He glided through the doors to the student center in a pair of faded jeans. Bag slung over his shoulder, as relaxed as the smile spread across his cheeks. He instantly became the center of attention. It was my freshman year of college, and I can remember thinking one thing. . .
Wow, I wish I was that good at life.
When I saw that guy walk into the student center, I knew I wanted what he had. That comfort and self-confidence. There was almost an aura about him. People who are comfortable in their own skin have that aura.
It took time, but eventually I learned how to be comfortable in my own skin, too. Looking back, I can see three major lessons that I took that helped me learn to be myself.
Step 1: Stop Comparing Myself to Others
I kept hearing from family and friends to “fake it until you make it.” So that’s what I did. I tried to project an image of being competent, confident, and successful. It worked well for a little while. I made friends, got good grades, and landed a pretty sweet job. Oftentimes, I felt like I was moving up in the world. But all my self-confidence was incredibly fragile.
I remember the rush of joy after keeping my New Year’s resolution to lift weights in the gym. And I remember how that joy evaporated the instant the next guy lifted twice what I did. I was comparing my own achievements and abilities to other people. All it took was one person better than me to wreck my self-confidence.
I started to see myself as God sees me . . .
Finally, one night a friend of mine encouraged me to stop comparing myself to others. With his help, I came to realize that playing the comparison game wasn’t working. I was never going to be happy in my own skin until I learned to love myself. This may seem like a beautiful “come to Jesus moment,” but I was actually pretty mad. It seemed unfair that I had to put in all this work to learn to be comfortable in my own skin while it came so easy to other people. When I shared this with my friend, I learned that he struggled to be himself, too. I never would have guessed this about him. Knowing we were fighting the same battle gave me the courage to leave the comparison game.
Step 2: Recognize My Strengths
Another friend suggested that I start writing three affirmations, every day, about how I’m special. At first, my affirmations were really simple. I am nice. I am a hard worker. I help others.
I was afraid that somebody would find my diary of affirmations. Thinking about how embarrassing that would be made me cringe. I bought a small whiteboard and kept it under my bed so I could erase the affirmations once I was done repeating them. Problem solved.
Starting my day with these affirmations helped me notice the God-given gifts that others could already see in me.
When I said something kind to someone else, I would stop and realize, Wow, I am a caring person! Persevering through a tough job at work made me feel proud, as I realized I was a hard worker.
I began to feel happier in my own skin, one inch at a time. Day by day, I moved a little closer to being proud of who I was. I started to see life as a journey towards realizing the ways I am special and how they add beauty to the world. Month by month, I became proud of how far I’d come on this journey.
Step 3: Do What Is Right, Not What’s Expected
As I grew in my ability to love myself, I didn’t feel the need to seek affirmation from others in unhealthy ways. I started to see myself as God sees me, and I became free to choose to pursue different opportunities based on whether they were right for what God wanted me to do with my life, rather than what others would think. Making choices that sustained my journey towards God and authentic self-confidence felt important. For the first time, I started saying no to invitations for friendship, employment, or romantic relationships that weren’t going to help me continue to grow into the-best-version-of-myself.
Letting go of the comparison game and learning to embrace who I’m made to be has freed me to pursue a life lived as the-best-version-of-myself.
Doing what God wanted me to do with my life became more and more important to me. But eventually this would be put to the test. This past year, I had a full-ride to a prestigious graduate school, but I was filled with a mix of sadness and restlessness as I went about my studies. I felt called to serve God in my work, and I wasn’t doing that at graduate school. After giving it a try for a semester, I dropped out and moved to Cincinnati to join the Mission at Dynamic Catholic. Lots of people in my inner circle used harsh words to describe my decision to give up a free master’s degree.
Honestly, leaving graduate school was the best decision I’ve ever made. If I hadn’t learned to be myself, I never could have stomached the criticism and uncertainty. I’d still be doing something that drains me of hope and leaves me feeling empty inside.
I thought that being the center of attention was what it looked like to be yourself. Now I understand that the joy that comes with recognizing my unique talents and abilities and freely choosing how to use them is what I was seeking all along. Letting go of the comparison game and learning to embrace who I’m made to be has freed me to pursue a life lived as the-best-version-of-myself.
Moving Onward As Myself
Learning to be myself is still an ongoing battle. Sometimes I feel like I have it all down and then a moment of insecurity slams be back to Earth. These moments are still hard for me, but I’ve learned that I’m not the only one experiencing them. Each of us, from that guy in the student center to my courageous friend, is still fighting a hard battle inside. The good news is that victories do happen, and they feel amazing. I’ve been fighting to become the best-version-of-myself for a few years now, and with God’s help I’ve begun to experience great joy. And now I know that becoming the best-version-of-myself is the purpose of this journey as well as helping others to do the same. Quite frankly, and it is surprising to me to say this, I cannot imagine doing anything else.