Rectifying What I knew: Who am I?

I read something pivotal last night.

Sam Ovens was doing an interview with Forbes about self-starting, business and becoming an entrepreneur. He made a statement that struck me…

He said that the question of “Who am I?” never made sense to him. He said it was limiting, leaving no hope for the future.

This was one of the most freeing statements I’ve ever heard.

As I work through this process of self-development and examination, I feel this sense of guilt.

This is who you are.

We didn’t raise you to be this way.

You are ________ (insert quality that I showcased in childhood).

I have been held captive by that question. When faced with the idea of change, who I was has always won out.

Instead, Ovens suggests posing a new question.

Instead of asking “Who are we”, we should change the question to “Who are we becoming?”

While I do believe nurture is important, and it’s important to remember where you came from, the question is freeing.

It ellicits change.

It brings new seasons.

It encourages planning of your life.

What a freeing feeling.

I can’t answer it, yet. But I think I’m asking the right question.

Back then, I thought I knew who I was. Now, I realize I haven’t arrived at that person yet.

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Rectifying What I Knew: The Luxury of Choice

For 33 years, so much of my life has been given away.

Many decisons were not actually pitched as “mine”.  In reality, I grew up thinking I had very little control over the world I was living inside of and how things worked out.

I grew up being taught to submit. For some, this may have been fine. For me, I took the need to submit as the antithesis to taking control.

In big decisions, I was submitting to Gods will. If something didn’t work the way I wanted, I didn’t analyze it to make improvements. I simply passed the responsibility onto God, assuring myself it just wasn’t “in his plan”.

The new job I wanted? Just not Gods will…

Getting the house we wanted? It was in Gods will…

But passing the responsibility steals the ability to improve and own our actions.  Perhaps I didn’t get the job because I wasn’t as qualified and need to adjust my search. Perhaps the house worked out because we adjusted our finances to ensure we could do it.

When I gave up control, I passed the responsibility of growth onto someone else…most notably God.

Self-improvement was a big deal, for sure. The concept of overcoming sin is one that is quite heavily preached in Christian circles.   But how I went about it was in the unhealthiest of ways:

1) Identify an area where I need to change, using guilt as the motivator.

2) Pray for God to change me.

3) When I didn’t change, pray harder, internalize more guilt, and dig in. When I did change, praise God.

At no point did I believe that I had control over my own being. In reality, it stifled my ability to dream, because every action and decision was based on Gods will, and he would bring things into my life when He saw fit.  It led to a passive way of living life.

I’m sure other people don’t internalize these in the same way. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach, but for me, I’m undoing my damage.

Not only did this reliance on God really manifest in my life, but I was also taught relational submission.  This was most notably to authority figures, and would later include my husband. 

I grew up believing that whatever I wanted had to be filed behind those in authority…my needs and desires were always second. I trusted people, because I was taught that I should put their desires, needs, and wishes first. I was taught that they had wisdom and I didn’t. I wasn’t taught to question authority. Just to trust it.

And I gave up power over my life. Little by little. 

This led me into an intense, damaging situation where I trusted a person in authority that gave me deep scars in my adolescent years.  For years, I practiced putting myself second and not knowing how to handle myself in these endless interactions. I was never empowered to identify wrong actions, because I was always taught to submit. The ability to trust blindly and give up control has severely impacted my life.

It’s amazing to me what I accepted in the name of trusting authority. Submitting. Filing myself under.

In order to submit, you must give something up. While I do think relationships are give and take and no one can be out for themselves all the time, I also believe that holding to who I am and mutually submitting is very different than what I internalized as a younger person.

Before I got married, I was taught to submit to my husband. I was taught to “file my needs and desires” under my husband’s.  I read books, listened to sermons, and journaled game plans. While we both subscribed to this in the early years, it didn’t take long for him to recognize how deeply unhealthy this was, and to push me to rethink this philosophy.My husband desires me to submit less so I can offer who I am more. What a tumultuous process, but one I will be eternally grateful he took on for my sake.

As I shift, I am learning just how much power I have. Honestly, I am so angry that I’m learning this so late. I would have made different career choices. I would have gotten the authority figure fired within a week of inappropriate actions. I would have thought harder about the direction I wanted my life to go instead of passively waiting for it to come to me.

I would have enjoyed offering me rather than just my “yes.”

Then, I thought forced, weak submission was my calling. Now, I know having control over my life and decisions is vital to be healthy, productive and loving to those who are in my life. 

Rectifying What I Knew: The Silencing of My Opinions

I have always been a “safe” person…

I’ve always appreciated knowing where the lines are and coloring inside of them.

