When I was in my early teens, I struggled with an uneasy sense that I was different than everyone else—and not in a good way. Sometimes I attributed my discomfort to having gained weight the summer I gave up gymnastics. Other times, I was sure I was unlike my friends because their parents were so much younger than mine, and mine just mostly seemed unhappily married. When I became fully aware that I was more drawn to girls than to boys, I was sure that this was the core of my feeling out of place and unlike everyone else.
After many years of therapy—and life in general—it became clear to me that pretty much everyone feels this way, for all of their own reasons. I think the thing that probably makes us most similar is that we all feel so different. Sometimes late at night, when I can’t sleep and I’m regretting drinking that caffeinated Diet Coke late in the afternoon, I wonder what kind of dirty trick this is. As lovely and rich and lucky as most of our lives are, we are still frequently tormented by a sense of being on the outside, wishing we were more like those people we watch longingly from the sidelines.
For some reason, the unfairness of this is even more poignant as I get older, and I am struck by the ways in which our feelings of being dissimilar make our already rocky roads seem even more treacherous. And, when we feel unlike the people around us, we make it worse by not only hating ourselves, but despising those we are sure have disdain for us for being who we are. I have spent many hours chiding myself for being big and clunky and insecure and moody, and then resenting the ease I imagine I see in other people as they seem to glide through social situations with grace and presence. In truth, we are all struggling with simply coming to terms with who we are and letting ourselves stand comfortably in our own bodies as we greet each other.
The thing that probably makes us most similar is that
we all feel so different.
The hardest part of getting older is knowing how relatively few years I have left to live with wonder and courage and gratitude. The best part is realizing that we are all in this together, each trying to connect, despite our own fears that all the great people are one way and we alone are the other. I am learning these days that our real emphasis in life—always—should probably be on loving as much of ourselves and other people as we can possibly manage.
As annoyed as I get with myself for my own perceived weaknesses and with other people for whatever thing might be bugging me on that particular day, I also know that this time spent being irritated is a waste. We think there is “a way to be” because it makes the rules clear, the options narrow, and the possibilities controllable. Trust me when I say that a world of people just like me would not be that fun, and it would afford me little opportunity to learn anything.
It seems that focusing on openness and tolerance—about ourselves and others—is a better use of our time and energy and a more interesting path to the next iteration. But this does not come naturally to me. I’m much more inclined to see my wrinkles when I look in the mirror than I am the wisdom I’ve gained while creating them. I worry about how much I talked at the dinner party last night rather than being glad I got to chat with someone about a new idea. I let people’s nervousness annoy me rather than applauding them for addressing something that isn’t their easiest topic.
Although it sounds like a platitude, the point is that we’re all trying. We’re all scared of feeling alone, worried about the future, wanting to make a good impression. It comes out in a billion different ways, but I’m thinking that appreciating the efforts—both in myself and other people—is a good way to live authentically in the moment. It’s a way to value what is alive and engaging and brave in all of us. And really, when I think about how living this way can allow me to truly connect with other people and myself, it’s easy to see that there’s nothing much better than this.