the year of bold living
I have never wanted to stand out.
I don’t like being the center of attention or being singled out in front of a group of people. The idea of being fussed over and celebrated nearly makes me nauseated with fear. I want to hide when people sing me “Happy Birthday” and have the most horrid case of stage fright. I will rarely ask anything of anyone, because it always feels like too much, even though (as an Enneagram Two) I dearly wanted people to acknowledge and appreciate me and my accomplishments, though I will sink in the sand before I ask anyone to.
Growing up in the shadow of two older sisters who definitely stood out (and whom I idolized), I always felt shy and timid at the idea that I would be looked upon with the full force of anyone’s eyes or thoughts. I wasn’t the typical youngest child who put on shows and danced at family reunions; I was the kid hiding under my mom’s skirt or peering out from behind a show curtain, begging my exuberant sister to please, please don’t make me go out in front of all those people. I really believed I was no one special, though I secretly wanted to be. I excelled in school and felt a sense of pride in my accomplishments, yet felt awkward and uncomfortable if anyone pointed it out. I was the girl who was friends with everyone, who didn’t really have a group, because having a group meant I had a specific identity and having a specific identity meant that people would pay attention to me and have expectations and there was a good chance I would disappoint them.
So I wrote for the school newspaper instead of making the news.
I did makeup for school plays instead of acting in them.
I was friends with all the boys instead of dating them.
I never wanted to stand out.
I went into college with the same mentality. I continued on as a social chameleon, changing my spots in each group I was in, so that I might happily blend in. I could find things in common with everyone without being fake, so I could still be genuine without having to be different. I was just so terrified of being really noticed and called out and held responsible for who I really might be; someone who IS a big deal, who DOES stand out, who IS actually someone special.
I went through a few years where practically everything I bought was grey, when I stopped wearing makeup because it felt too flashy, and went nearly mute at the idea of wearing anything remotely snug or saucy, because people might look at me. So I worked in a career that I didn’t like, wore clothes I didn’t feel like myself in, and hid as much as I possibly could, so that no one could be disappointed if I turned out not to be who they wanted me to be. My temperament and attitude was honest and real to who I am, but at the same time, I hid behind it just the same because it was sweet and polite and safe.
Until one Friday afternoon, sitting in a nursery at my church, cleaning a pile of baby toys, I asked myself what I would do if I could do anything, be anything.
“I would bake,” I thought. “I would travel the world and I would bake.”
That was the day I decided to quit my job and go to culinary school. That was the first time I think I ever really made a real decision without worrying about anyone else’s expectations of me; the first decision I ever made that was just for me, in tune with who I really am; a decision not motivated by fear but by honesty and courage.
And I’ve found it to be a catalyst for some of the most radically surprising, challenging, crazy, and fun years of my life. I’ve found that taking chances is addicting and has a ripple effect unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced. When I finally felt as if I had permission to be myself, it shook to life a desire to discover in a true and authentic way who that person might be.
Someone special, someone fun, someone brave, someone bold.
In short, all the things that make a person stand out and all the things that I had been hiding from for my entire life.
I’m not sure where the boldness came from exactly, except to say that I feel it moving inside of me still; a courageous and zesty Spirit stirring up all that scares me, that asks me the hard questions and forces me to confront them. The Spirit opens my eyes to my friends and family who live lives of boldness every day and who inspire me more than anything else. From my amazing father whose persistence and courage astound me every day, to one of my closest friends who leaves in a few weeks to work on behalf of the Peace Corps in Ukraine, to my Anglophile friend whose crazy fashion shakes up my world of gray t-shirts, to dear friends who doggedly pursue a story framed by hope even when theirs has been a story of loss and sorrow.
As I prepare to head into Year #28, I have decided this is the Year of Bold Living. This is the year of doing things I’ve never done simply because I don’t want people paying attention to me or singling me out. I’ve decided I’m going to do them anyway.
So I’ve started with a few things that to others might seem trivial or material but, to me, are things I’ve always wanted to try or do but haven’t out of a fear of looking stupid; symbols of a growing internal change continuing to become external.
I bought bright yellow pants that make my butt look great. There is absolutely no hiding in these pants.
I’m rocking large framed reading glasses that I’ve loved from afar but was sure would look dumb on me.
I switched to a hoop for my nose ring, which is far more noticeable and sassy than my tiny little stud.
And I’m throwing myself a birthday party. An actual, live, in-person, real celebration, full of cupcakes and music, friends and yard games; I’m asking people to celebrate my life, an idea that still nearly makes me break out in hives, but I’m doing it anyway, because it’s a life worth throwing a party for.
It’s a life that is learning to stand out, to take risks, to fail and wander and not know and ask without a guarantee of an answer. And as I learn all of that, I am also learning that in some ways, I will always be the girl who can find something in common with everyone, who will never like being the center of attention and who wants to blend in as much as I want to be noticed.
But I am being her, flawed as she is, with boldness.
And I think that deserves to be celebrated.