I’ve always sought out the standard and worked hard to meet it.

I’ve always needed to know what other people thought, and took their advice, insight, or thoughts.

Until recently, I didn’t realize how flawed these “good qualities” can actually be. I haven’t noticed how much damage has been done.

Now, I’m learning.

I spent my life growing up with conservative Christian perspectives and knowing clearly what was right and wrong. In my world, there was no grey. I’m sure others can walk out of that same experience and not see things the same way, but for me, it was quite clear: There was a right and a wrong way to do life and that right and wrong was given to you by someone else (the church). All decision-making about my actions, beliefs, and Conclusions was beyond me. I just had to look to the right place, the right people, and the right passages to figure out what was best.

I’m not sure if this is wrong yet, but to me, it was stunting. I had very little to say about what I did, what I chose, and how I acted. I learned very little about myself as a result, and he opinion of people in my church was MH paramount concern.

I did the same thing socially…I looked for the lines to color inside, the approval from others, and the signals that I was a good friend, wife, family member, etc. I can’t think of a less healthy habit to bring into a marriage, but that is exactly what I did.

Social situations meant so much. They provided stress…not because I didn’t like people but because I always felt so busy and anxious reading others to be what the situation called for in that moment.

I would ensure other people had high opinions of myself without ever asking if I had a high opinion of myself.

As I seek this process through, learning about myself, the process I find most difficult is asking myself what I want, what I think, and what I like. For so long, those things just didn’t matter…they were secondary to what others wanted, thought and liked.

I long to be a woman who offers herself fully, aware that she can’t please everyone, sick of trying, and more authentic. To me, this deepest desire is perhaps the hardest lesson to Learn, as I can’t even identify where my old habits are currently tied into my being.

So, I will keep seeking out how to not disrespect myself by allowing others opinions to matter more than myself.

Slowly. One moment at a time.

Back then, I thought I had to learn who I was by valuing the thoughts, opinions, and perspectives of others. Now, I know that finding those internally is a much more authentic and worthwhile pursuit.

Rectifying What I Knew: Limits

Most of this blog is simply for me.

It serves as a place for me to organize a bunch of thoughts swimming in my head. A place to order my priorities. A place to own some of these views a bit more than I have in the past.

As a result, some of these posts are quite simple. They are truths many people have heard for years, and I’m certainly not an exception to that. I simply haven’t fully applied them.

I am learning, though. However, it’s painfully  slow.

When I was growing up, my mindset shaped everything, as everyone’s does. It is just taking me 33 years to unravel it.

My decisions, thoughts and beliefs were based upon some guiding emotions, all of which I accepted.

Perfection was my aspiration.

Fear of failure was my motivation.

This led me to constantly asking the question “How far is too far?”

  •  In my strict Christian upbringing, I would find out just how far was too far and tiptoe on the line, fearful of crossing and guilty for wanting to cross.
  • In my personal goals, I would look at my natural abilities and push myself within my limits. I would ask the questions of personal limits and would try to find success with in that.
  • In the years of forming an identity (and this one is key) I would adopt a boundary-based mindset. I would see myself within the confines of my boundaries and limits, and I never tested those limits. This, I believe now, is one of the greatest problems with this mindset.

As I sort through these things at 33, identifying them is key. Challenging my preconceived limits is vital. And yet, there has to be a fundamental change in my mindset, which is honestly much easier said than done.

Then, I asked the question of “Where are the/my/our limits?”

Now, I am learning to ask the new question of “How do I push beyond my limits?”

Common sense? Of course! Simple to execute for a fearful, boundary-ridden, failure averse person? Not at all!

As I ask the question, my identify starts to push outside of the walls I have constructed for 33 years.

For me, this isn’t fast.

This isn’t a sudden epiphany.

It’s just breathing in a bigger space. Learning to live a little larger. And giving up a little bit more control.

Then, I was concerned about finding and keeping my limits. Now, I’m concerned with expanding them. 

Rectifying What I Knew: Controlled Challenges

Recently, I shared a fundamental truth on how I used to (and still have the tendency, honestly) to retreat from anything that could involve failure.

To me, failure was always negative.

It meant I had tried and wasn’t enough.

It meant I had dreams I couldn’t actually reach.

It meant I disappointed others, even though this was more my perception than reality.

My problem was I never learned to fail. And as a result, I never took on any challenge that could cause failure.

Don’t get me wrong: I worked hard. I was drove to success, but predominantly because of fear of failure. I entered a career path that seemed natural for me, due to my skill set, and I plowed ahead to be the best. My challenges, success and failures were fairly managed and controlled by logical choices, not the desires of my heart, my natural self, or big dreams.

