Thursday, April 30, 2015

Turtles

     I am an Ox according to Chinese zodiac year.  I am a Leo according to the Greek zodiac.  I am a butterfly according to an on-line spirit animal questionnaire.  I used to be a turtle, but not any more.
     In middle school, I was a turtle.  Physically, I looked like a turtle.  I hunched over my books, made myself as small as possible, and avoided any eye contact.  Mentally, I behaved like a turtle.  I was so afraid of miscommunicating, of being myself, of making any mistakes, of expressing my personality, and just being around other people.  I was paranoid that everyone would misunderstand my speech, or vice versa.   I was fearful that people would bully me or reject me.  So I closed everyone out, too afraid to come out of my shell.  All I wanted was a quiet little corner with a book.
     My mom fussed at me daily to “stand up straighter” and “get out of your shell.”  Her voice became ingrained in my head and I started to venture out little by little.  Over time, I realized that my shell was more than a little unnecessary.  I underwent a transition from not talking at all to saying hello to people in the hallway.  I still had my armor on, but my head was out; and I learned that not everything I was afraid of was justified.  Not all people were bullies, my friends were not bullies, and I realized I was making myself be rejected by closing everyone out.
     By high school, I was a little bolder, more socially active.  I challenged myself to speak up in class, and to greet everyone who passed me in hallways.  Eventually, I almost outgrew my shell.  Almost.
     I am still a little bit hesitant in new or odd or strange situations.  For example, none of my closest friends wanted to go to prom, so I went alone.  I was fearful of going, but went anyways.  (Read April 2014 and May 2014 blogs.)  Completely nerve-wracking, and I made more than one trip to the bathroom to calm down when I started to panic.  If I still had my turtle shell on instead of my fabulous prom dress, I probably would not have gone at all, or would have stayed five seconds tops.  But I wanted to challenge myself, and live the whole prom experience.  I managed to stay there for an hour and even spent 20 minutes dancing without freaking out!  When I reflected on my experience I realized that my inexplicable fear was, in fact, irrational.  When I came upon this phrase from Franklin D. Roosevelt's first inaugural address, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” it resonated with me.  This mantra also helped me get through my first job interview; I paced back and forth outside the interview room about five, six, I lost count of how many, times before I worked up the courage to walk in.  I told myself “the only thing I had to fear was fear itself.”  Outgrowing my shell, my fear, is a work in progress, but it is how I now approach the world.
     If I am outgrowing my shell, I can’t exactly be a turtle anymore.  So what am I?  There is one animal that I aspire to emulate every day.  An animal that is excited, enthusiastic, loving, and thinks everyday is his birthday.  A dog, more specifically my 18-pound bundle of love, Oreo.  Everyday I try to be excited and enthusiastic about what I am doing, to be friendly with people and live in the moment and be happy.  Underneath the too-small shell is a little puppy just waiting to break out and enjoy the world.

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