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Be Your Own

Emily Dean

Assateague Island-42.jpg
Every single human being craves community and connection – to know that they are valued and seen.

I am good in a crisis. The moment things begin to fall apart, I’m the best friend in the world. I can be there to bring you food, sleep beside you on the bed, hold your hand through the service. I will talk to your uncle with bad breath, send out prayer emails, carry extra tissues in my purse. Even for online friends, the moment I read the struggle you’re going through, I’m quick to text or add a comment, sending hope through the tap of a button. I will stay up late with you, answer the phone in the middle of the night, make runs for coffee.

I am good in a crisis. I know what to do, who I am.

It’s when someone is doing well that I struggle. I’m not as good at celebrating as I am at being a shoulder to cry on because I start to doubt myself, my value. No one needs you when they’re doing well. There is suddenly an invisible floating bar that I’m comparing myself to while outwardly I’m ecstatic and jumping for joy. The triumphs around me pile up - new jobs, new home, new baby - and I’m scrambling to catch up, measuring where I end up in the line of successes.

I set the highest standard upon myself that I would never expect from someone else, not realizing I’m demanding perfection and flawlessness from my very human self. My own comparison of the accomplishments of someone else often overlooks the pain and struggle they went through to get there.

Everyone has heartache and loss, it’s just a lot less visible than the victories. If you follow society, then you know performance is highly esteemed. Our culture celebrates the people who are able to create a flawless lifestyle that is unachievable, built on a foundation that filters out vulnerability and fear. My heart beats fast when I try to conceive how I can possibly fit into that world without showing my cracks, my worn feet, my trembling hands. Won’t everyone know I’m just faking?

Getting double taps won’t sooth the ache in your soul, the icy chill that keeps you up at night. When you crave meaning and wholeness, external validation does little to quiet the voice in your head that keeps repeating You don’t measure up, you don’t measure up, you don’t measure up. We have to learn to be comfortable with ourselves, owning who we are, and we’ll slowly stop seeing her success as a looming cloud that threatens our identity. You can be happy for her without questioning your own happiness. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.

When I put myself out into the world, I naturally want validation, a response. Every single human being craves community and connection – to know that they are valued and seen. But there’s a difference between being yourself and letting those who naturally enter your life encourage you and casting all your hope and meaning onto the words of someone else, hoping for the slight tilt of their head that they recognize you, you’re in.

I can try to stuff myself into a small square image that will pleasantly entertain people scrolling by, but it doesn’t happen without damaging me. And the truth is, when I look at the world around me, the people I’m drawn to are the ones who are unapologetically real. I’m all for a pretty picture, but my heart moves when someone breaks the brick wall of perfection and says: Here I am, this is the real me.

I love watching the children’s choir sing at our church. Their little faces light up with excitement as they swish their pretty skirts and pull on their button downs. I was struck recently of the raw beauty of their care-free attitude as they belted out a song, energetically moving their arms in mixed-up motions (or waving at their parents). There was no thought or concern about what anyone thought. They simply stood up and sang, happy. I turned 25 recently and a friend asked me what I had learned in the last year. I immediately thought through the challenges and triumphs of the year and told her, “I have learned not to compare my life’s timing with anyone else’s. My story isn’t supposed to look like theirs.”

I want to be a woman who can listen to the songs of those around me and applaud wholeheartedly, without feeling like I have to change my own tune or sing any softer. I want to be more than just someone who can show up when things are bad, but a friend who can wholeheartedly cheer for those around me without letting fear disrupt my own course.
Let’s be real, let’s be us, let’s be our own.

Article by Reeve Currie | Photography by Hilary Hyland