Recently I went on a date. I think it was my favorite date I've ever been on. Why? Because I finally stopped being afraid of who I am.
Let me explain.
I am a very socially awkward person. Talking to people is really difficult. It's hard for me to carry on a conversation for more than a few minutes. And don't even mention small talk, because no one is worse at it than me. Because of this, I've always been afraid of dating. I've been afraid that my personality will make the whole date awkward (which it usually ends up doing). So instead of being myself I try to be someone different, which ends up being even more awkward. So now I have a problem: if being myself is awkward, and being someone else is awkward, I can't win. Either way I'm going to be awkward. So what do I do?
Well, this week I finally figured it out. As soon as I asked the girl on the date I decided that this one was going to be different. This time I was going to embrace who I am and just go with it. I decided that I was going to embrace my awkwardness and accept it as who I am.
This was not an easy process. As funny as it might sound, I actually practiced embracing awkward situations. At work if I'd accidentally say or do something wrong, making it awkward, instead of beating myself up I'd say, "No, it's okay. That's just who I am." I did this over and over and over until it became second nature. The more I did this the more my confidence grew. I started doing things I was nervous or afraid to do because I knew that even if I ended up feeling awkward, I could accept that fact and move on. It has been one of the most liberating things I have ever done.
So, when it came time for the date I gave myself a pep talk and decided that this was going to be the best date ever. I was going to just let my personality come out unconstrained. And guess what? It worked!
I still felt awkward at times, but I was okay with it. There were times when I didn't know what to say, but I just thought harder and eventually thought of something. But the most important thing is that I had fun. I actually enjoyed it. I just focused on enjoying the moment instead of obsessing over how I wasn't perfect.
So my message to you is to just be yourself. Don't be afraid of making mistakes, because everyone makes them. If things are difficult, work harder to achieve them. You will find that the more you accept yourself, the more other people will accept you too.
"The Shedding Tree"
There is a forest near my home
Where through the ages trees have grown.
Tall and mighty, towards the sky
these trees have grown to please the eye.
But though they're tall and heaven bound
their roots are shallow in the ground.
They grow too quickly to give thought
to the parts that eyes see not.
For many years the trees stand tall
but just one storm can cause their fall.
And when they finally hit the ground
they split and crack with thundering sound.
And so their growth is all for naught
and all their wood is left to rot.
Now here we learn a lesson true:
that looks and status will not do.
Though fame and glory we adore
to grow up strong we need much more.
Another tree stands near my home
out in a field, it's all alone.
It is not pleasing to the eye
it's wind-worn, crooked, all awry.
But there it stands, still in its prime
this tree has stood the test of time.
While other's grew up tall and fair
this tree grew with much more care.
It knew that storms would come its way
and so it readied for that day.
When autumn came it shed its leaves
and saved its strength for greater need.
Though unattractive, cold, and bare
this tree shed its worldly care.
It grew deep roots that none could see
and through the storms they held that tree.
And when the spring had come again
it bloomed once more with pink and red.
So when it comes to you and me
often we're not much to see.
But life is not about the fruits,
more important are the roots.
Be the best that you can be
by growing like the shedding tree.
Love your little, crooked arm,
your messed up hair, your lack of charm.
You don't have to please the rest
you just have to be your best.
Grow up honest, strong, and true
and most important, just be you.
Who are you?
If you just answered that question with your name then I want you to go back and read it again. I didn't ask what people call you, I asked who you are.
Believe it or not, you are more than a name. You are more than a title. In fact, names and titles pale in comparison to who you really are. So who are you?
You are you.
Now, once you've recovered from the shock of that statement, I want you to really think about it:
You are not your parents.
You are not your brothers or sisters.
You are not your neighbors.
You are not your friends.
You are not your teachers.
You are not your co-workers.
You are not that person you saw on TV.
You are not the person you met at the store.
You are not any of the other seven billion people on the planet.
You are you.
And that is an amazing thing.
Now I want you to do something. Seriously. I want you to actually do this:
Take out a piece of paper and write down everything you have been called by another person, both good and bad. Don't continue reading until you have done this.
