I created a memory for myself when I was five, or perhaps, six years old.
It was in the bathroom of the house we lived in, on top of a hill in a small town in East Texas.
I must’ve been using a stool to get a good look at myself in the mirror. In my reflection of long black hair, I stared into the brown eyes that held a sparkle I loved. A sparkle I could see. I told myself that I was going to be great, that I had something to offer the world.
Remember this moment. A capture in time. Intentional. I gave myself a sort of passcode to open up this memory—a large tree. It would take me back to that small hallway bathroom in an instant.
From those younger years, there was an innate confidence. I am not sure why I had it or what I tapped into. Perhaps it’s from being the third child and the first girl in the family. Just enough to get loved on, but plenty to go unnoticed.
I often wonder what makes certain people that come from the same familial upbringing more resilient than others. Each of my siblings has had a different path. Nature, nurture, environment, genetics…one reality is perceived uniquely by each. What a wondrous and confusing thing.
Like a thread weaving its way through the journey of my life, I held on to this belief that there is something bigger for me out there: I am deserving, and I have a lot to offer. I understood that many saw my sparkle, but they were too busy to acknowledge it or didn’t understand the importance of cultivating it. The job was mine.
I stayed open, and I tried. I always tried. And the opportunities came.
I applied to Berkeley, Northwestern, the University of Chicago, and the University of Texas.
Only one school returned an acceptance. Austin, Texas. The verdict was not a surprise as I did not meet the minimum requirements for the other three. Strategic in nature, I’ll weigh the risks, but I tend to take the shot. A sort of Hail Mary with a solid safety net for the best in state option in my perspective.
I was happy. A step in my life path. No space to wonder “what if.” As long as I’m in the driver’s seat, let’s try the doors and close them as we go. And accept that some don’t open.
In college, there was one guy who sparked my soul. There were several who stroked my ego. Few who were supportive and valued me genuinely.
I opted for the soul connection.
I tried liberal arts, writing intensive, architecture, and eventually landed on business as a means to start a job with a salary. I got a starting job that brought in more money than I had ever known. I would get the job and move to New York City.
I lived off peanut butter and jelly when needed. My lease applications were denied left and right due to bad credit from college credit cards and family members. I went as far as Brooklyn (!) in an attempt to apply for a lease and still got declined. Once, I settled on subleasing for a few months in Astoria, Queens—my one stint outside of the city. Fortunately, I stayed under friends’ leases through the years, until one day I got approved for my very own studio way up on 89th street on the Upper East Side. Enough saved up cash finally got me through that gate. Sigh.
I sought out international nonprofit projects with my firm and landed an assignment that would station me in the UK, taking me through Scandinavia and Africa.
There were many moments of stress, exhaustion, loneliness: the grind of New York City rushing to catch the 4 or 5 train from 86th street down to Fulton day in and day out, every jerk and abrupt stop from the train spiking my anxiety. The bitter winters of London and Stockholm while traveling with a manager who I just didn’t mesh with, having to make it alongside through the working day to then find ways to avoid having dinner with him.
Being in it sometimes stoked restlessness because the timeline didn’t line up or the experience was not as smooth as I had imagined. But I understood rationally that the cycle takes time, and I’d force patience. All along believing in myself.
Paths would wind together and wind apart. My heart would experience shattering almost a decade in. I’d pick it up piece by piece, and it healed. Trusting the big picture and what was meant for me.
Most of the journey up until this point was a solo trek. I’d keep my dreams close to my heart. I followed my compass but did not allow anyone to see me closely. There was a fear of being seen. Yet, that is what I wanted most in life. For others to see who I saw in that mirror decades ago.
Being one of four children, I was the baby of the family for six years before my younger sister was born. I was the oldest girl, which mattered in a world of double standards. And I was clearly the middle child through it all.
I cannot recall one person asking me how I was doing or how my day at school was. My parents were wonderful in all the ways that parents who want to provide for their children are—house, food, and friends were never an issue. But they were consumed by their marital issues caused by different upbringings that came into stark contrast in their arranged marriage. My mom would share her emotional suffering and recall her unmet dreams and desires.
We did not share ours. And we sure as heck did not want to say or do anything to add to her worries and loneliness. We could not take up space. We stayed small. We quieted our voices. We rallied around her.
For many years, I kept my greatness inside of myself. I would run away when partners wanted to get serious. I would bust out jokes to brush off the emotion I was feeling or that they were conveying. I would hide.
In that hiding, I also resented that I was not valued or appreciated in the way I wanted. But how can that occur if I block the opening? I had a starring role in this drama.
Then, there came a point in my life—midlife crisis?—where not showing myself fully and stepping into my own skin was turning me mad. Not just angry mad, although that was bubbling out clearly. But madwoman mad.
Feeling unfulfilled and pigeonholed in the typical mom, work, house routine—the misery seeped out into my daily interactions. I found everything and everyone irritable. A neighbor walking his dog appearing carefree could set me off into a comparison tirade. I had no choice but to revisit myself again.
Shedding layers of fear, programming, and societal expectations is a challenging undertaking, but it is well worth it to become myself again. I committed to the journey of therapy and healing, finding meditation and energy clearing. Finding teachers.
I held a fear of being seen all these years. Now, I feel safe when I am seen.
Allowing myself to connect with another who sees me is a raw feeling with nowhere to hide. Moving through the discomfort of what was once unfamiliar, the more I seek that safety, the more familiar it becomes, and I revel in the embrace of it.
It is not often or with many that I feel seen. A core solid group of girlfriends from high school and college see me. My husband sees me. My kids see me. My sister sees me. My loving, generous family of light who I’ve gone on a spiritual journey with see me.
I see myself.
To be seen is in a way to return home. To return to who you are, deep inside of your soul. To have it reflected back to you in the eyes and energy of another. Soul to soul.