“I had internalized messages during my youth—messages of being too big, too loud, too passionate.I had been told by my experiences that people stayed around longer if you made your needs as brief and palatable as possible, and then went about your day becoming exactly who they need you to be.

I remember the exact day when I realized that I could, instead, choose to be myself.”

—-Mara Glatzel,Medicinal Marzipan

Being yourself isn’t always an easy thing to do, especially in a world full of people who look at the concept as something that’s weird, scary, unconventional, or something worthy of shaking your head at disapproval. For a world full of people who all want to grow up to be celebrities for one reason or another, there’s a total lack of awareness of what it really means to put yourself out there. You know when you put yourself, or some public image of yourself, out for public consumption and people tear you down just for being you? Multiply that by tens of thousands, and that’s what it’s like to be a celebrity or public figure.

Being yourself requires you to be a strong person. Remember when someone told you, as a kid, “Be yourself, and everyone will like you?” Well, it took you five minutes of social interaction in the world to realise that person straight out lied to you. What they really meant you to learn is “Smile, conform, fit in, and pretend to be just the same as everyone else, and you’ll be accepted.”

Accepted, maybe. But will you stand out, make an impact, fulfill your dreams, make the most of your potential, take chances? Never. You’ll get sucked into a quiet comfort zone of acceptance and security, and as you grow older, that translates into a seemingly secure and traditional career path, a car you can’t really afford, a house, a spouse, a dog, a cat, and a few interests you mostly keep to yourself. If you’re young and single, you’ll spend your time looking flawless, making your life sound exciting and perfect, and remind the recently-Botoxed ladies sipping martinis at your table that you are someone to be envied. If you’re a bit older and have children, you’ll sip lattes with the even-more-recently Botoxed crowd, and smile perfectly while you point out that your child, whom you’ve named Kieran or Brendan or Madison or something that implies your child will never pick up a dirty sock in his/her life, is so far advanced for his/her age. That is life, of course. Conformity, playing nice, following the rules, and realising the reward is “I get to pretend I’m better than you whenever possible.”

When is the last time you spent time with someone, even a close friend, who stripped away all the bullshit and was completely honest, authentic, and willing to “be themselves” with you? Look around your world. It’s less common than you think, unless you intentionally make it otherwise.

I happened to, recently, cross paths with a 21-year-old sorority girl, properly coiffed dyed blonde hair and perfect manicure in place, along with an attitude that said “I’m not here for your approval”. Yet, despite my attempts at conversation, she pretty much ignored me, looking at me like I was the most boring person in the world. When, after the group had a few drinks, I turned up the charisma a little bit to include off-colour comments and snarky remarks, she actually told me “Shhhhh. People can hear you”., as if I were a five year old child in need of correction.

This girl, who tried so hard to exude enough confidence that other females would believe she wasn’t in need of any approval and loved her perfect life, was made uncomfortable by the fact that I would say anything I wanted to say without really giving a shit if a total stranger overheard me. That’s when I realised this: I am old. I don’t spend my time faking confidence and pretending to be comfortable around people. I have spent so much time “being myself” in social situations that I don’t even remember how often that can be scary and off-putting to others.

Not shockingly, she immediately re-seated herself at a dinner party to talk to the only two single, available men who were interested in making her the centre of attention, and convinced them to leave the dinner, and the rest of the group, which was too “lame” for her tastes. Prior to her re-seating herself, I’d been having conversation with these people, and it obviously didn’t occur to her that it was more rude to interrupt someone’s conversation to deflect attention to yourself than to tell a joke in a loud, boisterous tone that made old Southern women scowl at your lack of class.

Whatever. I know I’m a classy bitch. New York *totally* wants me back. :P

I remember being that girl, in some shape or form, always needing to compensate for some insecurity by making others think I was unapproachable, remaining a little aloof, to give the impression that “I’m just a little out of your league”. I would hijack your party and take people elsewhere, turning it into my party without a second thought that I was being disrespectful to the host. It didn’t occur to me that it should matter, honestly. Being that girl was a way to deflect any kind of insecurity; “As long as you pay attention to me, I have the validation I need.”

