Do you know who you are? When you eliminate the influence of your friends and family? When you strip yourself down to the bare essentials? Do you know who you are, really?
I thought I did. But I was wrong.
Last year I took a chance. An unanticipated, this-is-so-unlike-me, chance: I moved clear across the country for a job, from New Jersey to Washington. I lived on my own for six months, until my husband was able to join me.
I didn’t know a soul here. No friends, no family. Just a job, and my dog.
I had never lived alone before, having moved out of my parents’ house and straight into an apartment with my husband. I was nervous as I sat on the plane, floating steadily towards the unknown, but also excited. This was something new, a change I’d never imagined myself making, never in a million years. Quiet, predictable me. And I thought I knew who I was. But I was wrong.
I began working and slowly started getting to know my coworkers, analyzing them and trying to pinpoint which ones would make good friends. I was never good at making friends. I was too shy, too tainted by the “mean girls” nightmare I’d been a victim of in grade school. It was just a fact of life. I would never be one of the “cool girls,” the type of person everyone wanted to be around. I waited, I watched. I was cautious. And I thought I knew who I was. But I was wrong.
I settled into a new pace here. I woke up early and went to bed early, cherishing my beauty sleep. I had all this free time and it was up to me to fill it, for once, with what only I wanted to do. I remember the day I made guacamole before watching a movie, and realized with giddiness that it was all for me! Who knew that not sharing could feel so nice?
I started going out, meeting up with people. I tried to ignore the vulnerability I felt as I asked them if they’d like to join me for dinner sometime. It almost felt like dating. Could you be the one? I’d ask them in my head. Could you be my friend?
I got into hiking. Short, easy trails at first, to build up stamina. I discovered a love of nature that was always inside me but never nurtured. I’d only ever felt glimmers of it in my life up until now: the day I first went kayaking on a trip to Ohio, the awe I felt whenever I saw the mountains of Colombia on family vacations, our civilized version of camping in the Poconos.
I felt successful at work, for the first time ever, thriving in an environment that empowered and believed in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself. You know what? I realized, I do know stuff! My education does mean something. As a teacher you don’t always get the respect you deserve, but I found it here.
I grew stronger, both physically and mentally. I felt like a different person. No. I felt like the person I was always meant to be.
Almost two years later, I’m no longer alone, but I’m not finished growing yet. I don’t plan to. I’ve hiked mountains, performed in a dance troupe, made new friends, and started a side business. And I want more. I am ambitious, I am social, and I crave a challenge. I am finally comfortable in my own skin.
And I thought I knew who I was. But I was wrong.
I am so much more than I gave myself credit for.
Featured image: Natasha Mayers/Flickr