I’ve been going through a metamorphosis…yes, another one. These past 2 years have been nothing but seasons of change for my family and I. The irony is that we live in season-less weather right now.
Also it’s not just a little change but non-stop, you never know what the score is and your head is spinning change. It’s of course what we knew was part of this experience. We wanted to explore the new, the strange, the exciting, some of the hard and the unknown.
But after so much change, it’s hard not to just crave the familiar, the known, what feels like home.
Why is that? Why do we assume it’s good to shake things up but love creature comforts? After seeking out the latest trends, it’s truly the old worn in t-shirt and pair of jeans with the right amount of stretch that I want to wear?
Fitting in used to mean…
As a little kid, big kid, teen, young adult and even as a full fledged adult, there have been so many times when all I wanted to do or cared about was fitting in. I didn’t want to be the kid with a “unique” last name or “interesting” background or “strange” anything. I wanted to just file right into the que and be almost unnoticeable, because for so long, fitting in and not rocking the boat was what seemed most appealing.
Fitting in helped me endure…
…a world marked with tension. When I was younger there was so much unpredictable stress and a feeling that I was never quite sure if I should speak my mind. This unpredictability led me to be very focused on what I could control and putting a lot of effort into reading the room and controlling what I could.
For one, I became really good at flying under the radar even when I knew that my life could be so much more than a stealth existence. Although my very personality fought against this idea that I should be quiet and simply “fit in," I still felt like there were so many guardrails around me. They were there to keep me in a place of respectability, making only appropriate waves and really good at understanding what everyone else wanted from me.
Oddly enough, even though my actions and habits were focused on “fitting in” I was also knowingly carrying about 15-25 extra pounds on my frame at any one time throughout my teen and adult years. I LOVE bread and pretty much all things carb. But, I used food to escape the unescapable, I used it when I was sad, and I used it when I was happy. For so long I’ve used food to fill up emotionally and physically. Even though it didn’t help me “fit in” per se, it did help me become just part of the crowd.
I hated that and also relied on that to continue to chameleon my way around my world.
It’s hard to rectify those two concepts. How can they both be true?
It wasn’t until 6 months ago when I started getting really serious about my health habits, after a couple of family health scares, that I started to recognize how these bad health habits and ways of moving through the world had impacted me.
I can see how this both helped me in many ways to get through difficult experiences and make it through transitions, but also recognize how it was now hurting me as I go forward.
Belonging now means…
…acceptance of where I am including all of my faults, gaps, tendencies, strengths, needs and wants. I’ve started to take a real inventory of who I am. Not just what I want to project out to the world. Not the stuff of my instagram life. Not who I hope my parents, spouse or friends see.
But what’s really there at my core. What interests me and what doesn’t.
What do I want? How do I want to show up for myself each day? How do I want to serve my community, family, relationship?
I’ve begun a different journey where I am starting from a place of understanding myself, without the trappings of my former life. Understand my quiet thoughts and needs before I think about all of what is expected.
It’s a very strange place to be because I am finally holding myself accountable for who I am and not just trying to fit whatever situation or location that’s in front of me.
Being able to say: “This is who I am now. It’s not who you may need me to be, but it’s me, nonetheless. Now let’s find a place of connection.”
I’m no longer looking to fit in every scenario but instead to belong to myself. In doing so, I’m able to more confidently and authentically step into conversations, relationships and jobs that fit me instead of making myself fit into the role as needed.
Is that easy or comfortable?
No, it definitely is not. Because I was so used to operating from a different place, but this is more honest and more true to myself.
My persona used to look…
…small to others although I thought I was casting a very big image. Larger than life. A big, fun and passionate person who was looking to only get better as I went along.
The perception of people closest to me saw was that yes, I did have so many fantastic qualities but I operated as though I was unsure of it. I was constantly overthinking, overanalyzing, down-playing my abilities and under confident, even though I thought that I played such a confident character.
I’ll never forget going to this women’s conference a year before the pandemic hit. It was a really big deal to get invited to this industry conference that was reserved for the upcoming leaders in my industry.
I took that privilege and nomination to go to the conference seriously. I did all of the pre-work and daily course work with the diligence that I put into all of my work. Took time away from my family and work to travel and be present at the conference.
Each participant also had the chance to meet with the founder of the conference who was an executive career coach to talk through challenges that we may have or help in getting to the next stages of our career. I remember feeling a bit overwhelmed when meeting with her, although I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to get our of our meeting.
