My heart was pounding, and the room was pulsing with energy. Put competition, a few caffeinated drinks, and the stamina of teenagers into a single auditorium, and you get a wild, whirling night vibe.
My friends and I had dressed to the nines. Our version of the nines, anyway. As an incredibly fashion-inept sixteen-year-old, I realized within a few minutes of looking around that I was swimming in a different pond than usual. My blouse suddenly seemed baggy and boring. My shoes were the wrong color. And my hair…I hadn’t met a hairspray that could tame it, yet.
And then, I saw her.
She was so…so everything I wasn’t. Her hair was neat, and sleek, and complimented her fine features like the perfect frame a painting. Her build was slender and feminine. Her ensemble was the very definition of what the ads told us all was ‘in.’ Her heels were classy, and she knew how to walk in them.
My soul contracted a little bit, curling up and hiding, as she took the stage on the front of the room to give her speech. As she stood there, confident, poised, and yet still gracious, the seventeen-year-old blew us all away.
I felt miserable.
I had given a speech, too, but nothing like this. And, no matter how well I spoke or performed in the future, I knew one thing: I would never look like her.
And then I felt bad for caring — I was supposed to be happy for others who were doing well. I should just work out a little more and eat fewer calories if I didn’t think I looked good. Spend more time figuring out how to do my hair.
Except it really wouldn’t ever matter. I knew that there was no way to attain the type of perfection I saw staring back at me over the sea of heads in front of my chair.
Most of us have had an experience like this — comparison derails our self-esteem, hopelessness sets in, and we feel that there’s no way to become what we suddenly expect ourselves to be.
We base our own value, beauty, or talent on how well we meet the subjective standard of how other people appear to us. It’s self-sabotage to the nth degree.
I still have days like this — my inner person wants to curl up in the fetal position because I’m not what I want to be, or believe I “should” be, in the moment. It’s painful, and it feels like a crushing load of concrete piling up on my body.
But what I’m beginning to recognize is this —I can be free of those feelings.
It begins with knowing who I really am.
I am not my talents.
I am not my weight, height, hairstyle, or shape.
I am not my clothing.
I am not my accomplishments.
These things may indeed define me to other people.
But they only define me to myself if I say they do.
Embracing another identity, one grounded in truth and not circumstance (and yes, they overlap, yet are different) is my choice.
Every person who has ever been called a hero has embraced an identity, despite how other people tried to define them.
They called Einstein dumb. He defined himself as curious and capable.
They called Witold Pilecki a traitor. He defined himself as a protector of the innocent and a seeker of justice.
They called Rosa Parks black. She defined herself as human and worthy of rights.
The identity we choose to embrace matters.
On the days I don’t feel it, in the hours I can’t see it, I know this:
I am a child of God, “one in whom Christ dwells and delights,” safe, beloved, and accepted.
I am all these things, and I choose to identify as such.
Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes, it feels fake. But it’s true.
My decision is the deciding factor in how I am defined: by my feelings, my circumstances, people’s reactions…or my actual identity.
I choose the truth.
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