Escaping from yourself

Lots of people like who they are and are proud of the qualities that make them unique. But what about those of us who were born with some less-than-desirable traits? What about those of us who don’t always like being who we are?

There’s a common saying that people never change.

Last year, I was cast as the lead in a production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella.” At the end of our show, the cast had a poster-signing party to say goodbye to each other. So what did people write about me? Well, upon sitting and reading what the cast had said, I was surprised by a particular bizarre trend:

“Mia — although I have to admit you really really intimidated me in the beginning, I’m glad to have gotten to know you more. You’re actually a nice person!”

What? I had to stop and wonder to myself about just how many people had apparently been so intimidated by me. I’m harmless. You know that thing people say about spiders to calm their kids down when they’re freaking out? “They’re more scared of you than you are of them”? That’s a lot like how I feel every day. Absolutely more scared of everyone else than they probably are of me.

It’s difficult to see myself as an intimidating person. For most of my life, I was extremely, painfully shy and, consequently, very insecure — I grew up in the world feeling like I didn’t deserve to exist in it.

When I was little, I was the kid who clung to her parents’ legs, desperately trying to forgo abandonment when being dropped off at preschool for the first time. At family gatherings, I’d pretend to be busy doing something — anything — so that I would not have to greet relatives. Even as I grew older, my shyness interfered with my everyday life: During middle school, I would get anxious about something as mundane as ordering food; ordering a scoop of rocky road ice cream turned into a cruel and unusual punishment.

Making new friends was a paralyzing challenge for me, as I would be perpetually fearful of how others “really” thought of me; if I misspoke, even once, I would feel inferior and ashamed for weeks, replaying the same event over and over, helplessly trapped in my head.

I didn’t try to do many of the things that I wanted to do, for I was already convinced I couldn’t do them. Shyness is, in many cases, not conducive to success. You can’t get what you want if you’re too scared to ask for it. Understanding that, I tried everything to rid myself of my own nature.

If people never change, it would be reasonable to assume there might never be an escape from myself. Yet the prospect of spending eternity as an introvert terrified me — so I fought it. I constantly pushed myself to attend lots of social events, talk to everyone I could about everything I could, search through immeasurable amounts of advice on how to be more uninhibited. But honestly, even after all the time and all the work I’ve put into making myself outgoing and extroverted, my shyness is always still there, creeping in on me every time I’m forced to talk to someone new. I’ve come to conclude that some qualities — some intrinsic, core qualities — we can just never rid ourselves of. Shy, creative, cynical, positive … we are who we are, and nothing can prevent that.

But maybe that’s all right.

Although my shyness still terrifies me somewhere deep down, I’ve gotten a lot better at controlling it. People I meet nowadays don’t see me as shy; they think I’m joking when I tell them anxiety used to be a practically crippling problem for me. Over time — and by pushing myself to do everyday activities that made me unbearably uncomfortable — I’ve managed to hide my anxiety from those around me and even sometimes from myself. Some days, talking about my shyness feels surreal, as if it was never even my problem. Although the process is difficult, practice makes perfect, and the more you do something, the better you get at it.

I don’t think people can, even by any conscious attempt, choose to alter the things that truly make them who they are. When you get close enough to someone, chances are you’ll still know that person years from now as essentially the same person he or she used to be. Only the little things in people’s lives seem to ever change — little things like favorite colors, or names of girlfriends, or addresses or ages. Yet, a million of these little changes can sometimes feel as if there’s been a real, honest-to-God change in the individual.

And sometimes that’s really all you need to create a successful enough revision.

It’s true; you can’t escape from yourself. But that by no means implies that life can’t be lived the way you want to live it — innate qualities just have to be modified occasionally to fit different situations. Changing who you are in order to achieve a goal is tiresome and tedious, but if you’re willing to put in the effort, anything is possible.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012 – The Daily Californian – CaliforMiacation

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