Growing up, my life was very structured. I lived in a small town with little room for adventure and excitement. I had nice friends and nice parents and was raised against an extremely religious background. I’d go to school five days a week, attend religious meetings twice a week and assume that my future was all mapped out. I’d go through the education system, get an average job, then meet someone nice and sensible and get married, maybe popping out a kid or two down the line.
When I look back at my childhood and teenage years, I’ve always experienced a huge sense of disconnect between my current self and my younger self. I was very shy, insecure, and scared of pretty much everything. I had real problems establishing my identity. A lingering sense of anxiety was always at the back of my mind.
My solution was to introduce more and more structure into my life to try and quench this constant feeling of nervousness. I pushed myself into following a religion I didn’t truly believe in just to hold onto superficial friendships and childish romantic relationships to give my life a sense of purpose. I rejected spontaneity; I never broke the rules and refused to leave my comfort zone.
At the time, I thought I was mature; I thought I was smart. Now I realize that I was just afraid.
Fast forward six years, and my life is entirely different from the one I thought I had planned out. I’m 22 years old, and I’ve graduated from university. I live in a house with genuine friends. I write for a living. I have no idea where I will live or what I will do five years from now. I’ve never been in a deeply serious relationship. I’m a staunch agnostic with no religious attachments, and my freedom, experiences, and the drive to live day-to-day take precedence over meeting a partner and having children.
This change didn’t happen overnight. Separating myself from the religion that provided me with what I believed was my identity, and letting go of this vision of a future based on co-dependency and patriarchal “family life,” was hard. In fact, I spent years trying to attach myself to anything that allowed me to establish a new identity and a new goal. This ranged from the small things, such as wearing clothes I thought would help me fit in, all the way to more destructive choices. Staying in an emotionally abusive relationship because I craved the validation that came with being wanted. Pursuing numerous career paths that I couldn’t have been less interested in.
Over the past two years, I feel like I am the most myself I ever have been. Maybe in another two years, I’ll be saying the same thing. Who knows? But right now, I’m at peace with the unpredictability. I’m at peace with myself, including my past mistakes. Because I pushed through all the emotional outbursts, anxiety, and uncertainty to become the independent, outgoing, liberal feminist woman I am today. And I couldn’t be prouder of myself.
Finding who you are is one of life’s most rewarding journeys.