Today I had the distinct pleasure and honor of interviewing one of my former students who is now in her third year of college. For the sake of privacy, we’ll call her Jasmine. This morning, Jasmine was interviewing for a position where she will be working with high school kids in a summer program and acting as a peer advisor and mentor. What struck me most about Jasmine’s answers during the interview was the fact that she mentioned several times her belief that you have to love yourself in order to love others. It was something she said she learned while she was one of my students, and I was truly grateful for that.
I remembered the many talks she and I had where I listened to her venting about having to be the big sister to an autistic sister and a complacent kid brother, and translator for her parents because they could not understand what doctors would tell them about her sister’s needs. She also shared many times in her youth how she felt trapped and at the same time not feeling like she fit in anywhere. In my many talks with her, I would tell her that in time she would grow into her own person and that it would take time to discover who she is and what her passion in life truly is. I shared with her on many occasions that I was not born “having it all together” (something she said I had), but that I grew from many mistakes, heartbreaks, lessons learned the hard way, and from simply growing up and learning to choose my battles.
I told her to celebrate her accomplishments, and to learn the lessons from those situations that did not work out the way she would have hoped. Ultimately, I told her that she would someday be comfortable in her own skin and that it was from learning the lesson on taking care of herself so she could take care of others. Essentially, I told her that she would never be able to care for others who are broken if she herself has never been broken and has never had to put herself back together again. I also told her that sometimes it means reinventing oneself and rediscovering what change needs to happen or what you are now adept at doing. Things change and that’s not a bad thing.
Jasmine somehow brought up all these points during her job interview with my staff and I, and she not only spoke the words she believed in, but she also told the committee how she was living these words out in action, and that she herself was becoming comfortable in her own skin and loving herself and others along the way. She made me proud and before she left at the end of her interview I told her I was proud of the woman she was becoming. She will someday make a great lawyer and social justice advocate for those who have no voice.
Throughout the rest of the day after Jasmine’s interview, I wondered what in my life had helped me turn the corner and become “comfortable in my own skin,” or rather accepting and loving myself. It wasn’t until I looked around at some of my younger colleagues who are currently enrolled in graduate school. While they are fresh out of their undergraduate degree programs and are now newer professional educators, I have been in this field for well over 20 years and have made my work and my reputation among colleagues at various higher education institutions known.
My career has been stellar in higher education, but I also reinvented myself in 2012 when I decided to pursue my dream of becoming a writer. I love what I do as an educator, but I also love and have a passion for creativity, especially writing stories and drawing or painting. You may have followed my spiritual fiction book series, The Last Prophet (see my official author page at http://starofsolitude.wix.com/authorclairegager or visit one of my social media sites listed at the end of this blog post), but even following this Blogs by Claire site gives you an idea of my passion for writing, people, and my faith. As an educator I am able to do what Jasmine hopes to do as a lawyer, which is to be a voice for those who have no other options or information. As a published author, I am able to share the stories I write, which are inspired by and often come from the life stories others have shared with me throughout the years, and through my writing affect change. This is who I am, in addition to being a wife, a mother to two autistic sons, an active church ministry and parish member, and overall woman of faith and conviction.
Looking back at my younger years, when I was Jasmine’s age, I thought I needed to be like everyone else, be careful about who I associated with as friends, say and do the right things, and look like the other young women at my college and then at my place of employment. For a good decade and a half, I spent many days being unhappy with acquaintances I had nothing in common with, would-be friends who never remembered to invite me to hang out, stifling my opinions and my ideas so I didn’t offend anyone, and being so self-conscious about my appearance that I was always scared to wear certain styles of clothing or wore clothing that hid my shape. I even remember being afraid to eat in front of anyone and instead ended up eating my lunches in my car at the university I attended, and carried that habit with me at work when I became a professional educator.
I had spent too many years trying to “be someone else” rather than being the person God created me to be. When I tried too hard to be something I was not designed to be or to do something I was not meant to do (i.e., I had no passion for it), I found myself miserable, and making myself sick over it at one point. This is not what God intends for any of us. Rather, God wants us to simply be who we are created to be and who we truly are.
In an older blog post, I mentioned my personal self-affirmations, or my I AM statements. When I looked back at them several weeks ago, I realized that I had turned a corner in my life as I read each of my I AM affirmations. Each affirmation was a testimony and truth of what kind of woman I have become over the years. I became (and am still becoming) what God created me to be. THIS is why I am comfortable in my own skin now as a woman at age 42, compared to the girl I was at 24 years of age and even as a teenager at 14 or a child at 8.
I had learned to let go of toxic people or people who didn’t want to be a part of my life (self-care). I reached out to people I knew would welcome me, but I also reached out to those who I knew needed me even if they would not remember me later (selflessness). I no longer fear expressing my opinion or ideas, and I vocalize these in such a way that is assertive, but not rude; bold, but not crass; respectful, but never demeaning of the others who may disagree.
I still have extra cushioning on my body, which I am convinced I was meant to have since I neither lose nor gain weight really, but I have come to realize that my beauty is not determined by the clothes I wear, the shape of my body, or my hair and makeup. Rather, my beauty comes from having a heart and soul that are compassionate and loving, a mind that is intelligent, witty, and naturally curious with a desire to constantly learn; hands and arms that do not fear hard work, and at the same time are willing to hold someone who may be hurting inside; eyes that see with faith and trust beyond the exterior, and looks upon others with great empathy, compassion, mercy, and love; and a mouth that speaks truth, and also comforts or consoles loved ones or strangers.
These inner qualities are what make me uniquely beautiful in my own way. Don’t get me wrong. I also have a fashion sense that works for me in whatever situation I may be entering, but at the same time flatters and accentuates what is physically best about me (or at least what my husband seems to think are my best features). My point is that I had to learn to accept who I was meant to be in God’s eyes, rather than trying to be someone and something I was not created to become.
Jasmine, my former student, is learning this lesson everyday as she matures into a young woman of her own, and I am glad to have had a part in that development. More women (and men) who have come into their own and turned the same corner should share their experiences. What a world it would be if more of us would share our stories and give back to the younger generations that which has helped us to become what we were destined to be rather than striving for an identity that is not our own. It starts with being comfortable in our own skin.
How comfortable are you in your own skin? What do you still need to do to achieve that? Comment in the space provided.
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