I’ve always welcomed and feared change in equal parts. For me, change has always coincided with a major milestone or event. In fact, change was always defined by those events. Graduating from college was a change. My first apartment was a change. Switching jobs quite suddenly last year was a change. These are just some of the events that I considered to be the markers of my evolution into true adulthood: tangible indications that my life is, well, changing.
It wasn’t until recently that I realized true change–true evolution–doesn’t come from the outside. These decisions and circumstances may have changed my life in certain ways, but in others, things stayed the same. The same doubts and fears pervaded everything I did. The same restlessness and insatiable longing for something “else”–something I couldn’t even define–followed me. My confidence grew, or rather my bravado. I assured myself that these accomplishments were building me into the person I was meant to become. I told myself I was maturing. While that was certainly true, this confidence I exuded was really a band-aid to cover up a simple truth: I hadn’t changed at all. I was still a doubtful and awkward child. I was still scared. Scared of the uncertainty of the future. Scared of the insecurity of the past. Scared of the discomfort of my present. My life was changing, but I was not.
For change to be real, I needed to change. I needed to live a life uninhibited by the limitations I’d created for myself. I needed to embrace the future without the anxiety of knowing that I couldn’t predict it. I needed to stop second guessing everything I did, and I needed to stop searching for validation and evolution outside of myself.
It was understandable, then, why I met my revelation about the nature of change with as much fear as I did excitement. Change comes from the inside? How preposterous! How can I change 25 years of hardwired programming? Why can’t I simply be happy with–and evolve through–material attainments and practical accomplishments? If my new gym body or a new job didn’t make me feel like I was changing, what would?
Changing my life meant changing myself. It meant examining my habits, perceptions, and behavior that kept me from truly growing as a person. Issues with trusting others as well as myself. My tendency to project past experiences onto present ones. Finding peace in the knowledge that some previous traumas might never “heal”, but could be managed and minimized. These were all things that needed to be resolved for me to actually change.
My life is changing right now, and I finally feel like it’s changing for real. Through therapy and the support of my friends, I’m learning how to unlearn my self-imposed limitations and open myself up to realizing my full potential. Even writing that sentence–acknowledging that I needed counseling to change myself–proves what I’ve been saying. But it seems fitting, not only in the final days of National Mental Health Month, but also in the course of my evolution, to find a sense of bravery in something that’s been considered “weak” in the past. I am brave, not because I merely put my problems behind me and consider them fixed, but because I am willing to face them head-on: to break myself on a regular basis so I can rebuild myself, stronger and stronger each time. I am brave because I am willing to change, not just with the fluctuations in my life, but from the inside out.
Don’t get me wrong, things are still changing on the outside. I’m on the precipice of finally finishing my book, and setting off on the path that will hopefully become my career. I’m in the market, yet again, for a new job. I’m in a relationship that, while still new, I can consider the healthiest I’ve been in. But while I meet these “changes”, I’m not losing sight of the fact that my actual journey is happening on the inside. That I am defined, not by these things around me that change, but by the way my soul and my mind are growing together to shape the person I am becoming. The person that will remain and continue to grow even when things around me change again.