Let me tell you a little bit about how I grew up. When I was young, authority was all I knew. Mostly because of my parents and the way they raised me. I love them, but I’d be lying if I were to say they weren’t your stereotypical strict Asian parents. They had their belts and sandals locked and loaded to whip out if I misbehaved. They shaped me into the little kid they wanted me to be. They yelled at me for being out past 9pm with friends in grade school on a weekend. They looked at me with extreme disapproval at any grade below a B. And the one thing, the ONE THING that they hated the most was if I disagreed with them. After all, to them, they were always right.
I carried these experiences to high school. Where I let my peers influence me and who I was. Growing up I didn’t really feel like I had a real sense of identity. Because who I was, was so heavily influenced by my parents. And not always in a positive way. I blended in to appease everyone else. Just like how I acted exactly how my parents wanted me to be to please them. I felt like I needed that validation, that I had to be accepted. It brought comfort. I found standing up for myself to be hard. Because that brought me back to the feelings of trying to go against the grain of what my parents wanted me to be, and how I got shot down for doing so.
So if someone said something that I didn’t agree with. I kept it to myself. I would blindly follow the leader of the group. It was fucking stupid, but like I said: to me, it was better to have that acceptance and validation. Because who the hell wants to be seen as different than everyone else, right? I had my close friends in high school, don’t get me wrong, it was alright. But I was just a stereotype. And molded and adjusted my own personality, fashion sense, and values to fit the group of the people around me. Even if I wasn’t really into a lot of the stuff they were into, I did it anyway.
Then, off I went into college. I joined a fraternity. Where I had the time of my fucking life. I partied hard, I went to class high and wasted, I hooked up with some fun girls. I was a basic bro. It was a great time. I didn’t feel the need to be so reserved. However, much of my need for validation still remained. Of course, when you go greek; there’s a certain look that you have to play into in order to represent your organization. I started dressing like a frat bro with the boat shoes, I forced myself to play sports I wasn’t interested in, I acted “hard” to the point of absurdity at times. All for the sake of being cool with everyone in the fraternity. And when it came to older more respected brothers; there I was again, blindly following them and never questioning anything. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve met my best friends because of greek life, and they’re still my best friends today. But man did I fucking care too much about what others thought throughout my time in college.
This eventually extended to my adult life in nursing. Where I was scared to deal with the older nurses when I started my job. I was going out of my way to appease them and the annoying patients who ask for too fucking much. I didn’t have boundaries. It was ridiculous. However, a few months into my job. I started looking back at my life. And I asked myself a big question:
WHY AM I LIKE THIS?
Then I asked myself some more questions. Why was I scared to be me? Why did I have an issue with authority? Why didn’t I speak up for myself as much as I could have in so many situations? What was that stupid feeling of anxiety and fear that kept coursing through my body when I spoke up to authority. Why do I let myself be dictated so much by others???
And then I had a realization. An amazing realization. It was that I didn’t feel complete unless the acceptance and validation I received was from the outside. I thought that it had to be from others. That it had to be from the cool kids in high school, it had to be from the older and more respected brothers from my fraternity, it had to be from the older nurses at work. And I came to a conclusion:
In order to be yourself and comfortable with it, acceptance and validation have to come from within.
I wasn’t comfortable with setting boundaries because I wasn’t comfortable with believing in myself. I wasn’t comfortable with dressing how I wanted and being into hobbies that are different than everyone else because I wasn’t willing to accept that it was ok to be me. Being seen as different was foreign to me, being disliked by some was a scary thought. But now I realized that self actualization only comes when you can be 100% happy with who you are and what you believe in.
And since this realization. I did my best to follow this mantra. I dressed in what was interesting and aesthetically pleasing to me. I set boundaries at work and in my personal life. I let my real self and interests shine through, and I openly talked about them with others regardless of whether they were into the same things or not. I can now disagree with my parents for things that I know they’re wrong about, and be ok with it. This has also extended to my peers, if I see something wrong, I’ll say some shit about it. Hell, I wanted tattoos and was scared of getting them before because I kept thinking about what the nurses at work might think or how I would react if my friends disliked them. But now I realize, who fucking cares? So I got the ones I wanted anyway, and goddamn did it feel great to do so.
And you know what happened after I started doing all this? People respected me more. Because when you’re just trying to appease people, they can tell. When you’re too scared to say anything about what you believe in, they can tell. When you’re not being real and authentic, they can tell. But when you’re you, unapologetically you, people respect that. Regardless of whether they like the real you or not. They know you’re not afraid about being who you are. And even if they’re not thinking about it, in the back of their head they’ll have that tint of jealousy because you didn’t play into what they wanted you to be. So fuck all the non-sense of being who others want you to be, be yourself. Because that’s where true freedom comes from.