There is peace in standing in my own individuality.

In a world that’s swiftly becoming a melting pot of sameness, finding my flow has its challenges. Today it’s easier than ever to “find your tribe,” at least virtually. For years the # symbol was identified as the number sign and now can lead you to identify whatever cause, idea, or group you desire.

It’s so easy to follow I’ve lost sight on precisely who’s leading.

Everywhere I look, I see perpetrators and fakes. I won’t place the blame on anyone; being singled out is tough. It’s not always easy to be different. The road less traveled sounds noble, but it can get lonely. And if you’re stuck continuously on companionship, it’ll be even harder.

Recognizing my bubble has not been easy. I’ve had to step outside of myself long enough to notice my effect on and from others. Where once I thought I was “just being me,” I found myself more and more entwined in someone else’s ideal.

Folks talk about getting to know yourself, but few speak up on exactly how that’s supposed to happen, what it should look like, and how you know you’re done. Are we ever done? 

If the universe is continuously evolving (and it is), then we are also continually evolving, whether we recognize it or not.

If you think evolution looks like some grand arrival with a gold sticker that reads “Enlightened,” you’re going to be sadly disappointed. 

So, my individuality has involved me releasing the parts of myself I’ve come to identify with through tradition, cultural pressures, and my environment. I can’t release it all, of course, but I am learning what works, what doesn’t, and what was never even my decision in the first place.

Case and point: I was raised a Christian; Jehovah’s Witness, in fact. If you’re an outsider to the faith, I don’t knock you for what you think you know. And if you’re an insider, I don’t knock you for what you think you know about my upbringing specifically. 

My dad is a character. I grew up admiring him with every inch of my soul. I thought he was so powerful, intelligent, and strong. Even though my discipline I held on to the belief, “He’s doing the best he knows how,” and I was a good kid.

I was a loyal kid. A wholesome, obedient, calculated kid. To be honest, I really think I was the quintessential “baby girl” to every dad’s dream. I held on to that identity for a very long time. And doing so caused me a lot of pain.

As I grew up and wanted to explore this world through experiences and people, my long-held ideals began to crack. I didn’t want to disappoint my father. It hurt me to think I’d let him down. But I wanted to live. Out loud.

Considering all the ways my life could’ve gone wrong, I’d say I did pretty well, but my dad doesn’t see it that way. I decided to “leave the faith” officially — signed letter and all — in my 20s. It was during a particularly bumpy time in my life, but I don’t think my position as a Witness made things better or worse.

My dad doesn’t see it that way, though. Apparently, my leaving the faith was the straw that broke the camel’s back. If I didn’t leave Jehovah, I wouldn’t have tried to hurt myself. If I didn’t turn my back on Jehovah, I would be married with kids in a stable, happy home. If I didn’t leave Jehovah, I wouldn’t question so much.

On the outside looking in, I was lost, confused, and heading for destruction. All because I gave the congregation — and therefore Jehovah’s love — the deuces.

If you were raised in a religious household, you understand. Everything that happens or doesn’t happen all leads back to how strong your faith is.

I identified as a “good girl,” even when I was wilding out in college. In my defense, I presumed that’s what college was for. I had never had so much freedom, and just a taste of it was the sweetest, most confusing pleasure I’d ever known.

Suddenly, I was responsible for all of my decisions. Sometimes I chose wisely; sometimes, I didn’t. What I do know for sure is my “faith” had nothing to do with it.

I think Christians can get so caught up in their dedication to the holy book or holy spirit they forget the most crucial detail of all: being human. Part of being human means I will err. According to the good book, I can’t help it. So, why I’ve become less deserving when I do err is something I may never understand. It means I need to pray harder because I’m faltering. I need to trust harder because my faith is dwindling. I need to devote myself; I’m weak. 

In this world, mistakes are expected but not allowed. 

Well, part of me growing into, through, and with myself has included my recognizing where my imperfections lie.

I have a tendency toward passive aggression. I’m working on it.

I have a tendency to prefer isolation. I’m occasionally working on it.

I have a tendency to create impossible expectations. I go back and forth with working on it.

Accepting individuality, for me, is not saying, “Here I am. Accept me or f*ck off,” but more like, “This is me. I’m complete but human. Forgive me while I figure this out.”

My individuality now includes a host of labels, some I never saw myself identifying with — vegan, hippy, natural, fit, traveler, single, solo, writer, teacher, immigrant… The hashtags grow by the day.

And I won’t say they won’t change. Some will, some won’t, but I’m allowed to shift. I’m allowed to figure out where I flow. I’m allowed to make dumb decisions without someone calling me out on it to make me feel bad. Ultimately, even if I have been here before, this time is unique, and this time is all I can manipulate right now.

This individual cannot meet every single expectation, and I won’t dare try. I’m catching myself when I feel inclined to “follow” a new trend. I don’t want to identify with everything that I’m into at the moment. I may just be curious. 

Today I may like seeing girls kiss; tomorrow maybe I’m consumed with puppy videos and trying to pick up all the trash. The thing about individuality is I get to choose who I am; not anyone else.

I’ve decided to stop making excuses when I’m not comfortable, not sure, or not ready.

I’ll leave when it’s time for me to go.

I’ll decide when my gut gives me the go-ahead.

I’ll answer when I like the way my words sound.

And, at any moment, I can change my mind. I’m allowed. Because I will allow myself. 

I won’t ask for permission to be me anymore; I’ve granted it to myself.