Reinventing: A Set-Up for Failure
When I was young, one of my biggest mistakes was that I tried to reinvent myself to please other people. I didn’t realize that by simply reclaiming my true self, I could be my best and strongest self.
I got married right out of high school to a man I had only known for three months. The man I married had a big personality. This man loved adventure and wasn’t afraid of taking risks. He also embraced some fairly traditional beliefs about women’s roles. I wasn’t all that skilled or experienced doing traditional, female work. Rather, I was a shy young girl who tended to be cautious and enjoyed quiet time to think about ideas.
A couple months after getting married, I was pregnant with our first child. I tried hard to be the kind of wife my husband wanted me to be. I also tried hard to be the kind of mother I thought I should be even though I knew very little about parenting.
As my children started to grow, I realized how inadequate I felt as a person. Because of how I felt, I started seeking ways to develop myself. I learned to speak in public. I got an education, and I landed solid professional positions. I tried very hard to be everything I thought I should be. Yet I felt like I was failing. I felt like each of my roles were contradictory in different ways.
Paying the Price
I felt like a failure as a mother when I was expected to be in the office instead of at home. I felt like a failure as a wife when I handled responsibilities in a corporate environment but couldn’t always keep on top of housework at home—the housework that my husband thought I should be managing. I felt like a failure when I could only manage to make myself stay in a position for a couple years before trying something else—always hoping something else would feel more natural for me. Even when others told me I was doing a good job as a mother, a wife, and a professional, I figured it was only a matter of time before I’d be exposed as a fraud.
Once my children were grown and my first marriage was starting to split at the seams, I suddenly realized I had no idea who I really was. I couldn’t even recall that my favorite color was blue or that I had always loved Bach, or that I cherished quiet time. Because I didn’t know myself very well, I lived much of my life on a day-to-day basis. And, because I didn’t really know myself very well, I couldn’t really envision my future.
Lost and Found
My marriage of over two decades ended. My children were grown and gone. I was left alone with someone I didn’t really know anymore. For several months, I worked hard to rediscover who I was. I sought some help from counselors, talked with friends, did a lot of reflective writing, and worked hard at excavating “the real” me.
One of the more difficult parts of rediscovering who I was involved putting all the pieces of my life back together in a way that made sense. There were parts of my life I had tried to forget – and even tried to pretend never happened. While those experiences didn’t define who I was, they were a part of who I was and the insights I had developed. When I was ready to really look at a portrait of my life, I could finally see the natural highlights and the necessary shadows that gave me character and depth.
After a lot of hard work, I knew myself a lot better. I knew my strengths and areas where I wanted to grow. I also knew that I was a person who loved learning. Once I reclaimed who I really was, I was actually able to visualize the future I wanted. Given my temperament, my personality, my experiences, and my passion for learning, I could easily see myself teaching full-time at a community college. Community colleges often serve people who face the types of challenges I had faced earlier in my life.
Living My Best Life
I have taught at a community college for fourteen years. I have never thought twice about being anywhere else. Once I knew who I was, it wasn’t hard to figure out where I belonged. Because I feel like I have been where I’ve belonged all these years, I have felt confident about what I do.
Within a few months, I will be retiring from teaching full-time. After I retire, I am going to start a part-time web-based business for Baby Boomers. I’m also going to enjoy more time with my soulmate – the man I married after I figured out who I really was. Like me, he is a quiet person who doesn’t like to take risks and loves to think about ideas. He’s also a person who treats me with love and affection and takes time to really understand me.
What about you? What makes you happiest? How would you describe your true, authentic self?