Except, the thing is, there’s never enough attention in the world to provide the validation that comes from “being yourself”.

One of the harshest things anyone ever told me, back when I was 25 or so, and still approached the entire world as my stage and every time I left my apartment, it was a public appearance…was that I wasn’t real. This actually came from someone who was sufficiently charmed by me, regardless, to invest time and energy and affection in me…so it proves men can be a little hypocritical, and still want your company when you’re 25 and attractive, “real” or not….but he said, at an event, “Every time I spend time with you, I feel like I’m spending time with a character, and not a real person.”

That person isn’t someone who I kept in my life, or I’d care to say hello to if we ever crossed paths, but he did provide me with that one sage-if-hurtful piece of advice. I knew that “being myself” was being someone who didn’t fit in here in the South, someone who was loud and boisterous and weird and flamboyant and covered herself in glitter and says “Ooooo!” to stuff a 6-year-old girl would love. So, I tried to reinvent myself, to put on a version of me that would be socially acceptable to a world I found very judgmental, very superficial, and very insecure.

Long story short: That didn’t work. That didn’t work to such an extreme I almost ended up being driven out of town by hate and judgment and gossip, about less than half of which was true.

After that, I said, “Fuck it”, and took “being myself” to a whole other extreme. If I couldn’t be accepted and perfect and flawless, I was going to shock everyone with my unconventional ways.

That was actually pretty fun, for awhile. But it also didn’t work. I felt there was nobody in my life, save a handful of people, who really knew me or cared about me. I didn’t trust anyone. And while you can combat the scandal of a bad reputation in a small town that pretends it’s a city (like Atlanta) by exaggerating your notoriety and making jokes at your own expense, at some point, you realise that what you need is a new perspective.

I never decided I was, one day, going to wake up and “be myself”. I was just too tired of caring what everyone else thought to do it anymore. And once I did, I found a whole group of people who never would have been scandalised by any of my behaviour—past, present, or future. I found friends who stuck around for years and years. I found people who made fun of my quirks, but still loved me and supported me. As soon as I bothered to be who I was, I found it easy to invite people in my life who liked that person.

I can still be a little guarded, a little insecure. I’ve learned the hard way to choose my friends wisely. I don’t open up easily. I have thousands of acquaintances, and a select group of friends. Some people still don’t like me because I’m “too much”, or flamboyant, or downright odd. They don’t think my stories about dating equally odd, “high-profile” people or anecdotes about the silly situations I got myself into before I was older and wiser are entertaining, and I don’t blame them. You can’t please everyone, and “being myself” does often mean being weird, unconventional, flamboyant, and saying things that cause others to turn bright red. I get how some people, especially in the South, especially those who aren’t particularly secure in themselves, don’t like that. I get how my snarkiness annoys others in the same way overly perky, upper-induced people make me want to go home and listen to Nirvana. (I think one of my favourite people, Dorothy Parker, would highly approve.) Some people just don’t like me when I’m “being myself”. And, yet, some people are devoted admirers because of those things.

Being sick over the past year really put things into perspective for me, made me seek out different kinds of friendships, forced me to become more introspective, gave me the opportunity to see things in other people I’d previously missed. I’ve become not only more self-aware, but generally more intuitive and perceptive as a result of needing to take time out from the world. I’ve become a huge fan of one-on-one interactions with others, and realised just how much I hate “clubbing”, and maybe, I secretly always did. I’ve learned that most of my insecurities over the years weren’t real (if you think you’re fat at a size 6, there’s nothing like gaining 30 pounds and five years to make you re-evaluate that girl you judged so harshly.) I’ve learned that most of what was off-putting to people wasn’t that I dared to be my unconventional self, but because there were so many times when I didn’t. I was a social hypocrite, like so much of the world, living one way behind closed doors, yet putting on another face for social occasions. I didn’t let anyone in, didn’t let people get too close. Most of my relationships had an element of superficiality to them I wouldn’t tolerate now.

