I don’t consider myself a rebel. Rebels are brave and bold. They fight for social justice, world peace and environmental awareness. Rebels protest, raise money, build schools, and produce meaningful documentaries. They are charismatic leaders who make the world a better place.
Me? It’s all I can do to love and be loved; to live with courage in a world of fear.
Sure, I’ve done some brave things in my life, but this might be the boldest yet. At the age of 49, I am learning self-acceptance.
I’ve squandered too many of the approximately 432,890 hours of my life silencing intuition and desire in lieu of social acceptance and the expectations of others — and I will not do it anymore. OK, who am I kidding, I might have a bit of rebellion in me.
The thing is, I have a good life with little to complain about — a beloved spouse, an independent and creative profession, a traveler’s lifestyle, time to dream, a generally supportive family and a global network of cherished friends.
So sometimes in the idle noodling of my mind, I wonder if I’m just being self-indulgent and return to worrying about things like why I don’t spend my travel time in the pursuit of enlightenment at museums and art galleries and old churches, instead of scribbling in cafés and coffee houses or daydreaming on sun-drenched park benches. Or perhaps, for the umpteenth time, I will try to convince myself that I should apply for a job with a steady paycheck.
And then I remember how it feels when I try to be someone I’m not. How it exhausts and depletes me, and leaves me feeling angry and resentful.
I write this with the clear knowledge that I can be as narcissistic and nasty and needy as anyone else, especially if my blood sugar is low. It’s not pretty. On the whole, however, I am kind and compassionate, quiet and observant, curious and gentle. But I find it fascinating how many people mistake my silence for consent, confuse my curiosity with permission to speak endlessly about themselves, and consider my gentle temperament a weakness. They are wrong.
So in order to be who I want to be, I have to be who I am. I have to say what I think and feel, and stand up as myself, feeling worthy if not accepted.
Even when it’s not cool or glamorous, I am learning to honor my needs and desires. Even if my sister criticizes me. Even if I feel stupid and crazy and ridiculous. Even if I am certain the solution is another pint of Häagen Dazs — I am learning to let go of the expectations, including my own, of who, what and how I should be.
I thought for a while that this meant I was unambitious, lazy or cuckoo. But I have come to consider the possibility that I simply know what I want, what’s important to me, and how far I’m willing to subjugate my dreams and desires to put other people at ease.
All I want is a life of freedom — the ability to wake up everyday to a life of my choosing, to work at a pace and place that suits me, to have plenty of time for walks and talks, to create something beautiful with my life, and to share it and be sustained by it.
But to live from a place of individuality, takes effort and commitment in a society that puts so much importance on being perfect and fitting in.
My biggest struggle is to work through the fear of success, the fear of failure, and to challenge the voice in my head that says that I am doing life all wrong and please can’t I just behave.
My husband, Hank, tells me to keep at it and not to give in; that, yes, I am different, but in a good way, quote unquote. This melts my heart and makes anything seem possible.
There is tremendous freedom in allowing myself to experience the world in my own way. And whenever I feel judged or ridiculed about the way I look, my lack of a real job, how we spend our money, or the way I prioritize my time, I can step out in Mexico or Michigan, Nicaragua or New Mexico, Peru or Pennsylvania and know that I am making at least one world a better place - my own.
[Visual quote: photo by EllenBarone created with Overgram]