I Needed to Change, But Not in the Way I Thought

need to change

“Without giving up hope—that there’s somewhere better to be, that there’s someone better to be—we will never relax with where we are or who we are.” — Pema Chödrön

I thought going to college was going to be a chance for a fresh start. I guess it was, but not in the way I’d envisioned.

I grew up in a small town. It seemed impossible to escape who I was in a place where pretty much everyone knew me. I was quiet and tended to stick close to one or two friends instead of being popular. I was known for getting good grades and following the rules. I was reasonably athletic, but not aggressive enough to actually be good at sports.

I didn’t know anyone at the college I chose to attend. No one there knew that I was shy and unsure of myself. No one knew how uncool I had been.

It seemed like a perfect opportunity to reinvent my identity and be like the people I envied. I wanted to be like the people who were always making others laugh and were never at a loss for words. I wanted to be like the ones who could speak their minds and still always be surrounded by friends.

I thought if I could be like them, then I’d finally feel comfortable in my own skin. I believed that if I could win enough approval, I’d finally feel like I belonged.

So I left for college thinking I would be outgoing and fun. I looked forward to having a wide circle of friends and a feeling of confidence about myself.

I’m sure you can guess what happened.

Transplanting myself into a different place didn’t instantly change who I was. Surrounded by different people, I was still me.

I still felt more comfortable in one-on-one conversations than at big parties. I still thought and observed more than I talked. I still didn’t figure out how to be bold or gregarious. I was still unsure of myself and thought there was something wrong with me.

College was hard in a lot of ways. I spent far too much of it wishing I was somewhere else—wishing I could be someone else. I didn’t invest much energy into making the most of where I was or who I was. College became one more thing to get through until another fresh start gave me a chance to try to be someone better.

Over the past few years things have started to change for me, but not in the ways I had expected. Instead of finally transforming into someone else, I’m learning to understand and appreciate who I am.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that there is no one right or best way to be. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. Just because mine don’t look like those of the person next to me doesn’t mean that I am wrong.

I took some personality tests and read about personality types. In addition to gaining insights into my own tendencies and preferences, my eyes were opened to the wonderful variety of ways people perceive, experience, and interact with the world.

Once I had some reassurance that the way I am isn’t wrong, I was able to start noticing the strengths of my particular qualities instead of just the ways they seemed to hold me back.

For example, the more I learned about what it really means to be an introvert, the less I saw it as a weakness to overcome. I may find large group situations draining, but I value the depth that can be reached in one-on-one conversations. I may not always know immediately how I want to respond, but I do think deeply about things and have an ability to explore a question from multiple perspectives.

Identifying my core values also opened up possibilities for more than one right way to be. Scanning through long lists of values helped me realize that there are so many important things in this world. Just because something matters deeply to someone else doesn’t mean it has to be a top priority for me.

I had believed there was something wrong with me because I wasn’t motivated by the things I thought I was supposed to care about—success, achievement, status, power. It’s other things like growth, creativity, kindness, and connection that I truly value. Instead of trying to chase things that don’t matter as much to me, I can live my life guided by the things that do.

True connection comes from letting others really see me, not from meeting expectations and winning approval. There were times in college when I managed to act like the person I thought I was supposed to be, at least for a little while. Instead of giving me a sense of confidence and belonging, however, these times left me feeling lonelier than ever. No matter how much people liked that version of me, it wasn’t really me they liked.

Learning to accept and even embrace who I am is a slow process. There is still part of me who thinks I should be the bubbly life of the party…and maybe there always will be.

I’m learning to notice things to appreciate about myself, but there are still plenty ways I’d like to improve. The difference is that now, instead of trying to be someone I’m not, I can work with who I am to bring about further growth and change in my life.

What about you? I’d love to know…when have you thought you needed to be someone else? What has helped you learn to value who you are? Let’s talk about it in the comments below.

12 thoughts on “I Needed to Change, But Not in the Way I Thought”

  1. This is so insightful! I particularly love the line: “Once I had some reassurance that the way I am isn’t wrong, I was able to start noticing the strengths of my particular qualities instead of just the ways they seemed to hold me back.” I have a tendency to hold up others as The Standard for what I should bring into a relationship…instead of truly valuing who I am and seeking genuine connection. So much to think about! Thank you!

    1. Thanks, Kim! It can feel like we need to be a certain way in order to feel the connection and belonging we seek, but we can’t really feel connected to another person unless we’re showing up as ourselves. I still struggle to remember this, but learning to accept who I am is making a difference in my relationships. I’m glad you’re here!

    2. that was me before, trying to be someone I am not little did I know what matters is you. embracing who you are and work not to impress other but to impress yourself,

  2. What a beautiful insight! It took me a long time to realise that I am okay to just be me. I can particularly relate to wanting to be the one that always makes everyone laugh and feels comfortable talking in big groups. I think I thought the ones that were the loudest have the biggest confidence. I still want to be the one who makes everyone laugh but discovered I didn’t even have to be the loudest! Thanks for sharing your story! :)

    1. Thank you, Maren! It can be so easy to look at other people and think they have what we believe we’re missing, can’t it? I’m glad you’re finding ways to be who you want to be without trying to be someone you’re not. I appreciate you being here and sharing your experience! :)

  3. I could so identify with everything you captured so beautifully. I’m an introvert and have social anxiety issues. For years I berated myself for this, not accepting who I was, wanting to be like others, bold and brave. But it’s taken years of self-examination to realise that I can push past my boundaries when I want to. It’s not what I like to do, there is still great resistance but I encourage myself to speak in a group, that my opinion counts and I can make a valuable contribution even though my mind says otherwise. I still prefer one-on-one interactions, but don’t want to hold myself back from growing my self-confidence, ignoring negative thoughts. I will always remain a loner who loves her own company and never gets bored with it. The greatest gift I could give myself was loving the person I’ve become, with my flaws, challenging myself when I need to and being my biggest cheerleader when overcoming fears.

    1. Thanks for being here, Sumi! You bring up some really excellent points. Accepting ourselves for who we are doesn’t mean we never push ourselves outside our comfort zones. Like you, I prefer one-on-one interactions AND there are times when I want to participate in groups. It’s helpful for me to realize that I can practice doing things that challenge me, like speaking up and sharing my opinion in a group, without having to become someone I’m not. I can recognize and accept that certain situations will be more draining for me instead of beating myself up for not being able to handle them better. I’m so glad you’re giving yourself the gift of embracing who you are without limiting yourself. Thanks for sharing your experience with us!

  4. Johanna,

    I’ve been needing a good read to help catapult me into the new year on a different note and I am so glad I came across your post. I feel as if I myself am lost within myself if that even makes sense? Almost as if I lost myself in the many personas (failed attempts) of being someone that mattered. Such insightful post. Thank you.

    Life has been a little rough but it is oh so thrilling.

  5. I am still currently struggling to learn who I am and accept the things that make me, me. Many of which you shared I can relate. Most days lately I feel so lost not feeling motivated and inspired. I know in some ways I have grown and in others I still need growth Thanks for sharing Johanna

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