Now that you have your list, read through it and then tear it up. Tear it into pieces so small that it can't ever be read again.
Good. Now that you have completely destroyed what everyone else thinks of you, take out another piece of paper. You're about to discover what you think of you.
On this one I want you to write down everything you know about yourself. And I mean everything.
Write down all your physical features.
Write down all your strengths.
Write down all your weaknesses.
Write down all your hopes.
Write down all your fears.
Write down all of your dreams.
White down everything.
Don't continue reading until you have done this.
Now, read through the list and this time I want you to embrace it. The good, the bad, all of it. This is who you are. And you want to know the best part? There is nothing wrong with it.
The fact that you are all of these things is absolutely incredible! Nobody else on the planet is exactly like what you wrote on that paper. YOU are unique, and the more unique something is, the more value it has. That means your value is infinite. You have things to offer that no one else on the planet has. You can do things that no one else is capable of doing. Because you are the only person that is exactly like you.
Now, with all of this it's important to remember that there is always room to improve, but that doesn't mean you can't be happy with who you are right now.
So love who you are! Be happy with it! Embrace it! Shout it to the world: "This is who I am!"
Because you are you.
And that is the reason why I like you.
I have spent years trying to forget most of the things I am about to write. I'm going to tell you about the most miserable time in my life. My experiences during this time are the single worst memories I have. The only reason I am doing this is because I feel like there is someone out there that needs to hear it. There is someone out there that needs to know how I overcame the hardest trial of my life. This story does have a happy ending, but I went through hell to get there.
So here we go.
This is me in 2004:
I was a scrawny kid just out of elementary school, headed into junior high; scared, but also excited; pretty much your average 7th grader.
I remember my first day at Elk Ridge Middle School. It took me so long to get my locker open that I was late to my first period. Once again I was your typical seventh grader sprinting through the halls with a map of the school trying to find his class. I remember that I was especially excited for this one: Tech Lab. I'd always been good at building things and now I got to do it in school! I was beyond excited. By the end of the class I was ready to take on the world. These were going to be the best years of my life, I just knew it!
But I was wrong. What happened next troubled me greatly.
For reasons unknown, every one of my friends left me. Not only would they not talk to me, but they began to tease and bully me. These were friends that I had known since kindergarten, friends that had come to my birthday parties, friends that had been there through every one of my childhood adventures. And now they were gone.
I've always been a nerdy, clumsy, somewhat introverted person. I never had any interest in sports, but give me a computer and I'd be sucked in for hours. That's just who I was and I never thought anything of it...until that day in 7th grade.
When my friends left me I began to question who I was. They were quickly becoming the "cool kids" and I was left behind. I tried fitting in, but I just couldn't. I was nerdy, clumsy, and introverted, and it was beyond my ability to do so. It wasn't long before I was officially given the title of "loner," and that was when my self-esteem took a plunge into the mud. I didn't fit in. I wasn't cool. I couldn't throw a football or hit a baseball. I didn't know how to dance and had never been to a real party. No one wanted to be around me. I began to view my strengths as negative things. I felt absolutely worthless.
The bullying continued throughout middle school and into high school. I was constantly being told that I was weird and that I wasn't cool. My lack of social skills made me an easy target because I couldn't defend myself. I just took it. I soaked it in. I believed it. I wanted it to stop, I wanted to change, but I couldn't. I did my best to stay strong but it eventually broke me.
By the time high school came I had no hope. I hated school, I hated life, and above all I hated myself. I hated who I was. Life just wasn't worth it anymore and I stopped trying. Right when grades really started to count, I failed every class. Right when I was old enough to start dating, I didn't dare talk to girls. And right when I should have began preparing to serve a mission for my church, I stopped believing in God.
When I felt that I couldn't go any lower, I began to lie to make myself seem better than I was. I began to steal to make people think I had more than I did. I rebelled against everything I had been taught because it obviously wasn't working. My life was dark and full of hate. I was miserable and there was no cure. I was alone and there was no one who cared. 11th grade started and I resolved that this was the year that I would kill myself. I just couldn't take it anymore.
