For years, I carried a heavy weight on my shoulders. Everywhere I went, it came with me. It was an ever-present, invisible, several-hundred-pound backpack that I lugged at all times, even around the house.
I carried it for so long that I no longer even realized it was there. It had pretty much become a part of me.
What the heck was in that pack?, you may ask. Oh, lots and lots of things: expectations (mine and others’), self-judgment, self-doubt, guilt, the need to please others, and various other things, depending on the day.
I spent so much energy trying to stay upright under the weight of all that — even as a kid — that I wasn’t free to really be myself. In fact, I wouldn’t have even known myself without it.
Everything looked pretty normal from the outside, I imagine, because I did a good job of hiding what I carried — it was an invisible backpack, after all. Under the surface, though, I spent a ton of time and effort trying to be perfect, do the right thing, be responsible, make others happy, avoid disappointing people and live up to expectations (of which my own were often hardest to meet).
I don’t know exactly how or when or why I first picked up that backpack and decided to cheerfully shlep it around for so many years. I think that as a child I simply wanted to be loved and approved of, and feel like I belonged. (Heck, I still do. We all want that, right?) And because I was a pretty sensitive kid, I picked up on others’ emotions and kept trying to bring things back to “normal” — usually through people-pleasing — when people’s moods felt off-kilter or intense around me.
When I got older, it continued on in much the same way.
It was exhausting. Where was I in all of this?
It’s interesting to me, looking back, that no one made me lug it around. At some point I could have chosen to let it go with an emphatic “NO THANKS!” and kicked it to the curb.
But I didn’t.
So for me to have been carrying that burden for so long, it clearly served a purpose in my life. And I now realize what that purpose was: It made me feel like I was enough.
It led me to work furiously to please everyone around me, which I now realize just isn’t possible.
For all those years, I’d been basing my self-worth on how others perceived me.
Well, I eventually saw the albatross I’d been carrying. And once I fully realized its weight, I’d also outgrown it. It was time to set the burden down, at least, most of it.
Lightening the Load
So how did I do that? By gradually taking things out of the backpack, one by one, and letting them go.
I discovered my inner compass — finally — and began using it. I cultivated a relationship with my inner wisdom, which is far wiser than I would have guessed. And the more I tuned into it and followed its nudges, the easier those nudges were to recognize.
I began looking more consciously at my day-to-day choices and started to do what felt right for me instead of being driven by what I thought would keep the peace or make others happy. Sure, I still wanted other people to be happy, but eventually, disappointing myself became more jolting and unacceptable to me than disappointing others.
It’s been a slow but freeing process.
Unearthing the Gifts
It’s an understandable impulse, the need to protect ourselves. As humans, we’re wired to stick together, to be part of a tribe. We want to belong and fit in — not be exiled. So we shield the tender, vulnerable parts of ourselves — the things we feel make us different or weird or unlovable — so that we don’t go against the grain.
But I’ve come to realize something. As we strive so hard to hide our “imperfections,” we end up burying the most incredible, beautiful aspects of who we are. They’re the parts that reflect our unique soul and our humanness at the same time. We cover them up with the masks we put on and the layers of “shoulds” that we accumulate over time.
But let’s stop. Let’s empty our backpacks of the things that are weighing us down. We can be grateful for the lessons they taught us and the purposes they served, and release them with love.
It’s time to reclaim our glorious imperfections, to dust off those gems that reflect our soul and our uniqueness. Once we do that, we’ll be free. We’ll be able to see and know our authentic selves, maybe for the first time.
And finally — powerfully and unapologetically — we’ll be able to shine our light on the world.
Originally posted on The Wellness Universe.