I do love my career path, but I have found myself wondering if I would have chosen it if I wasn’t so scared of challenges. If I really believed in my ability to succeed, would I have chosen something bigger, scarier & riskier?

Honestly, I can’t tell. Most days, I think I probably would have and other days I think I may not. But if I had the ability to not shy away from failure, but lean in, my choice would have been more pure.

Fear wouldn’t have been the driver. Choice and heart would have been.

So what does that mean now?

I am learning to break down the hand-holding between my fear of failure and my fear of challenges that actually leave me wondering if I can succeed.

I’m seeking opportunities to risk something, consciously reminding myself I will fail.

I’m learning from those individuals, authors and bloggers who seem to walk through life welcoming challenges and uncertainty of success. I’m learning these people exist and have a far healthier self-acceptance.

I’m learning that I should discount this idea of coasting in adulthood and surviving. That I should lean in to progress personally, professionally and emotionally.

And I’m learning these areas of growth don’t come without challenges and failure.

Then, I used to think that I needed to levy my time to embrace challenges that were relatively easy to find success with, natural or a sure-bet. Now, I’m learning true self-development happens when you keep embracing challenges, lean into the possibility of failure, and come out the other side.

Rectifying What I Knew: Failure

I am a perfectionist, in every sense of the word.

I worked to be good at whatever I did. I would stay up at night nervous about getting a “B” on a test. I would overthink scenarios and situations. I would run myself into the ground when I first started my career, fearful of not getting everything right.

I believed that failure wasn’t an option.

That mindset is so limiting. I know that. However, it has been almost impossible for me to overcome. After all, I don’t fail.

The idea that I could not realize how devastating and limiting that mindset has been until recently shows just how unaware and closed I have been. For me, the idea that failure could mold me was foreign.

It’s not as if I didn’t hear people saying “it’s ok to fail.” I just didn’t see people actively living that out. People seemed to go for the sure bet in life, which minimized public failure.

As a result, I was taught to have the safe career, safe choices, and safe life.

I had heard inspirational sayings such as “You’ll miss 100% of the shots you don’t take,” but I never saw anyone taking shots of their own.

Perhaps there were people around me risking and failing, but it was silent.

So now, I’m learning that my fear indicates that I’m scared to fail. I’m realizing that I absolutely cannot progress as a person without some degree of failure. And I’m learning in that moment, I must lean in and learn whichever lessons my upcoming, inevitable failure will teach me.

What I thought I knew was that failure was a sign of weakness. Now I know it brings strength.

Rectifying What I Knew: My Primary Value

It feels ridiculous to be writing some of these blog posts at 33 years of age. The topics I am processing through have impacted my life in monumental ways, and yet as I type the words, I can’t help but think “Well, of course that is wrong!” Cutting ties with the words and ideas is one thing…identifying how deeply raveled these views are in my life is something completely different.

Lately, I’ve had some health issues, and these personal issues have really forced me to be aware of the ability to have children. I’m 33, enjoying life right now, but mindful that I would like to have children eventually.

Last night, I broke down. I have had some new symptoms, signaling my present issues may be a longer-term issue, which could drastically effect our future plans for a family of our own in the near future. As I laid my head in my hands and sobbed with my husband last night, these words left my mouth:

“I don’t even know why you would stay married to me if this is a problem forever. It’s possible that I can’t do the one thing I’m supposed to do.”

Honestly, the words felt wrong as soon as they left my mouth. My husband was calm and encouraging, calling out my thinking and reassuring me. But in this deep emotional moment, everything laid bare, these words revealed everything about my deepest fears and emotions.

I grew up in the 90’s and 00’s, in a very conservative Christian church. As a young girl, there were so many messages given.

Submission

Modesty

Serving others

Meekness

Preparing yourself for marriage

Preparing yourself to be a mother

Perhaps time has changed in some ways, but my experience was deep and impactful on my upbringing. I clearly came out of adolescence focused on being an amazing wife and having an amazing family.

That’s how you “arrive”.

That’s how you have Value.

That’s a “life of sacrifice worth living”.

Books were written on preparing for marriage and a family. Blogs were pushed on how to follow mothers who “had it together”. Social media became the way spiritual women showed how wonderful their families were, and how joyous (yet exhausted) they were. The messaging was clear.

We have already bucked the system, and we have definitely received pushback. We have been married for 8 years and haven’t pushed for kids yet. We have focused on our careers, our short and long-term goals, our growth, and learning to live in the moment. However, we have always known we would have a family some day. People told us we hadn’t “arrived” yet, we were “unrealistic” about getting our finances in order, “going though a phase” or “being selfish”. I’ve learned to let these things go, but it took awhile.

