Shedding the Past

A friend and I were sharing over breakfast the other day how we feel like we finally know ourselves better. It’s taken 30-something odd years for us to know our likes/dislikes and everything else that makes us who we are, but here we are – older and wiser. 🙂

I used to think I’d have it all figured out by the time I turned 20. I mean, come on, 20 years is over 7,000 days. That should give you enough time to grow up and be your own person, right? But ironically, I think those first two decades (which we hope would mold us into adults) may actually be the years we need to shed before we can mature.

A girlfriend asked me recently, “Why do you feel like you have to be perfect?”

I answered, “It’s how I was raised.”

Let me correct that – it’s how I was born and raised. Genes definitely play a part in who I am. I can’t help but be organized, cautious and structured (just like my son). But the way I was raised really “did me in” and locked me into a box I’ve been trying to make my way out of the past few years.

Image courtesy of Stoonn/

Image courtesy of Stoonn/

I don’t have many memories of my childhood, but the ones I do have center mostly around the emotion of fear. Fear of speaking up, fear of the consequences if I didn’t conform, fear of being myself. One memory I do recall well happened when I was twelve. I had been eating breakfast at the kitchen counter under a fluorescent bulb. The sun had not yet broken through the dark sky outside the window. I heard the phone ring and thought it odd that someone would be calling at six in the morning. My mom answered and after a brief exchange, she came over with shock and sadness written on her face.

“Your cousin passed away.”

My teenage brain couldn’t digest this news. My dear cousin who was only 2 months younger than me had died. He had been my closest relative till then. My family had lived with his for a while after we immigrated to the U.S. and we had become good friends. Good enough friends that he once stuck a tic tac up his nostril in hopes of making me laugh.

The tears started falling as soon as I realized he was gone. My grandmother who lived with us at the time heard what had happened. She stood next to me, all five feet of her, and fixed her eyes on my face.

“Why are you crying?” she spit out, contempt dripping from every word. “Don’t cry.”

And just like that I wiped away my tears and tried to swallow the rest of my emotions down with my soggy cereal.

Now I don’t share this memory to paint my grandmother as a monster. She didn’t have an easy life, and circumstances (and likely genetics) played a part in making her who she was. She was in fact a very tough woman who raised four children after her husband passed away. She was also the person who raised me.

Knowing what I know now about child development and attachment and so forth (my degree in counseling wasn’t all for nothing!), I understand why I am the way I am. Why I’m so hard on myself. Why I’m so hard on other people, too (namely my kids).

But the more distance I have from my past, the more I am able to see myself apart from it. It will always be a part of me, but its sticky, tar-like grip on my heart has loosened over the years as I experience grace and love from God, my friends and my family. I know now that it’s okay to feel, to express myself and to be who I am.

It’s good to keep learning about yourself and to keep growing. That’s the beauty of growth. It’s never too late and there can never be too much.

Take a listen to Katy Perry’s song “Roar“. I can really relate to the opening lyrics.

What would you like to shed about your past? In what ways do you hope to keep growing in adulthood?


  1. MzChele says:

    I think a follow up question for us “recovering perfectionist” is what/how we define as being “perfect.” Maybe the desire for excellency is good, but we have misunderstood what “perfection” looks like? Just a thot…

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