I’m an introvert by nature. When I was a boy, I was sensitive and my body didn’t develop as quickly as some of the other boys. I was shy and awkward in social situations…the thought of dancing in front of other people mortified me. If people were mean or yelled at me I would tear up instantly. “Why can’t I stop my eyes from watering? Stop being so weak!” I would think. And I hated myself for it.
I wanted to be confident, masculine, and strong. I wanted to be social, and athletic, and popular. Over time, I would work towards these traits, building my body and mind to become society’s vision of these ideals. I would act differently, talk differently, and make choices that supported this goal. I remember reading Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People when I was in my late teens. I learned all about “The Six Ways to Make People Like You”, and “How to Change People Without Giving Offense or Arousing Resentment”…among other gems. I became pretty adept at molding myself into different people as the crowd and circumstances required. If I was around alpha personalities, I was confident and assertive. If I was around intellectual folks, I was more introspective and inquisitive. I could alter my speech patterns, tempo, and accents to mirror the energy and dialects of those opposite me in a conversation so as to be more “relate-able”. I would subordinate my thoughts and opinions to those across the table in order to make the conversation more enjoyable for them (after all, Dale Carnegie says people like talking about themselves much more than listening to others). Over time, I just became the sum total of these characteristics. But where was I? What happened to me? When you strip away the false pretenses and social armor, who was I really?
For now, these questions will have to go on being rhetorical as the answers are evasive…or at best cloudy. I’ve spent a great deal of time trying to remember who I was back before I felt the need to change myself. I’ve looked through baby books in hopes that notations or pictures might trigger some insights (Thank you Mom for keeping such diligent records!). But the more I try to remember the past, the more I can’t help but feel that it doesn’t truly matter. I’m different now. Perhaps my efforts are best expended trying to focus on who I am as a person NOW…seems logical to me? (Perhaps use of logic is the problem?).
And so that’s what I’ve been doing…trying to listen for the sound of “me” within the white noise and distraction of the world. I’ve done a lot of things in my life that have lead me down paths that were, and are, not a good fit for me. I am non-confrontational…but I joined the Marine Corps out of high school. I am decidedly more qualitative than quantitative in nature…but I majored in finance. I am a classic introvert…but I work in sales. These situations don’t make sense. And I believe that it is these inconsistencies that are holding me back from reaching my true potential. Mind you, that “potential” might be running a hostel or writing a book or whatever. It has nothing to do with material achievement but everything to do with happiness, fulfillment and purpose.
For now, I am just watching these things, learning, and taking action where it feels right. It is an iterative approach towards alignment on a small, everyday scale. I can choose to come home early to read rather than stay out late drinking with friends. I can voice my opinions without worrying that they might upset other people. I can say “no” when convention says that I must say “yes” (and vice versa!). But, over time, these small everyday choices will rebuild my being in the image of my soul. And I, and those around me, will be the better for it.