The first time I felt really ugly I was in fifth grade. I was practicing for the school talent show with 5 girls whom I considered my friends. As it came time to decide the lineup, one girl spoke up that “Erin should be in the back because she’s a little too chubby to be in the front line.”
I wasn’t chubby. Actually, I was quite the string bean in fifth grade. And I never forgot those words.
In high school I kept up my quest of figuring out who to be. Even though my English teacher told me I was a remarkable writer and I was one of the fastest girls on the track, nothing I did seem to compare to the beautiful girls that seem to float on air and effortlessly command attention from anyone in proximity.
I had plenty of friends, I truly liked people and I thought I didn’t like myself. Years and years later, I figured out that I just never accepted who I had the potential to be. And I never forgot how little I felt.
Around the time I had to start making some decisions on what I would do after high school, I had run at an invitational at Virginia Military Institute. I talked to a recruiter there and even though there were less than a handful of women attending, I felt like this was something I could do and do well. I told one of my coaches, the one who was really a football coach there to train his off season players and using “track” as the way to do it. He told me I would never survive that school.
Who knows if I really would have survived there but I did not go to VMI. I stopped running and went to a school where I thought I would “fit in.” I never forget how intimidated I was by opposition.
I’ve been told I’m too pushy, I don’t know enough and that I could stand to loose some weight. I have been accused of being too private even when I thought my life was an open book. I have been told I was great at what I did but sometimes I should just be happy with where I am and not constantly seek more.
I used to listen to it all.
And then one day I started to take baby steps back from my life. I began to see myself for who I really was instead of what I thought everyone else thought that I was. And I learned to press on because nobody’s life is quite how they once pictured it to be. We are all striving for someone else’s perfect. It’s just an ideal and it doesn’t exist.
Along the way, I gained enough confidence in myself to recognize when there were people in my life that truly saw me for who I was. It took a lot of practice, but eventually, I let them in. And my life has never been more rewarding.
I’m writing this for anyone who may come across this post. I’m writing this for everyone who has listened to critics and in return become their own worst critic. I’m writing this for my friends, family, roommates of the past, coworkers, classmates and people I’ve only briefly met one evening while standing in line at the grocery store. I will never forget how much you’ve shaped my life.
And most of all, I’m writing this for my best friend. She is beautiful and opinionated and has taught me to trust and forgive. She is full of courage, though she’ll never admit it. She is comfortable in her own skin. She is great a mother. She is a wonderful leader. And this week, she has reminded me that everyone feels vulnerable–even her. And I will never forget how important that vulnerability really is in all of our lives.