The Art of Mirriam Neal

//becoming you

Rana, a beautiful young woman I’m proud to have as a friend, left this comment on my ‘Dear Younger Me’ letter. She said,

“Could you do a post on loving without fear of judgement and/or just being plain excited? It sounds like you were afraid to show people what you loved once upon a time too.”

I told her I could, because it’s an area I’m very familiar with. A few days later, we Skyped and discussed it face to face. I apologized for not having the post up yet – I’d written the first two sentences, but become distracted. (Happily, after seven years, I have my mother watching the KDrama most important to me, and she’s completely hooked. ‘Hooked’ means we watch three or four episodes a day, and blogging takes a back seat.) Rana told me it was fine, and not to worry. Then she asked, “It sounds painful.”

“What does?”

“Letting everyone see you like that. I mean….”

I knew what she meant. “It is painful,” I agreed, and pondered how to encourage her without sounding dismal. I decided not to bother coating the subject with sugar, and so I repeated, “It is painful. I remember when I used to keep everything to myself – people think I’m private now.” I laughed. “But, I mean, of course it’s going to hurt, because you’re opening yourself up to criticism. Not everyone is going to love what you love or agree with you on everything.”

Rana nodded. “That’s why I tend to keep most things to myself.”

“It’s easier that way. When you fall really enthusiastically in love with something and everyone knows it, you’re opening yourself up for criticism, and that usually hurts. I know personally that…the things I love mean a lot to me, and when people are harsh toward what I love and treat it badly, I feel like they’re treating me badly. It’s hard to separate the two.”

“So why did you?” Rana asked.

“I reached a point where I realized nobody knew me,” I said, remembering the years I spent shut up inside myself, watching but refusing to speak. “They didn’t know me at all. It was something my Mom said once that made me realize what I needed to change. She asked why I never talked with her about what I loved. I told her it was because she wasn’t interested. With gentle reproach, she said, ‘I’m not interested in it, but I’m interested in you’.”

It was a startling realization – that I was, without realizing it, being selfish. From that point on, I slowly began to open up. I would have a thought, and catch myself in the act of locking it back up. I had to force myself to speak my mind, but over time, it became a habit. I started to become myself. You know what? I don’t regret any of it.

I told Rana, “It’s still painful at times, to have something I love ridiculed – but just because someone else doesn’t love what I love, doesn’t mean I’m going to stop loving it. Their dislike of something won’t change how I feel about it, and I’m not going to change myself just because someone else doesn’t have the same opinion as I do.”

I get letters and emails and messages from people thanking me for being so open, for being myself, and I always tell them the same thing – I didn’t ‘become myself’ overnight. Being yourself is a habit you need to form, not a miracle. You don’t go to sleep one night and wake up as your whole, complete self the next morning. It’s something you have to allow, and it takes no small amount of bravery. I’ve seen too many people afraid to be everything they could be, and as a result, they’re the unhappiest people I’ve ever known.

So rip off the band-aid, even if the ripping takes a year or more. You weren’t created to hide away as a shadow of yourself. Nobody else can be you, so do everyone a favor, and do it right.

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