Like most kids, when I was young I was just me. And, quite frequently, between the time that I awoke and the time that I went to bed, my own true self went through quite a few metamorphoses.
Sometimes I was an introvert, reading and dreaming for hours on end, content to be in a world full of endless unimaginable possibilities.
Other times I was extroverted, charming the adults around me, entertaining them with my wild costumes depicting my imaginings of who I was or desired to be in that particular moment, orchestrating performances that my friends and I would put on at preset times, or planning wild adventures and escapades that my friends and I could carry out in the safety of our neighborhood. And it was in these moments that I was able to lose myself and be as outrageous and fully myself as I could imagine.
As I grew older, went to school and entered conventional social relationships, the imperative to conform and fit in started to enter into the equation. Overwhelmingly, the message that I received was make yourself smaller, be inconspicuous, fit in.
Over time, this message sank in. In spite of my many teenage antics, by the time I was in my mid-twenties I was more ‘normal’, operating successfully within well-established social boundaries. By the time I hit thirty, I was an outward success: I had a successful consulting practice, was married, a homeowner, gave frequent dinner parties for my many friends and family, and was well on my way towards building a family of my own. And I was completely miserable.
Slowly, it dawned on me that throughout all of my endeavors to fit in and create the perfect life I had lost my own self. One by one, out of a desire to make others around me feel more comfortable, I had shut the doors to the rooms that allowed me to have a rich inner life and opened the possibility of being more than I already was.
When my marriage ended and I had to step outside of the known boundaries that I had carefully created for myself, I suddenly found the keys to some of my inner rooms that I had forgotten existed. As I opened the doors and explored their landscape as if visiting an exotic land for the first time, trying on various treasures that I came across, I realized that fitting in is not all its cracked up to be.
And, to my surprise, I found that being true to my self had its own rewards. Suddenly, I hit my stride. People appreciated me for me, not only silently accepting me for who I was but demanding that I allow my full talents and personality to emerge. In effect, encouraging me to be the person that they knew I could be.
As a parent, I find myself constantly struggling to avoid shaping my son into the image of who I think he should be. The overwhelming message that I want my son to absorb is that, as long as he is not harming another, he can be whoever he wants and that dreams don’t merely belong to the realm of fantasy. And so, I try to stand back, remove the obstacles that lie in his path to clear the way so that he can become the full version of who he is meant to be. By encouraging him to play large, meet the challenges of his own desires, and explore the rooms to his own inner mansion, I hope to one day be pleasantly surprised when he becomes something more than even I could have dared to imagine.