But the idea that I could honestly believe that my value to my husband and myself was based upon having children revealed a huge theological flaw for me.

Yes.

These emotions of worry and fear are normal.

The pain is real.

But the belief that I am minimized to my ability to “put myself second” to become a mother is not something I want to subscribe to, but find everywhere I look.

The real problem is this:

I grew up minimizing all of my other wonderful qualities, feeling like everything about me was ultimately useless unless I had children. Feeling I was selfish if I didn’t become a mother. Thinking that a life is only worth living if a can be in a supportive role in a family.

I still would like those things. The idea that my body may not allow that right now is deeply difficult for me. But I want to enter into having a family believing that who I am is a gift.

I long to root my identity in more than my ability to handle laundry or post a great Instagram pic of how clean my house is, how cute my children look, or how wonderful my dinner turned out. (I love to cook and I will never understand that trend.)

Back then, I thought I knew that motherhood was my sole value. Now, I know that motherhood won’t make me valuable, but who I am apart from it will (hopefully someday) make motherhood special.

Rectifying What I Knew: Self-Care and Selfishness

I recognize that my experiences in life were often shaped from a number of influences, crafting the ideas I latched onto throughout my childhood and young adult years.

Role-models, community, economic situations, religious beliefs, personal interpretations and experiences

No one area gets credit/blame for the molding of a person through life, certainly myself included.

However, as I examine these factors in my life, I can see a variety of areas that I have to adjust course, relearn, or in some cases, simply unlearn.

One of these areas is the idea that self-care is not selfish.

I understand that many people would not need to be convinced of such an acceptable truth. But truly, I have fought incredibly hard to adjust my viewpoint to accept this in my life. And honestly, as a woman, I don’t believe I’m alone.

So, why would I have such a hard time with something so elementary?

I grew up in a culture in which excessive self-sacrifice was praised and admired, especially among women.Women “served” their husbands and children diligently, using the tag line of “putting themselves last.” It was seen as a “higher calling” to sacrifice for others. A woman like this was the gold standard.

This created so many issues for me, many of which will be topics of discussion for future posts. But today, I’d like to narrow it down to this truth.

I grew up wholeheartedly believing that my worth as an adult woman hinged on my ability to sacrifice and take care of my family, not myself.

Get that.

My entire view of my womanhood as a young child was on how to be a martyr in my pursuit of caring for others, because that was considered virtuous.

I saw this emphasized time and time again, even into adulthood.

  • The comments and eye-rolls about women who practiced self-care from women who didn’t, and the plethora of reasons why there is no time for that in a “virtuous, busy life.”
  • A plethora of books, articles and messages on the topics of Christian womanhood, wifehood, and motherhood, all formulaic in their approach: You are here to serve, and here is how.
  • The comments and questions we received as soon as we got married, pushing us to start our family. The message was clear (and in some cases, actually stated):You’ll “arrive” when you have a family you can sacrifice for.
  • The quiet competition and shaming among women, whether about their diet, working or staying-home, wardrobe, or schedule.
  • The badge of honor that is often worn in womanhood, showcasing how busy, tired and worn out we all are for the sake of others…

Sacrifice is beautiful. Caring about others and choosing to place them first is a genuine act of love. But I have learned I must love and care for myself in order to love and care for others.Self-care looks different to many people, myself included. I’m not here to prescribe activities or add more “tasks”. I don’t know what I need half the time, let alone others. I’m simply admitting that for years, I felt incredibly and utterly selfish for doing anything for me. I felt like someone was always in need of my time more than me. Like I was vain, selfish, shallow, or inefficient to take time to love and care for myself.

I desire to love who I am with actions, thoughts, and self-care so I can be more fully me for those I love.

Then, I knew that self-care was incredibly selfish, but now I know I can only care for others out of what I myself have to give.

Rectifying What I Knew: Fear

For much of my life, Fear has had a part in every motivation, action, and decision.  The problem is that until recently, I didn’t recognize it.

I may have been slow to recognize this, because in many areas, I’ve considered myself to be fairly brave, superficially speaking. I had no problem leaving my small hometown for college, skipping the chance to stay home at our local university.  I traveled in and out of the country, choosing to see the world. After college, I applied to jobs in 8 different states, open and willing to start out wherever someone would pay me to show up to work each day.

The fear I’m addressing is more deeply-rooted…and for years it was invisible to me. It’s a fear that can produce good actions, and can easily pass as hard-working, in-control, and motivated. It’s a fear that has quietly simmered under the surface as I’ve formed my identity as a person.

