’t like. Now, that might be impressive enough as a fourteen-year-old, but there’s more.
I waited until the end of the school day when everyone was at their lockers in the freshman hall. I walked up to this boy, as he sat amongst his friends, and declared loudly, stupidly, shamelessly, and fearlessly, “I don’t like you,____.”
Mind you, I exclaimed this amidst his friends and within earshot of the several others. I’ve always had a voice that carries and did my voice ring out in the busy freshman hall that day.
Some might call this bravery, although I call it stupidity. But that’s okay. Growing pains are as much metaphorical as literal, and I’ve since learned not to be this publically ‘courageous’ with such juvenile matters.
Now, I can say I feel like a brave person. Anecdotal example aside, I’ve overcome much more since then. There are far too many examples in the years since this story.
I know now that one of the hardest things to do, especially as an adult, is to face yourself. That includes facing your mistakes, flaws, and so forth. That means sucking it up, buttercup, and persevering.
I feel brave because, in my heart of hearts, at my core, I feel courageous. The love of my people empowers me. The knowledge of my inherent worth lifts me.
I am alight with Christ’s light. I am free to send my demons back to hell from whence they came.
I’ve always known myself to be quite sensitive. I get in my feelings and my head-usually thinking about my feelings.
I enjoy introspection to some extent, as it provides wisdom and clarity when I forget myself. I found myself forgetting who I was, what I was worth, what I was capable of, and who I could be an awful lot during the last year.
And then I spent 60 days reminding myself that I deserve love. I wrote myself 40 love letters during some of the toughest times I’ve had since college. I might share those letters someday if I ever feel so inclined.
(I’ll eventually open them up when I need them most. Who knows when that’ll be?)
In the course of reminding myself how I deserve love, I got in touch with my feelings again. As an admittedly reactive person, losing touch with my emotions is synonymous with losing touch with myself.
That’s never any good for anyone, especially as my feelings are my way of connecting with the world. I wear my heart upon my sleeve, but I can’t do so when it’s obscured by fear and doubt. Disconnecting from feeling means disconnecting from people, specifically my intuition.
Think of a scholar without books, an orator without an audience; a dancer without music; a writer without a pen. My emotionality (i.e., empathy, intuition) is inherent to my being. I’d rather lose my mind or my sight before I lost the ability to feel.
I’ve lived in periods of numbness and isolation. I’ve even walled myself off from my heart when I was afraid of feeling too much.
Walling off my heart occurred in moments when the darkness and demons crowded in. They put the world in grayscale. They take my appetite. The air hangs, dead and empty. Sounds merely distract from the buzzing numbness within.
I’m doing what I can to not let this raw power of emotionality burn through me. As I’ve said before, empathy is my cross to bear.
Giving too much is my saving grace and what kills me, too. I’ve learned not to let as much get to me. I’ve had many strong, wise friends teach me how to dampen the outside noise to survive.
The hardest part is embracing this major part of me, with all its good and bad aspects. But I have the strength of heart (i.e., courage) to brave the demons which feast on my open heart. I have the power to soldier on.
I have the wisdom and humility to ask for help when I need it. I know this: I’m figuring it out, just as much as the next person. I will stumble, and fall, and get back up. I’m a lot to handle, and I have a whole lot of love to give.
I hope this week’s post helps you in some way. Thank you so much for following my blog and reading my stories. If you’re not already signed up, you’re missing out. You can find me on Facebook or get notifications via email.
2 thoughts on “Brave Yet Afraid”