Yes, as it turns out, I am kind of old. Because I can’t go back to being that faux-perfect-looking, alpha-female, “slightly too good for you” 21-year-old girl, mostly because I know I’m not going to grow up to be that same, even more successful, more socially appropriate 31-year-old-woman. I’m going to realise that’s not me, it never was, and if that means I’m not as appreciated as I should be as a consequence, it’s more likely because I’m in the wrong setting than anything about me is flawed.

Out of all of life’s lessons, “be yourself” is the hardest to learn, mostly because we’re conditioned at such an early age to learn there are social repercussions if yourself happens to be kind of not like everyone else.

Here’s the memo: Everyone else isn’t like everyone else, either. They’re just more people who are scared to be themselves, and believe there’s safety in numbers.

Conformity and blending in isn’t happiness. It’s just one more way in which you’re doing the world, and yourself, a disservice. I have a magnet on my refrigerator, with a quote reading “Stop spending your time trying to be regular. It robs you of the chance to be extraordinary.”

I got fired from my “regular” job yesterday, a primary source of income and responsibility in my life for well over two years. I’m still processing, and not ready to write about it, or deal with the sudden lack of security and constancy this represents in my world. Strangely, it feels like a loss, yet a loss that has freedom as a side effect. I slept 12 hours in a row last night, peacefully, when I should be worried as hell about my future.

Instead, I wonder if someone taking away the safety of being regular is what it takes to remind me that I’m extraordinary, and should be focusing my energy on doing extraordinary things…or at least living a life that makes me happy, instead of settling for one that resembles “secure adulthood”.

I am not by nature a timid or indecisive person. Except when it comes to issues like my wardrobe and what to have for dinner that night, I don’t have difficulty figuring out what I want, when I want it. I have greater difficulty when it comes to figuring out why I want a certain thing, if it’s a good choice, and even if it’s not a good choice, is my impulsive streak going to ultimately win out and do it anyway?

I seem to have less trouble making every day decisions than many of my acquaintances and friends. For years, I’ve run a social group, which means I’m the one who picks where the fun is going to occur, and what type of fun is going to occur, and what rules should be followed to ensure this happens. I don’t go to the grocery store and feel overwhelmed by the huge selection, because I know what I like. When the answer to a question is “I don’t care” or “What do you want to do?”, it really means those things. I’m not always that hugely emotionally invested in the restaurant we choose for lunch, or which mall to visit.

This, of course, extends to my personal life. For a somewhat sophisticated, well-traveled girl, I’ve never learned the coy, flirtatious ways of relationships. I have the ability to be remarkably direct when necessary, and to chase after the object of my affection. Of course, I only do this when I get the sense that someone is attracted to me, and the chase is an interesting game that I’ve been invited to play. Once I realise someone is either disinterested, or waits too long to make a move and chase back, I take the rejection at face value. Sadly, I think I’ve missed out on some potentially positive relationships this way, confusing rejection with someone who is confused or overwhelmed by me. However, the point is, I’ve always been far more intrigued by these relationships I’ve initiated..even if my sense of control was just a well-designed illusion…than any where I have someone simply wooing me in a simple, old-fashioned, gender-role-defined way. I do not know why this is. I’m eternally drawn to the unavailable, provided there’s the slight possibility the unavailable is going to make an exception for *me*.

It goes without saying that this has caused a world of drama, hurt feelings, and miscommunications in my life. It’s almost ended friendships. For a while, I tended to have the outlook on life where I wanted what I wanted, and anyone or anything in my way was irrelevant, and what I wanted was subject to change at any given time. It took me a loooong time to figure out how hurtful this was to certain people in my life. It’s as if there was an element of my life that was always a game not to be taken too seriously…unless something clicked, and I took life WAY too seriously.

