Five Things I Should Have Learned in Kindergarten (but didn’t catch on to until I was in my 30’s) Part 2

The Second Thing: It’s not their opinions that matter.

I have always cared too much, entirely too much, about what other people thought of me.

In eighth grade I finally found my first real friend. Nicole Dionisio was the kind of girl who collected stray people: misfits, oddballs, and weirdos were all okay in her book. Looking back, I’m sure it was the only reason she could put up with me. Before Nicole, my only “friends” had been occasional acquaintances, girls who would talk to me periodically, usually when they were fighting with their real friends, then turn on me quickly, spilling all my secret crushes to the school.

I should have adored Nicole for it. The experience should have made me an empathetic child with a love of my own for the rejects. It didn’t. Instead, I internalized that social pecking order and declared to Nicole that we would never be cool (never!) if we didn’t get rid of this gaggle of freaks who hovered near our bench- dirty kids, grossly fat kids, handicapped kids. Petrified of being doomed to a life lumped with losers, I bickered with her about it all year. She never backed down.

Long after I parted ways with Nicole and much of that crew, I was still desperate to impress my peers. I morphed from one version of Kate to the next- gangsta, punk-rock, raver- trying to find “cool.” I drank and smoked, partied and did drugs, all to try to gain favor in their eyes. I told huge, elaborate lies in an effort to wow the other teenagers. This constant need for attention and approval carried over into adulthood and has been the most significant contributing factor to the social anxiety I’ve struggled with.

Even after I became a Christian I still agonized about what other people thought of me. I was the pierced, single mom with a pair of wild, different colored children and a proclivity to cuss in the sanctuary. Every other woman in church seemed to have loving husbands, well behaved children, and an innate mastery of good clean Christian living.

I lived the first thirty years of my life for man. And you know what? It never worked. No matter how hard I tried, I could never figure out how to please the people I so desperately wanted to impress. Instead, the more I strove, the less likable people found me. But something glorious has been happening since I turned thirty. I began to really seek the approval of God before men. I made a conscious decision to turn to God for the love and approval I was seeking. I began raising my hands in church, choosing not to care how it exposed the flesh on my underarms. I decided to be brutally honest about my struggles with walking out this Christian faith and confessed to the other ladies in bible study. I vowed that I would love the women around me despite how badly they intimidated me and started attending women’s bible study .

And it’s been working. I rely less and less on outside approval. I have finally become at ease in my own skin, and it’s glorious! The Lord truly satisfies my need for belonging. What freedom!

And it gets even better. Ironically, now that I’m not trying so hard, I find it much easier to connect with people. Turning my focus from what others think of me to what God thinks of me has opened my eyes to see other people through His eyes. I can see the precious value of the “freaks” and outcasts. He gives me glimpses of how they were all made in his image.  And those perfect women who so badly intimidated me? It’s like scales have fallen from my eyes. They are all flawed human beings with insecurities and worries of their own. Time after time, after  getting to know one of them, they have confessed that they were intimidated by me. Me!

So I’ve stopped trying to impress people in favor of just loving them instead.

I think Nicole would be proud.

 

Photo credit: Kindergarten by Kenny Lam. Flickr photo used under creative commons license.

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