My best friend from college is a seriously amazing woman. Katie has started her own company, opened her own storefront and is busy inspiring women all over the world to connect with one another, come alive, be free and really start to live the life they want. She is currently sponsoring a 21 day ‘Skinny Dip Society’ challenge – each day one new challenge arrives to your inbox that will help us to live a little more joyfully and find some fun and whimsy in the day. I have been participating (of course!) and invited a whole bunch of my girlfriends to do so as well.
I invited about half a dozen friends from high school to join in the challenge with me. I love these girls. Of all the ways that I have been blessed and privileged in my life, I consider having friends that have known me for as long as I can remember to be one of the greatest. Women that I grew up with for as long as I can remember; we went through childhood, adolescence and young adult hood together and I truly believe that they ‘get’ me in a way no one else can, because of this shared experience. I value these relationships so much, even though I don’t keep in touch as well as I should. I also have an incredible amount of envy – they are almost all based near to where we grew up and therefore see one another weekly, if not daily. Their relationships and friendships have grown and developed; they have made new histories together and rely on one another as sisters and family.
So, I was taken aback at one of their responses to my invitation. In my introduction to the SDS Challenge, I stated that Katie is one of the most amazing women I know (empirically true, not just my own opinion 🙂 ). One of the responses was: “For you to say she is one of the most amazing women you know is really saying something! As I think we all feel that way about you and your life!!”
Excuse me, WHAT?!! While very touched at this sentiment, it has really stuck with me how far apart our own assessments of our lives and accomplishments can differ from what other people see. There has been a lot of discussion about comparing one’s lowest moments to someone else’s ‘highlight reel’ and the role that social media plays in this comparison game. I try to not play into this as possible. I post pictures of things that inspire me and make me happy in the moment, but these are rarely ever of myself. I don’t do the happy, smiling, shiny picture thing and avoid putting too much personal stuff onto social media. So I was really very surprised to have someone say such complimentary things. Especially when all I could think to myself was how lucky they all are to have one another! In my head, they have strong, grounded, long-lasting friendships, relationships with spouses, some are starting families or have developed their careers. Me? I’m sputtering all over the place, working as a bartender with a Masters Degree. I have friends here, maybe a couple that I will keep in long term contact with, but many I will not. That’s not enviable! Their adorable little babies and beautiful growing families, those are enviable! Whereas from the other perspective, my ability to sleep in, take a jog past the Lincoln memorial and a cross-country vacation whenever I want must seem enviable. I know this is true, as another one of these friends only last week posted about nearly crying over realizing that she was able to stop and having a relaxing lunch all by herself (1.5 year old son doesn’t make that possible often!).
I really began to feel this sense of wonder at why someone would think such (to my mind) mis-judged things about my life when our Day 3 Challenge came to my inbox: make a date with someone who inspires you. More specifically: “Identify someone in your life that embodies some aspect of truly LIVING that you would like to embody as well. Ask him/her to coffee, lunch, a phone/skype chat, happy hour, pen pals, or even a simple stroll in the park. Just being around people who embody where you are going can INSPIRE you to live FREE. Sharing where you’re at with someone and asking for support for where you want to go…that takes this challenge to a whole new level that will change your life.“
With Katie all the way in Denver, this seemed like an impossible thing to accomplish! Like I said, I have friends in DC – many that I love and admire, but I couldn’t think of anyone who ’embodies where you are going’ and that I could ask for support. Perhaps I needed to expand my view of what this person would look like. My current path is figuring out my career, so I really had in my mind someone who is so inspired by their job and who could mentor me into figuring out where I would fit and be fulfilled. I have lots of friends who care and can give good advice in a particular situation, but I haven’t found anyone yet to act as a bit of a mentor – I know I need help (and direction, and so many other things), I just don’t know where to find it!! So, I was feeling pretty insecure over the fact that the life that I have actively created is lacking this. In the end, I sent out some emails that I have been putting off to try and get involved in the urban farm and school garden scene in DC… it was hopefully setting the stage for finding the mentor that I am looking for (and I have a coffee date next week! Hurrah!).
But then that evening I was able to facebook chat with another one of these old friends who just had her first child in October. It was spontaneous, but such a breath of fresh air. It was freeing. Inspiration can be found in so many places, and I really was looking too narrow for it! I do know that I need some sort of career mentor, but perhaps that wasn’t the inspiration that I needed that day. I was and am so inspired by these friends and talking to any of them is a different kind of freedom. It’s freeing to be who you’ve always been with people who somehow manage to look past your shortcomings and make the choice to love you anyway.
When I try to reflect and think of why people may see my life in a way that (to me) isn’t reflective of reality, I think it must be because I’ve done something a bit different. I mean, I left my home town and never went back. I lived in a different country for the better part of 4 years and came home for visits speaking differently than I had all my life. That is certainly different, but it doesn’t make me any more brave then anyone who stayed, necessarily. I left because I had to. After high school the town felt claustrophobic to me. After college, the country felt claustrophobic. It wasn’t brave; I wasn’t scared. I was scared to stay. Staying would have been the brave, hard thing for me. Leaving was easy. Like, super easy. Even now, I wonder if I would be more fulfilled if I moved home to be with my family and these women. But the thought of being there is scary. I’m not really sure why – perhaps I would need to confront old demons that I left behind, perhaps I’m scared that I would be kind of bored, perhaps I’m scared of being overwhelmed by my mom after a decade of living away, perhaps I’m scared that I would find that the place I’m meant to be is the place I am from, or perhaps I’m scared of strip malls and living my life in a car and getting fat. I don’t know really. What I do know is that it is easier to be here, or to contemplate moving to Denver or Arizona. Like, way easier.
So please don’t envy me. We all have our struggles, secrets and insecurities just as well as our strengths and blessings. I think that the best we can do is to each strive for our own kind of bravery while being authentic and honest with one another. So guys, I’m a little bit of a mess! I’ve traveled, had fun and learned some things, and while I am generally happy and (I think) a generally joyful person, I struggle with finding inspiration, motivation and direction and I am by no means fulfilled. Maybe this is a good thing that will keep me striving to find that fulfillment… but Monday I spent all day on the couch feeling lethargic and watching Parks and Rec, so ‘striving’ comes and goes. What I do know is that self-knowledge and growth is a process and I am truly so happy and grateful to have women in my life to inspire me on this process even when I forget they are there. I love you guys.