I’ve grown a lot since then. In the past two days, I’ve spoken to two different friends about different stories and experiences in my life where I had to make a decision, and it led me to an epiphany. When it’s the right thing to do, I’m remarkably spontaneous. I went to Orlando to audition for a job and ended up in Fort Lauderdale a week later with little more than my weekender bag, and didn’t return home for over a year. I ended up flying to Atlanta to live with a guy I met online and had a fling with for all of two weeks in another city, before we moved in together. I’ve gone to the airport and boarded a plane because I was sad and frustrated with my life and wanted to go somewhere I’d never been. I’ve gone out for dinner with a guy who wasn’t interested in me, and within 24 hours, found myself in a two-month relationship. I Couchsurf with strangers and meet hippies in bars and end up posing for artists, photographers, and filmmakers. I’ve been known to dance on an occasional bar. I’m no stranger to playing life by ear.

Yet, on the other hand, I’ve stayed in numerous relationships that weren’t good for me because I felt I needed to, or it was the pragmatic thing to do, which is just code for “I am afraid of change”. I hang on to jobs until the very last minute, when it becomes obvious what I have is no longer going to work. I live in an apartment that’s inconvenient and I dislike because of all the difficulties associated with finding a new one. I live in a city I’m not sure is for me because I’d feel isolated and alone if I left, unless I went with someone, or had friends when I got there.

I had an epiphany when it comes to the world of me, and decision-making today…and that is that I’m largely guided by intuition. It is not so much just that I’m afraid of change—positive or negative—but that I have a practical streak somewhere inside me that I may not even be aware of. It lets me get away with a lot of stuff that probably aren’t the best examples of solid decision making, but when it comes to the big stuff, it tells me that timing is everything. It tells me to pay attention to the signs the Universe is sending, as well as what I want, and to not let my penchant for being attracted to the new, adventurous, and unavailable undermine good things in my life…as well as not to get so attached to the idea of security that I don’t see that my idea of security comes at a great price, and it’s time to move in another direction.

I realised I am not afraid to make big moves in life. In fact, sometimes I do so in a way that throws other people for a loop, and others aren’t quite prepared for the mini-tornado that accompanies my decisions. Yet, somehow, my intuition will always keep me from doing so if it thinks my timing isn’t right; if I’ve been chasing after someone with whom it clearly isn’t meant to be; if there’s something better waiting around the corner; if there are going to be changes in the future, but it’s wiser to wait until I’m getting the signs that it’s a more advantageous time.

Sometimes, I think that’s why I’m still in Atlanta. There have been plenty of opportunities where everywhere I looked, there were signs saying “Maybe this is the time to get the hell out of here”. And each time, I didn’t…and each time, something different and unexpected and life-changing was waiting for me. It’s always been the same way with jobs, and relationships…at some point, it becomes clear that one thing has to work out so another thing can present itself.

Tonight, I told a friend about an opportunity I didn’t take. After going through a difficult time in Atlanta where I really wasn’t well-liked or socially acceptable, had my heart broken by both friends and lovers, didn’t have much in the way of material possessions, didn’t have many responsibilities, was living on my ex-boyfriend’s couch, and was between jobs, I thought the Universe was clearly telling me it was time for a change. I started looking for different adventures, and somehow stumbled across an opportunity in Asheville, NC that would let me stay in a charming little B & B for the summer, food and lodging paid for, provided I worked as their receptionist. It seemed like a spontaneous, off-the-wall idea, but one that almost happened, because it also seemed exciting. I thought the time away might help me figure out what to do with my life.

Yet, I delayed. One can say I was simply afraid of change, but within a week after that, an old friend reconnected with me and wanted me to take over his old social group in Atlanta. He also got me out of my ex-boyfriend’s apartment, let me stay in his place until the lease was up, and gave me the tools to stop hiding and go out in the world again. I very quickly met a few people who are dear friends of mine to this day, and within 6 months, I had a whole new life here in Atlanta, including some of the most special people I’ve ever crossed paths with. It’s like I knew if I just restrained the impulsive nature, the desire to react chaotically and NOW, something awesome and life-changing was going to be on the horizon.

