As I sit listening to my neighbor argue with her boyfriend, I feel grateful for the important bit of wisdom I learned in the past nine months.
You see, it’s midnight before her big child custody hearing; earlier today she told me how nervous she is and how she couldn’t sleep the past few nights. I hear them yelling at each other and slamming doors. Several slammed doors, as if to make a statement, like multiple exclamation points at the end of a sentence that was written in all capital letters. And of course, followed by stomping footsteps.
Boy, do I know how it feels to go through something stressful and feel as if the people in my life only make it worse. There were many years of my life where I retreated because I thought I’d be better off by myself. After all, if I couldn’t count on someone when I’m scared and going through the worst things in my life, then what the hell do I need them for?
Be the Change
No one can be perfect every moment. No one can laugh and crack jokes through everything. No one can weather every storm with the dignity and grace of a sage. Or at least I can’t. I’m messy, sloppy, unbalanced, and emotional. And for many years I thought that was the problem. If only I could be the kind of person who never freaked out over things and could remember to breathe.
I spent a lot of time and money trying to change who I was, to be something different. I went to see a therapist and life coaches, I journaled and meditated, and I read books on positive growth. I was trying to “be the change I want to see in the world.”
And yet, I kept finding myself in the exact same predicament. Last year I was in the hospital for four days and my boyfriend didn’t come see me once. When I called him upset, it only led to arguments. I was actually in the hospital, on the phone at 2am, fighting with my boyfriend. I broke up with him…eventually. But he wasn’t the problem. I was.
I’d been here before so I knew I was the common denominator.
It was me.
If only I could stop arguing. If only I could find my peace, my calm, my center. If only.
After the break up, I gave myself a gift. At the time I didn’t think it would be so major, but I had a feeling it would give me the space I needed to emotionally heal. What was that gift? I promised myself I wasn’t going to do anything I didn’t want to do.
If I made plans with a girlfriend and then realized I was tired or just didn’t want to go out anymore, then I’d cancel. If a friend suggested an activity that I didn’t like, but I still wanted to hang out, I’d suggest we do something different. If my boss gave me work that would take longer than they thought, I’d renegotiate the deadline instead of staying late at the office. Seems simple, right?
It was a game changer.
At first I followed through on my promise to myself with guilt, fear and worry. I didn’t want to be the kind of person who didn’t have integrity. I liked knowing that most things I promised to do, got done when and how I promised. I didn’t want to be high maintenance or difficult. I was worried my friends and loved ones would get annoyed with me. I feared I was being selfish or immature. After all, part of being a responsible adult is doing things you don’t really want to do. Right?
My Calm, My Peace
Some people did have a problem with this new me. There were a few nasty arguments that arose when I held my ground around what was important to me. But then something magical happened…
I realized there were a few people in my life that understood when I cancelled our plans. Welcomed my suggestions. And agreed that the project needed more time. They stood out from the rest because with them I found my peace, my calm. I could finally breathe.
Encouraged by the unexpected results of the first promise, I made a second promise. I promised I was going to put more love, attention, and nurturing into the relationships where I could breathe, and marginalize or remove those relationships that were exhausting.
That’s when I realized what that stupid quote meant! “Be the change you want to see in the world.” What was the change I was always hoping to see in every relationship? Simply, I was hoping they would accept me for me. Love me, even at my worst. And think I’m perfect the way that I am. Well, if I wanted them to do that for me, I would have to do it for myself first. I’d have to accept me for me. Love myself, even at my worst. And think I’m perfect just the way that I am. No changes needed.
Life is funny. I found my center. By giving myself permission to be me, with all my faults and flaws, I now have balance. There have been a few upheavals in my life, and for once I didn’t freak out. I didn’t need to. No need to fight any more. I have nothing to prove.
The lesson I wish my neighbor could learn? Trust. Give yourself permission. Find those who bring out the best in you, and hold on to them tight!
Because we are all perfect, just the way we are.
Main image @ Angela Marie
About the Author
Ta-Shana Taylor is a a blogger, pet mommy, and scientist living in South Florida. She has BS in Geology from Northeastern University and a MS in Geosciences from University of Arizona and another MS in Teaching from Pace University. You can follow her musings on the world on Twitter.