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By: Tara Fuller

Have you ever wondered where and how you show up in other people’s memories? The thought can produce a long and never-ending rabbit hole of theories, but I find it fascinating to ponder. The many narratives out in the world about who we are can influence how we define ourselves. In a society full of systems and categories and labels, it is difficult at times to stand firm in how we define ourselves. Who are we without the noise?

Showing up how we are, at our core, feels harder and harder as we grow into our life. We experience times when we’re not accepted, when we’re flat out rejected, and times when the whole world seems to be attacking parts of us. New priorities pop up and we can get lost in the grind of achieving our goals and defending ourselves.

Self-definition in our go-go-go society, and not just based on labels or what boxes we check, is elusive to many people. The truth about who we are is often buried below stories—stories we’ve told ourselves to explain our experiences or stories others have shared about us based on their interpretation of us. Stripping away these stories can be exhausting and uncomfortable, but the process also pushes us to figure out who we are when the dust settles, in silence and stillness.

As the main character of my life, it is hard to integrate the narrator, who creates the stories, and me, who is living this life. I contemplate what it means to be grounded in my identity, not my labels or titles, but my truths—the spirit of who I am beyond anything I have done or that has happened to me. This is my current crossroads.

I frequently wonder what the world would be like if there was less fear about becoming who we’re meant to be—reaching 100% of our potential. With the expectations of today’s society, it can be a rebellious act simply to embrace who we are. I hold particularly close to me those who live in identity categories marked as less than by the systems in which we live, knowing I have privilege in many of my identities. Being a woman and being queer, though, can cloud my self-definition because there is no shortage of messages telling me I am not “normal,” not deserving of safety, or not worth love and acceptance. Aside from the systems that promote unearned privileges, people also experience trauma. Trauma can occur at varying degrees, and some people endure much more than others. All of this contributes to how we view ourselves and can contort what we think is true about who we are.

The mismatching of our core truths and the stories we tell ourselves amid this complexity can skew our self-definition. Because of this, I know many people seeking to fully bloom, who have to put in work to strip away years (and sometimes decades) of survival tactics they’ve needed to get them where they are. All of this can be overwhelming and lead to an accumulation of fear.

We never know what goes on with other people and where, why, or how they were told to play small. It’s like the peak we desire to reach gets closer and closer, but not because we are climbing higher. Each negative experience or perceived failure becomes a new layer of clouds taking the top out of view and the vision of who we want to be becomes foggy. So, we lower our expectations of who we can become, not because we can’t or don’t want to become that person, but because the idea of what we might find in the clouds and fog induces fear.

It’s hard and it’s scary to trudge into the unknown; but, I believe, when we’re ready and it feels safe to do so, it’s worth it. Breaking through the clouds means reintroducing yourself to your ultimate peak, your purpose. For me, it feels irresponsible not to break through those clouds. It is possible the peak looks different than we thought it would, but whatever is beyond the things we fear is uniquely meant for each of us. Not only do we (you and I) deserve to get there, but we can brighten the world with our gifts by doing so.

So, the question is, what parts of yourself are you hiding, and why? If you think it’s too risky to be your true self because people won’t understand, remember, that’s about them and not you. I hope you will join me in the challenge of climbing toward the peak, reflecting in the silence, and striving to define you for you.

For more information about Tara Fulller and her programs visit https://campuspeak.com/speaker/tara-fuller/