I have reason to feel the same way about my life right now. There are changes I could be trying really hard to make, alternatives worth exploring, different paths that might take me to a better, happier, more productive and creative place in life. Yet, I’ve been strangely reticent about them, and I think it’s because even though I’m aware some aspects of my life are in need of change…it isn’t dramatic upheaval, adventure, choices that will throw everything for a loop, and knock the sense of stability out of my life that I need. I may need a *little* adventure, but I mostly need the time to focus on returning my life to an even keel, not sending everyone around me into a tailspin.

It isn’t that I don’t know how to make decisions, identify what I want, or know what to do with what I thought I wanted once it’s there in my life. I’m fairly well-schooled in all of those things. It’s also not that I’m lazy or terrified of change. It’s just that there’s this intuitive voice warning me against making the wrong moves, even if on some level, they present themselves as sensible or appealing moves.

It’s like I internally know that things may be tough now, but there are better things on the horizon..yet they tend to arrive on their own time, instead of following my schedule. It’s like there’s a voice that tells me “Take it easy, take care of yourself, treasure the love that’s in your life, and value what you have rather than seeing what you don’t. What will be will inevitably reveal itself, as long as you’re listening.”

That has never led me astray. In fact, the only times I’ve found myself in seemingly unconquerable difficulties is when I got messages from my intuition, even remarked upon them to others, yet still ignored them.

On a similar note, it seems I owe my intuition an apology. Quite some time back, I posted about a “psychic dream” I had regarding a friend who is pregnant, and her child. I dreamed she was in a hospital room with her family, holding a tiny baby, whom they named Amelia. I shared this strange dream, which my friend thought was funny because she–and everyone else she knew—was certain they’d be having a boy. The ultrasound confirmed this…they were expecting a baby boy.

Since then, I’ve blatantly disregarded my dreams, thinking they’re just weird things fueled by my crazy drugs, and my “psychic dream” tendency abandoned me. Yet, this friend told me the other day that a follow-up ultrasound that was once 80% certain the baby was a boy was now 80% certain it was a girl. She’s also been struggling to eat and gain weight, a possible explanation for why one might have a small baby.

Maybe I really *should* listen to my intuition. Especially in Dreamland, it’s a powerful tool. It’s predicted car accidents, earthquakes, sent me visions of the girl my boyfriend at the time would ultimately end up dating after me (although neither of us ever met her), predicted my cousin’s infertile wife would get pregnant and have a boy (she did. What I didn’t tell them is my dream indicated she’ll be having another one in about 2 years.), predicted the gender and relative due date of my friend’s first baby, saw my dad in a wheelchair (a year later, he later developed significant health issues, and now he is), warned me about cheating boyfriends every time I slept in the bed next to them, given me the heads-up on relationships with a romantic future even when I didn’t see it, and has even sent me repeated visions and allowed me to experience the sensation of my own death.

As I mentioned to a friend of mine tonight, I’m admittedly not a pragmatic person. Yet, there is something to be said for simply “knowing” things, yet not really knowing. I couldn’t explain to someone how I “know” they play a significant role in my future somehow, or how I “know” it’s better to choose one thing over another, or sometimes, to choose inaction over making changes. I can’t explain how I “feel” what other people are feeling, even separated by hundreds of miles, or why I see glimpses of the future that are contrary to all indications of the present. I also can’t explain why I can’t “see” or “feel” some people who have a great presence in my life, and with whom I share a personal connection. Yet, even in my dreams, they are generally nowhere to be found.

It’s even harder to explain to your doctors how you still get scared because you “know” things, and one of those things is there’s something troubling you they haven’t found. If you tried, they’d have you at the psychiatrist’s in no time. Yet, I’ve diagnosed my own maladies in the past when doctors were wrong, because of my ability to listen to what it was telling me.

Is anyone else out there like this? Is your decision-making process influenced by a general sense of “knowing” about things that have not yet occurred, or less mysteriously, the ability to see into people and situations on a deeper level than is often appreciated?