Below is the sequel to the goodbye blog I wrote earlier this summer. This blog has been extremely difficult to write because it kept evolving as my experience progressed and my perspective changed; every time I thought the blog was complete, something big seemed to shift or change. At one point, I erased it all and started from scratch. In a way, this is the darker side of what I felt – the relief in leaving to focus on the emotions I had been running from, the feelings I either wasn’t aware of or was too scared to show.
Act I: The Emotions
Call me an emotional hoarder, keeping everything locked inside for all this time. While on the surface I was happy, underneath was sadness, self-doubt and failure. I often feel like I am not good enough. Other times I feel like I am an outsider that doesn’t belong. I question my decisions, don’t trust my emotions, and turn to others for acceptance I should be able to give myself. I feel like I need to show people I am okay, that I am stronger than any single situation, so it won’t look like the failure I often feel. Maybe the reason I locked it up wasn’t just to prove to the outside world I was okay, but also to convince myself.
I don’t know how to deal with these feelings. I struggle with how to talk about them and who to talk with. I worry that if I disclose my insecurities, I will be rejected or labeled. It feels like a show of weakness.
When I first started on this blog, I wasn’t sure why I was unhappy, full of self-doubt and feelings of failure. The more I dig, the more I think I understand. Initially, I blamed recent events in my past – failed relationships, career setbacks, lost friendships. While I can pinpoint comments, events and actions that fed these feelings, it’s deeper than that. I am beginning to understand that these feelings aren’t wrong; many others experience similar emotions for one reason or another. It takes strength and courage to talk openly and find the right support.
I’m starting to view my low self-esteem as a side effect of positive aspects of my life. Growing up, I was constantly involved with high performance competition – sailing, dance and academics. Each of these taught me important life lessons that I use daily, and without them, I would not be where I am today.
I learned to persevere, overcome obstacles, and view situations from different angles. I understood how to be specific, detailed and organized. I became efficient and effective in managing my time. I would never give up these skills.
But I also experienced defeat, rejection and a feeling of mediocrity. While these are important lessons that help me work harder, dust myself off and try again, I internalize and constantly look for ways to be better. I’ve been told I am my own worst critic, and while the words and actions of others may serve as reminders or proof of my negative self-image, I’m beginning to see that my view of how others see me might be skewed.
Act II: The Relief
Leaving my life in the US behind came with an overwhelming sense of relief. I felt like I had been playing a part and could finally cut the act. I knew I was unhappy but didn’t want to understand why, and therefore didn’t know what to do about it. Leaving let me take action towards finding my version of happiness, rather than the picture of happiness I’d come to believe was “right.”
I don’t think the picture of success I was striving for is really what would have made me happy. What’s more, failing to attain what is often portrayed as the “perfect life” has fed into these feelings of inadequacy. But does a perfect life even exist? I know that what I saw as the cultural norm wasn’t right for me, but that doesn’t take away the feeling of defeat by not hitting those unspoken life milestones.
Leaving gave me the space I needed to confront what I was hiding from. This hasn’t been easy, and while travelling Europe is an amazing adventure, this hasn’t been a vacation for me. I needed to remove myself from the distractions and comforts that allowed me to hide. I needed space to reinvent myself.
Arriving in Split, Croatia, I had the opportunity to check my old persona at the door and truly be myself. Nobody knew me, so there were no expectations on how I should act or feel. Being honest and open with myself could be the person they grew to know. It was easier for me to be vulnerable in front of people who knew nothing about me than risk disappointment from those back home. The distance also made it easier to focus on myself.
Act III: What Now?
This honest vulnerability is hard to put in the open, and I’ve struggled – for over two months now – to hit “publish” on this blog. What am I so afraid of? I’m afraid of being rejected or labeled. I’m afraid of disappointing people. Like so many others, I am afraid of what the world’s response will be to the “real me.”
I’ll be honest, even with the acceptance of others that I have received on this trip, it has been hard to quiet the negative thoughts I have about myself. But I am trying as hard as I can to be open and take the risk of rejection in order to take care of myself.
One thing I do know is that it takes a lot of strength to take that risk. It’s hard to admit, but I’m scared of what I am learning. I don’t yet have the answers to my questions and I don’t know how to rebuild my own self-worth. What I do know is to take it one day at a time, stop hiding and make decisions based on what feels right for me. So that’s what I’ll continue to do.