But this is the part when the hero enters the story.
Junior year, 2008.
Day one of 11th grade, seventh period biology. I walked in, took my seat in the corner furthest from everyone else, put my head down and sank into my own misery. Not a minute later I heard someone sit down next to me. I didn't bother to look up to see who it was, they were probably doing it on a dare; that was one of the many ways people mocked me and I was used to it by now. To my surprise, the person said, "Hi, what's your name?" I looked up to see a girl smiling at me. Not only did she seem happy, but she was glowing. No joke. She was actually glowing. Confused, I told her my name, to which she replied, "Hi Jordan, I'm Kelsi. Is it okay if I sit here?" Still confused, I agreed.
To my even greater surprise, she sat next to me the next day, and the next, and every day after that. She talked to me like I was a human being. She asked me real questions and listened when I responded. I had never met her before that first day, but she treated me like her best friend. And every day she continued to glow.
Kelsi Richardson probably has no idea that she literally saved my life that year; I never told her all that I was going through, nor that I was planning on killing myself. I don't know if she even remembers any of this. I haven't seen her since high school. She'll probably find out through this post exactly what her kindness did for me.
Change is not easy, and very rarely is it immediate. Mine sure wasn't. Kelsi's kindness gave me hope. She showed me that I wasn't worthless. 11th grade was a tough year, but it gave me the confidence I needed to begin rebuilding my life.
Senior year, 2009-2010:
My senior year was the first time in five years that I was actually happy. I wasn't one of the "cool kids," but I was finding more confidence every day. I started to get more involved and was even the president of the school's German Club.
With my newfound confidence I tried hard to fit in. By the end of my senior year I was literally able to change my personality to fit in with just about any of the major social groups, from the jocks, to the nerds, to the emo rockers. Now that might sound like the happy ending, but it's not. High school ended and my group-hopping skills were rendered useless. Once again I didn't know who I was.
A year passed and I was finally ready to serve a full-time mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I didn't have strong faith in God, but I had the confidence to try.
Those two years changed my life 100%. Once again, it was not immediate nor was it easy, but it was definitely worth it. On my mission I developed real social skills. Not only was I able to talk to my friends, but I was able to talk to complete strangers. As my faith in God increased, so did my ability to look beyond myself. For the first time in my life I was able to sacrifice my own desires and focus on the needs of others. It really is true, the saying that when you lose yourself in the service of others, you find yourself. I learned that I was special and unique. I have talents that I can use in many ways. For the first time in my life I actually believed in myself. I'm still nerdy, clumsy, and somewhat introverted. I still don't know how to dance and I've completely given up on an athletic career. But that's okay. That's who I am. And that's all that matters.
It's been a year since I returned from my mission and I have learned so much in that time. I tried living my life like people expected me to, but I just wasn't happy. I am a person that likes to break molds and disprove stereotypes. I don't like to just "go with the flow." I'd much rather forge my own path and do things that no one has ever done. That is who I am and that is what makes me happy.
In telling this story I purposely left out many of the details, mainly because it would take too long to write, but I'm willing to discuss them with anyone that needs to hear them. As I said before, the reason I am writing this is because I felt like someone needed to hear it, and so to that person I say this:
You are amazing. You are loved. And you are worth it.
You can be whatever you want to be, but in your journey of self discovery don't forget to be yourself. You have talents and strengths that people may tell you are small, but I tell you that they are amazing, and I believe in you.
Now one final thing:
On my mission I met a woman that had been beaten down by an unfair and miserable life. She was weak and had very little hope. We did everything we could to serve her. We listened to her, we prayed for her, we showed her that she wasn't worthless. One day she told us that when we came she could literally see a light around us. It was what kept her going. My thoughts turned back to that day in biology class when I saw that very same light, and how it kept me going. I realized that it was the light of Jesus Christ, shining through someone who had taken time to serve someone else.
It is my hope that you will find your place in this world, but when it comes right down to it don't be afraid to just be you.
Because you are amazing. You are loved. And you are most definitely worth it.