I have a little bit of a split personality. (I’m sure this is true of a lot of people.) Sometimes I am as bold and gregarious as a person can possibly be; other days, I live like a hermit and jump if someone speaks to me. My posts since our arrival in Canada have shown the adventurer side of my character, the part that goes, “New vegetables? Erotic life drawing? Yes! Bring them on!” But today I write from my quieter self, the fearful side that wants to withdraw to safety at the first sign of the unfamiliar: “OMG everyone must be looking at me. I’m going home rightnow.”
[By the way, regular readers: I am thinking of putting Open Mic Fridays on hiatus while we are traveling. Any questions or protests about this? Let’s talk in the comments!]
Traveling brings out the full strength of both these sides of my personality. With so many new places to explore, people to meet, and things to do, I’m eager to jump in and experience as much as possible. But at the same time, I’m also afraid (Aughhh! So many new places, people, and things!). I get awkward. Even in a diverse, relaxed city like Toronto, just the consciousness of being a foreigner and a newcomer is enough to fill me with a teenager-like sense of being on unwanted display. Why didn’t the cashier return my smile? Are these wide-leg trouser jeans hopelessly passé when everyone else is wearing skinny jeans? Am I counting out my change in ways a Canadian wouldn’t do? Maybe I am doing it all wrong! Maybe I am all wrong!
Of course, it’s not that I came to Toronto and suddenly became the world’s most neurotic self-doubter. This happened to me at home, too. It’s a form of imposter syndrome, wherein you can’t be convinced of your own validity even in the face of evidence; I tend to feel that people won’t accept me unless I prove myself in some way. And in a strange place where I’m bound to be a little wrong-footed a lot of the time? Ack!!!
The reassuring thing is, since I know I do this at home, too, I can acknowledge that this is just one of my habitual patterns of behavior: I hate being wrong, I hate being ignorant, and I hate standing out unless it’s on my own terms. What all this means is that I am looking to others to validate me, instead of looking to myself. After all, “wrong,” “ignorant,” and “different” are terms that only have meaning in comparison. If I look at myself alone, there is no value judgment in the things I don’t know; shame only comes from thinking I am under the gaze of others. Do I feel comfortable and secure in myself, just the way I am? Or do I value myself only because others do, because I am presentable and knowledgeable and have a place in the community? My adventurous side does the former, but my shy side does the latter — and once the self-doubt has started, it’s hard to shut up. I need to work with that before we leave Toronto for someplace even more scary, like Glasgow, or Reykjavík, or São Paulo.
Notes to self:
It is okay to be wrong. It is natural. Everyone is wrong sometimes.
It is okay to not know things. It is inevitable. No one knows everything.
It is okay to be me, even if I stick out a mile and everyone thinks I’m weird and I do everything all wrong (which I don’t and they don’t, anyway, but if so it would still be okay). It is okay to be exactly how I am. No matter where or in what company.
Just relax and stay with it. I am okay.