By Ryan Johnson
I used to care so much about what people thought. In fact, for most of my youth, my main focus was trying to fit in. I wanted to be liked and accepted. This is probably a familiar feeling for many people in their youth, if not throughout their lives. But for me it was important enough that I was willing to become a follower. I was willing to compromise values and priorities in order to be considered cool. I tried to put myself in groups of people that were popular and appeared to be exciting, fun, cool people. I wanted to be like that too.
I would say that I was successful. I had a group of friends that liked me, and I felt accepted. The confidence they had made me feel like I could follow them and that I would be happy in doing so. But I didn't feel confident or happy. I thought that I just needed to be a little more popular, attractive, hip, and edgy, THEN I would finally feel confident and happy. Why was it that after years of living this way that I wasn't happy? It wasn't until my early 20s that I started to discover the reason. I realized that I was living to please others. Everything I did was to gain approval in the eyes of other people.
It was around this time that I started to be myself. This wasn't easy. I had trained myself to think more about what others thought of me than what I thought of me. But gradually I began feeling more confident. I was content to go without the validation of others. I was able to enjoy my own natural qualities and quirks, and I was not disappointed in myself for my flaws. I learned that I can be me, and I can be happy.