After giving her a run down of my past experiences, what I felt I excelled in and explaining to her what I was seeking in my next step, she said something that stopped me in my tracks. She said that I was making myself too small. That I’ve actually done a lot in my career and were clearly capable to take on more, but through my body language and maybe my own self-talk, I was making myself small.
Didn’t she just hear everything I said?
She went on to say that instead of sitting with presence and walking into the room using the full weight of my being I was making myself “fit” into a small box.
Even the way I was sitting cross-legged and arms folded was making myself shrink instead of filling the room with my presence.
There is something about getting another person’s unexpected perspective of you to jolt you into seeing things in a new way.
I kept thinking back to how many times I may have used this kind of posture to avoid the chaos that was around me, but as I matured it was actually holding me back from leading with the true presence that I possessed.
From then on, I vowed to start noticing not just what was happening in my head or the dialogue in the room, but to also really start paying attention to what my physical actions and other non-verbal cues were saying about me. I had to read the room and that also meant reading and finally seeing what I was doing too.
My words may have been powerful but my actions were betraying me.
I needed to start understanding and accepting my own full self & abilities if I wanted anyone else to do the same.
My persona today is…
I’d love to say that I was entirely comfortable moving into any room and knowing where and I how I belonged or didn’t. I think consistently throwing myself into uncomfortable situations has taught me to own who I am irrespective of whether or not I’ll be accepted.
You can always find people who have more experience, more knowledge, more confidence and more insights on a topic than you. But no one has walked through the world in exactly the way you have. No one else has slayed the same dragons, taken the same hills or fallen in the same way. That makes your experience solely yours and your ability to present to the world as fully you.
Being able to stand in who you are is the key to knowing the size of your person and the ability to own all of you, without shrinking or inflating it’s size.
The more comfortable I get with simply saying, this is me, the better I get at saying this is what I know and this is what I don’t know. Now tell me more.
Once you put down all of the worries about who you should be or how you should show up, all of a sudden you start to see who everyone else is and what they are scared to show. You can see their strengths, weaknesses and start to understand their path.
Discovering that has been probably one of the greatest gifts that I’ve given myself over the last year. Learning that once you release yourself from the trap of who you “should be” you suddenly have time to explore who you really are.
Reconciling all of the pieces of me requires…
…a whole lot of grace and forgiveness.
Last year and the year before that and maybe every year of my life, I’ve had to reframe my expectations and recalibrate.
This used to come right around goal setting time, but now in this expat experience seems to come right as the summer ends and what’s next can at times be a big question mark.
At first I try all my old tricks to get back a sense of balance. When that doesn’t work, I try all the other things I can think of: new activities, harder physical training, intense journaling but without a feeling of direction it’s easy to spin in every direction and feel nothing but dizzy.
Most of this is about my internal storyteller. She is constantly trying to write, edit and rewrite my story. This includes who she thinks I am. You’re a professional. You’re a blogger. You’re a New Yorker. You’re Haitian-American. You’re a traveler. You’re an expat. You’re a vibrant woman. You’re funny. You’re go getter. You’re a wife. You’re a mother. You’re a daughter. You’re a sister. You’re a friend.
Some of these things are things that I am and some just things I do. They get intermingled, confused with one another and sometimes feel like opposing forces. But mostly I find myself anxious when I can’t pinpoint who I am “supposed to be” today.
When you are living life off-script it can be very confusing at times. What I realize is that you are not one thing ever.
You have to keep writing and rewriting your own story. None of us are static beings that will stay the same as we grow and become more fully ourselves. Letting yourself have the freedom to change and take on new roles can be scary too but freeing once you let go of the last version of you.
Also, I do understand the reason for hanging on to the last version of me. I liked her!
Yet, so much of the last version of me was also built with a wall around who I was and who I decided I’m not. That on top of the bricks that held my attributes were bricks of concern and fear of failure. I rarely stopped long enough to take into account how much had been accomplished in life. How many big bold brave steps had been taken.
As I look out to what this next season will bring, I’m hoping to show up more as my authentic self because that lady is holds a mountain of treasures… in this version and all the versions that shine through.
To my readers:
A big thank you to all of you who have been following along on my journey during this expat assignment. I had an amazing experience of meeting someone new the other day who actually quoted me back to me within a discussion. Just wow!
You never know how your energy and words will have an impact on others around you. Glad that I’m able to add just a touch of insight and connection in this world.
Stay with me ❤️