By the time I was a teen, I was comparing myself to everyone; my parents, my friends, the other kids in my classes, I was measuring my worth against the perceived value and happiness others seemed to enjoy.
It is not that my life was miserable, but in my comparisons, I focused on what I did not have, on my lack. I was focusing on what made me uncomfortable, and the more I focused on that stuff, the more painful and controlling it became. All I would need is the presence of a pretty girl and my confidence would spiral downward.
It was an emotional cycle that was eventually triggered by ads, television shows and movies, telling me I was either too fat, too ugly, that my hair was too straight, or my nose was too big. I wasn't like other girls, which was obviously a huge problem, and for some reason, I thought they were all in this big club of popularity and happiness. I assumed that my feeling of lack meant that they were happy. I was too scared to admit to it, too frightened to admit to what I saw as my shortcomings. So it was a secret I kept. A secret, it turns out, many of us were keeping.
It took a long time to break this cycle, and if I am being honest, it is still a bit of a struggle for me to focus on my heart, my strength, my beauty. I have to focus. I have to pay attention.
Anyone who has engaged in a life knows it is not easy. I don't think anyone has escaped the experience of being in a group of friends, pretending to be okay. It is the opposite of human, creating these artifices to mask our insecurities so that our entire experience of being human is artifice. There is no way to feel powerful when you are constantly protecting yourself. There is no way to confidence if your protective shield blocks your vision of it.
I recently had an experience where I suddenly saw someone, not as he wanted to be seen, but as he was, and how he was creating a mask to cover that person. It came through in a lie and surfaced as an excuse for that lie, and I knew instantly of his frailty, and in that moment, felt my own. I understood what he expected of himself, maybe even what he thought I expected of him, but could not be. It created an instant impossibility; that I might never know him, but it also reminded me of my own artifice, and what I do to maintain it. Who I keep at arms length in its maintenance.
It is a long road to vulnerability, to being who you are, admitting to what you can and cannot do, when everything around you feels inhuman. When everything around you feels like artifice. But artifice is frail. And what people want, I believe, is a show of good faith in the form of your humanity. It is the hardest thing to do when you grow up comparing, It is the most challenging thing to stop trying to "measure up." But it is vital. It is necessary if any progress is to be made.
Be real. It will help others be real. It will help you to know yourself. It might be the signal that someone is waiting for. It might be what someone else needs to be inspired to be less artifice, and more authentic.
Your power rests in your ability to know yourself. Your strength lies in the confidence you have in who you actually are, not in the mask you have created for yourself so that the world might feel comfort with your presence. Do not waste time trying to measure up, but spend time residing in who you are. You are worthy of that. You are worthy of your humanity.