It’s a fear that has kept me from risking anything I wasn’t sure I could completely handle, master, or succeed doing. 

It’s a fear that has begged me to look outward, rather than inward, to see if I’m passing by external factors.

It’s a fear that Motivated me to do the right thing only because I was scared-to-death to do it wrong. 

In reality, this influence in my life is probably two-fold: a natural perfectionist, people-pleasing personality that needs to be attended to coupled with a very conservative upbringing  that I misunderstood, sprinkling fear into the fabric of my life.

Personally, I’ve seen my personality struggle with this for years. In some ways, fear kept me from dreaming. When you’re scared to fail, your dreams shrink to manageable dreams, perhaps defeating the purpose of dreams.

If I short-change my dreams because I’m scared to fail, then my successes aren’t quite as pure. Indeed, the question would always be “Where would I be without the boundary of fear keeping me in this box?”

Fear has influenced some of my relationships, creating a motivation to “do” things right for fear of failing relationally or losing the relationship rather than “being” in the relationship.

If I stop listening to my own wants and desires, instead seeking out the constant needs of others due to intense private fear of loss or failure, not pure love, my relationship is fragile and at risk. I short-change myself of the opportunity to love and be loved fully.

Now, I will be the first one to admit that Fear has, at times, produced arguably positive actions in me, but for an entirely negative reason.

I Know now that Fear is a terrible motivator.

In my religious background, I didn’t recognize how much fear was motivating me to action.  Bible verses about “perfect love casting out all fear” would enter my mind intellectually, and would be applied to superficial situations for me.  However, I never truly examined the role of fear in my life.

Even then, there were signs.

At 11 years old, I was crying myself to sleep at night, because after attending a fairly strict youth experience, I believed every error or sin I committed was proof I was not a “true believer” and was going to hell.

Even as a normal teen with interest for and from guys, I’d never date, afraid that I would “go to far” or “end up” in a relationship with someone who didn’t take his faith as seriously.

I’d wear incredibly modest clothing, because I was scared to “make a brother stumble”.  This had lasting impacts on me, making my path to healthy womanhood even harder.

If I am so scared to “cross a line” that I don’t allow myself to be me fully, then I deny myself the opportunity to learn about myself, as I am, with self-acceptance.

I’m not in a place to analyze my actions. I feel uneqipped to handle those right now with where I am in my journey.  What I can say is that the motivation that led me to those actions was completely harmful, destructive and negative.  

I want to live a life free of fear so I can freely choose my actions, not pursue due to fear. 

Then, I didn’t realize that many of my decisions, actions and thoughts were motivated by fear. Now, I know that Fear is not a successful motivator for pure action.

Having A Different Conversation…

Blogging is one of those things that has always intrigued me, but I have never pursued for myself.

I’ve certainly been a consumer of a multitude of blogs for years, with topics ranging from Marriage to frugal finances, fashion to food, House-keeping to travel.

My problem with blogging is that I have always  approached a blog with the following mindset: I need to get better at _____________(insert topic).  ___________ (Insert blogger with impressive Design Layout) clearly has the answers. I will learn from this and be better (can also be read as “perfect”, “meeting expectations,” etc).

In all reality, I have done this with many more things than blogging.  I have read books with the same purpose. I’ve talked to “experts” in areas I feel I’m deficient to ‘gain wisdom’.  I’ve researched topics with hopes of getting better in areas I feel are flaws, or simply inefficient.

I am sure many people can do these same things without putting pressure on themselves to be perfect, to meet some cultural expectation, or pursue some goal of “doing everything right.”

I am not that person. 

Instead, I saw a path to chasing expectations. The harder I tried, the more exhausted I got and the further from ‘happy’ I became.

That chase ended a year ago. Marriage was difficult, my exhaustion had hit a new high, and I was struggling to make sense of the new, divided world we found ourselves inside, especially when I looked at other places in the world where respect for others mattered.  I started to question everything…

I began to delve deeper, uncovering a sense of self that was in tatters. I began questioning, examining and being honest with myself. I began to own painful parts of my past that had haunted me for 15 years. And I began thinking that perhaps everything I learned growing up wasn’t something I needed to accept without question.  I started to slowly learn how flawed I was and how unhealthy my life has become for true connection, to others and myself.

So why am I blogging?

I want to practice learning me, questioning what I was taught, and not having conclusions.

This is a journey of learning to make sense of what I knew with what I know now.  And my hope is that this is the first blog I use to become more of myself, challenging myself, thinking outside the box, and being honest.