A while ago, a friend said to me, “I’d hoped you would participate more in the school activities…eat lunch with us, maybe go to chapel.”
I froze. My mind whirred with responses, some excuses, some truths: “The lunches are too expensive. I forgot. A lot of the time I’m busy! Sometimes I’m too socially tired to leave my room because I’m scared I’ll run into someone and have to make small talk!”
Instead, I answered with a more palatable truth. “I want home to be somewhere where nothing happens.”
My friend stared at me, and I could see their brain desperately trying to understand what I had said. Finally, still with a confused look on their face, they said, “Okay.”
I agonized about this interaction for DAYS. There was a human being on the planet who was less than 100% thrilled with me!! I was gratified to see that I have grown somewhat, because almost instantly one part of my brain lit up and assured me: “It doesn’t matter if everyone understands or approves of you, so long as you understand and approve of yourself.” This was a very comforting thought until I got distracted and my gut reaction (BE PERFECT ALWAYS) reminded me of my failure.
I kept thinking:
I should participate more.
I should be more social.
I should take advantage of the relationships here.
I should be grateful of the space people have made for me here.
Should is just about one of the heaviest words to bear. It is a constant reminder that “you are not good enough!” and “haha, nice try, but you’re still a failure!”
On top of this was a lot of confusion. I couldn’t approve of myself because I couldn’t understand myself. The thing is, I’m GOOD at making friends. I love meeting new people! I love hearing people’s stories! I love new experiences! So why don’t I want to eat lunch with a bunch of people who have never been anything but nice to me?
And then I had my eureka moment.
I mentally backtracked to college. I spent TWO YEARS hanging out almost exclusively with my roommates: Whitney, Josephine, and Ashley. While there were other cool people who I occasionally spent time with, it wasn’t until my junior year that I found a group of people that I felt comfortable with.
I jumped forward to Senegal, and then to Dallas, where in both cases, I spent all my time hanging out with Liz. It was only when she moved away from Dallas that I really started investing in other people and found a group of people I felt comfortable with.
Huh, I thought. Apparently, when I move to a new place, I need an ENORMOUS amount of time to cling to a safety blanket of a person before I feel comfortable enough to branch out and invest in other people. I need a lot more space and personal time than usual, and uninhibited “fun” usually only happens with a special person or two.
I understood myself! I could even approve of myself, because I suddenly saw my desire (and need) for a private space to call home as a necessity that allows me to work well, serve well, and socialize well. It might be a bit weird, but it’s how I work, and when I follow my wiring, everything runs so much more smoothly.
I should be someone I’m not.
No! I am who I am, an introvert who loves people and has a hard time figuring out how to do both without self-imploding. That makes me interesting! That makes me better empathize with people, because I’m like, “You talked to five people today! You’re already a superhero!!”
So while I still wish everyone were 100% pleased with me all the time, I’m slowly learning that it’s more important to be 100% pleased with myself all the time. And maybe as I grow closer to that goal, I’ll find that I care less and less what other people think I should do or be.