Who were you before the world told you who you should be?
Last month, I joined a “30-day Comfort Zone Challenge” led by a friend, and to kick things off, she had us answer a bunch of questions about ourselves. The questions were tailored such that they forced us to dig deep into our comfort, insecurities, hopes, and dreams, and one of them really stuck with me. She asked,
“What did you dream about as a little girl?”
As I sat there on the other end of the conference call, taking myself back in time to little, 6-year old Erin, who barely spoke, I thought about how important this question was. You might be thinking it’s inevitable to change our minds from when we were young. And I agree with you. We mature, we change, and we become who we are in the present as a product of our experiences. While I certainly agree that circumstances and life experiences have a great impact on who we are in the present, I want to focus on a deeper aspect of this question. Setting circumstances and surroundings aside, I think many people move through life and lose touch with the character, spirit, and dreams they had before life took over and pressured them to become someone different.
I spent a couple minutes thinking about myself as a young girl, and I came up with a few words that represented my aspirations for what I wanted to become and achieve “when I grew up.” I was drawn to science and creativity, and I didn’t know exactly how, but I naively wanted to change the world in some way.
If you have a minute or two right now, I encourage you to recall your dreams at a young age. Then think about how that list might have manifested itself into your accomplishments today and what the themes may be. The point of this post is not to focus on my list of aspirations or whether I have/have not pursued those things or stuck to the same themes. For the most part, mostly everyone’s list should look a little different through time. We learn new things, gain new perspectives and skills, and move in different directions. The purpose here is simply to recognize the fact that as we age and move through life, we create limits for ourselves and abandon the ideas we had before we knew what it would take to get there. As kids, we don’t let obstacles stop us. Though as we grow older,
We slowly lose touch with our creativity and get pulled into what’s feasible.
We focus less on what we were drawn to from a young age and more on what we think will set us up for the most success later.
We avoid criticism from parents, close friends, and society, even if it means pursuing a path we’re truly passionate about.
We shrink at the idea of taking a risk for fear that it won’t work out.
We learn what we are naturally good at, and we settle within our comfort.
We compare ourselves to others that may seem “more capable” on the outside, and we lose belief in ourselves.
I’m not suggesting that you should consider changing your life now to become an astronaut if that’s what your 6-year old self wanted. My hope is that you reflect on how your character has changed through life. Most of the time, we are brave, fearless, and extremely ambitious as kids, even if we barely spoke, like me. We may say things like “I want to change the world,” and have no clue what that means, but our challenge as adults becomes to believe in ourselves enough to make it happen.
My challenge to anyone reading this right now is to focus less on the titles and actions that we use to describe ourselves today and more on the qualities and characteristics that define us. Are you still brave? Are you still ambitious? Are you still forgiving? A thrill-seeker? Kind? I believe that the qualities we use to define ourselves are actually what lead us to our aspirations and achievements the most. Life events happen, goals change, but if you’re true to WHO you always were, you’ll always be where you should be. You’ll find that those words that you spoke as a kid have created some theme in your life that manifests into the actions you take today.
So, tap into the character you had before you knew all the realities and struggles life brings, and don’t lose sight of it. Narrow your focus to what YOU want, not what your environment is telling you to want. Take the risk and learn from it. Do what you’re good at, but know that the list is always expandable. Stand strong in the face of criticism, and know that following your own hopes and dreams is the true path to a happy life.
If you’re taking the time right now to reflect on how situations and circumstances may have moved you off course from what you truly want inside, you are already on the right track.
P.S. For more on this Comfort Zone Challenge, and for wisdom from an extremely bright, warm, and inspiring woman, I encourage you to check out Katie’s page. From the few challenges I was able to take on in the past 30 days, I can assure you that there is a lot to gain from opening your perspective, doing what’s uncomfortable, and surrounding yourselves with others on that same mission.