THE TRAP OF LIVING BY SOMEONE ELSE’S DEFINITIONS

For most of my life I ran desperately from the reflection that said I was “different” toward whichever reflection called me “special”. I felt that I existed somewhere between tragically flawed and full of potential. After a while, I built up defenses against “different”. After all, I could be “special” instead, and people are more willing to accept different when it can be explained away with special. So I tried to live up to special while defending myself from “different”— by embracing the “fucked-up, emotionless, bad-girl that can’t be hurt because she’s smarter than you” character.

I pursued everything I was told I had a talent for. I convinced myself I wanted those things because the praise felt good. But I was unhappy, unfulfilled, and unmotivated. I thought that if I generally enjoyed it and I was good at it, that I was supposed to pursue it— terrified by the idea of being trapped in a boring, meaningless life, or of losing what made me “special”. I knew I would one day have to take care of myself, and the thought petrified me. But if I was special enough, and if I followed all the rules, maybe I could live an exciting life that took care of itself. And so I tried to fit into every role for which I was told I had a “gift”, and I felt helpless when I found that I didn’t want any of them— that they all led eventually to the same gray labyrinth of monotonous doing, and that there are no rules for turning those things into a career anyway. I was angry for having been told there are rules for the right way to live. I was angry that I had played along for so many years. Because here I was, having followed the rules, but they didn’t take me where they said they would.

I looked into that darkness with no net, with no one to save me, and with no desire to be found. And from somewhere, like the feeling of a child who has awoken from her death in a game of pretend, I suddenly remembered there was nothing to be afraid of. I had stumbled upon a second choice out there in the dark— either be no one and do nothing, or be anyone and do exactly as I please. I was free. The part attached to “different” and “special” was no longer my responsibility to reconcile or to fit. The part of me that was afraid to do as I wish and be the person I wanted fell away. I recognized my power to tell a different story and let go of the old one— that the past matters only for the knowledge, skill, and strength it gives you to navigate the present— not for its ability to construct a future. Because it is this singular moment that is the architect of the future, not our past, and it demands nothing of us but our attention to it. We roll our eyes at these realizations that are so often repeated that they have become cliche. We accept them as known truths and convince ourselves we already live that life. Or we write them off as fairy-tales told by the weak and irrational who will someday be disillusioned by “the real world”. But every once in a while, when you stop fighting, and walk to the edge of it all, and give up everything you think you know, the void will stare back. And you will laugh.

I now see the trap of living by someone else’s definition— whether good or bad.

And I recognize the silliness of seeking permission to be as I am. I refuse to walk within the imaginary walls we are meant to accept as “the way things are”, or to live less than the life I wanted when I still remembered what I wanted. I no longer feel like I owe anybody an explanation for my behaviors, or fear that I’m wandering out so far that my tether to reality will snap. It is not that I believe I won’t feel the downs, I just no longer fear the downs, because they have always led me into the beauty of the next understanding. It is all an endlessly expanding, constantly shifting, remarkably perfect game.

But somewhere along the way, we forgot we were playing. There is no image you are meant to live up to, and no person you are supposed to be. So I no longer want to be understood by everyone, or to save the world. I want to understand me, and for the world to save itself. Because, ultimately, no one has the power to save the world; you can only love the world, and save yourself. But I will stand among the legions as we learn, and play, and destroy, and rebuild our long journey home. You can read the whole article here.

Written by Kelsey Rae Hartzell

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