I read an article recently about surviving your 40’s that said
The 40s are when you become who you are
This created the opportunity for falling down the rabbit hole of “who am I?” and are we just yolks [you’re welcome].
The two most important days in a person’s life are the day on which she was born, and the day on which she discovers why she was born. – Anon
As I reflect on my unique best self I realize that similar to Patty’s thankful for childhood bullies post, my childhood experiences gave me ability to be comfortable being different.
I attended 10 different schools K-12 (I also skipped a grade, so more precisely, K-7 and 9-12). I was continuously forced out of my [socially awkward] comfort zone. Being frequently out of the loop on key foundational academic concepts, social norms and even popular lower school skills, framed my early reality (and self image).
My consistent experience was to show up lost, confused and out of sorts, and find my way to achievement, only to have to start over again the next year. I now understand this as building grit but, if you had asked me in middle school, I would have called it disappointment and suffering.
My college and early professional experiences followed a similar pattern. I was the first in my family to attend college. After college, I began my career in tech and toward an elite job, identifying and building skills for each of these new experiences as quickly as I could. In other words, I was again lost, confused and out of sorts. Dusting off and finding a new path forward became a core competency that has been the foundation of my professional success.
Not expecting to fit in, has made me comfortable in places that did not lend themselves to belonging — it felt natural to me to be the youngest (for a time) or the only (most of the time) or even just being the lone person who sees things differently. I am able to say the thing others are afraid to say, and be my whole self in a way that feels uncomfortable to others, because it feels normal for me to be different.
If you can’t fix it, feature it*
You see, my difference is my power, my strength comes from years of practice being different. I am comfortable being uncomfortable. I have resilience and the ability to chart a course where there is no existing path to follow. I have confidence in my ability to navigate an unknown situation successfully because I’ve done it so many times before.
I’ve been blessed with two twice exceptional daughters. Watching them learn about their own differences, I realize how frequently they are encouraged to hide these differences or feel shame about them. Teachers, friends and even well meaning parents, often push them toward the mean. As their mom, I encourage them to do the opposite, to use their full set of gifts and embrace and own their differences to set an example for others. You see, courage is contagious and when we step into our whole selves we give permission for others to do the same.
Every day I’m learning about the variety of lived experiences that exist around me. The programmer with dyslexia, and the journalist with ADHD . The complexity of power structures and the bias of privilege remind me that that each of us experience the world differently.
Normal is a myth.
We are all doing the best that we can. We are all a mess of guilt, shame and feeling like we don’t belong on our worst days, and powerful, strong and ready to shine our light on our best days. When we honor our unique strengths we own our power. Anything less would be to sacrifice the gift.
My wish for you
I wish for you to know that you are enough exactly the way you are. I hope that you find your own power in the fullness of your differences, and that you use that power to be a force for good in the lives of others.
I bow to the divine in you.
*Attribution apologies – I remember the moment where I heard this, but not the name of the person who said it.