Take a good look at that picture; I mean a GOOD look. I will be turning 35 in a little over a month. That is the look of a CONFIDENT man who is VERY comfortable in his own skin. However, I’m not ashamed to say that I have honestly NOT always felt that way about myself.
I look at my life right now and I can truly say that I’m blessed. “Blessed” doesn’t mean “perfect” as some seem to think. When I say that my life is blessed, I look at where I am now and where I’ve been. I look at the problems I’ve encountered throughout my life. I look at the “tests” that have come my way. I look at the people I’ve met. I look at the places I’ve gone. Right now, I’m in Afghanistan and I can STILL say that I’ve been blessed.
Today, I have a beautiful, loving and supportive wife who I will have been married to for 15 years in July, and we have two beautiful, AMAZING children. These lovely people will be waiting on me when I get home. You see, people sometimes like to say that you or they are “blessed” when it comes to simply getting your way. Able to buy that nice car or house you’ve always wanted? “You’re so BLESSED!” Got a raise at work? “You’re so BLESSED!” Nope. Being blessed to me means the IMPORTANT things, NOT the material possessions. I’ve never been one to thank God for being able to buy something nice for myself or my family. I look at where I am and who’s there with me. That’s what I call being “blessed.” I’m more thankful for the people in my life than the “things.”
One thing I can say that has led to my feeling of being blessed is the fact that they are a direct result of being myself. TRULY myself.
Many times, we assume that we can tell whether someone is comfortable with who they are, but the truth is, you don’t know. You couldn’t possibly know. You can guess, but unless you have something to base that on, you’d be wrong. I’ve been guilty of assuming that people were or were not comfortable with themselves and I’ve been accused of NOT feeling comfortable with myself many times. They’re nonsense reasons, though. For example, one reason is because I’m a black man married to a white woman. CLEARLY that means I’m unhappy with myself. This is what much of the black community feels. As asinine as that is, this is what so many of us do. We pick things about people that we don’t agree with and to make ourselves feel better about it, we lash out by telling people that they just couldn’t possibly be happy with themselves, which is ridiculous. But that’s for another day. Let me talk about the times that I’ve truly NOT felt comfortable with myself.
Growing up, I always felt like something was wrong with me. I felt ugly. For a while, I felt that being black was a bad thing. I was a nerd, so I thought that even that was wrong. I spoke proper English and used full sentences, which was frowned upon also. I didn’t dress or act the way blacks were “supposed” to act. I wasn’t proud of these aspects of myself, especially when people laughed at them. To help with feeling ugly, I hated looking at myself in the mirror and I avoided it as much as possible. When thinking that being black was bad, I do admit that I started off thinking and wishing that I was white…
…now before I continue, I already know that the ignorant folks reading this who know me would say, “There it is! He finally admitted it!” Pipe down and read the rest.
The feeling that being black was bad did NOT come from white people. It came from blacks. I was always around people who made me feel that as a young black kid, I was doomed from the start, especially when it came to whites. We were the victims. I would never amount to anything because white people wouldn’t allow me to. I was “stupid” because white people said we were. Then the whole deal with slavery. So being very young and especially with hearing a lot of my own family members saying this, I started to believe it and I felt very ashamed.
When I watched those family shows in the 80s, I can’t tell you how many times I wished I was part of those families. It had absolutely nothing to do with my mother, my older brother or one of my younger sisters (I have two sisters, but by the time my second younger sister came along, I was starting to figure things out). My desire to be part of a white family (along with the middle and high school I went to) was a result of what my fellow blacks told me. NOT whites.
As far as being a nerd, I would sometimes pretend to be less intelligent than I really was. I tried to use slang more often so people wouldn’t think I was a nerd and so they would accept me. Then of course, came the time when people (blacks again) shamed me for “wanting to be white.” So thanks to some of them, being black was bad, but wanting to be white was wrong too. Having white friends meant that I “was ashamed of the black community and didn’t love myself.” When it came to being ashamed of how I dressed and acted, I got to where I started sneaking my brothers clothes to school and acting like, I don’t know…blacks said I was “supposed” to act. Sometimes it even worked.
I can’t exactly say when, but I reached a point where I just got sick and tired. Sick and tired of not liking myself. Sick and tired of avoiding the mirror. Sick and tired of pretending to be stupid. Sick and tired of feeling that my mere existence was wrong. Sick and tired of sneaking my brother’s clothes to school. Sick and tired of dodging the people who would talk down to me. Sick and tired of feeling that being black was a bad thing. I don’t really know what came over me, but one day I woke up and just said that enough was enough.
It was rough at first, because people laughed at me. They still talked down to me. I expected a lot of that. But you know something? It got a little easier as time went on. The beautiful thing about that was that when I got home at the end of the day, a big part of me felt more comfortable than I EVER had. I really enjoyed feeling like that. Eventually, this became my identity. Sure, people would tease me, but it started to feel GREAT that I had my own identity. These behaviors and this personality? That was Robert. This is how people got to know me.
One day before I went to bed, I went into the bathroom and just looked at myself in the mirror. That’s it. Say what you want, but that’s what I did. I stood there for about five minutes. I asked myself just what it was that I found so ugly about myself. My answer was that I really wasn’t ugly at all. I was always so afraid of looking at myself that there was really no GOOD reason to think of myself as ugly. Sure, the lack of attention from girls contributed to that, but when I started seeing other boys who I thought at the time looked like they chewed on bricks for breakfast, lunch and dinner and washed it down with hydrochloric acid, yet they were still pulling in girls, I figured that hey…obviously looks aren’t the problem.
But as I looked at myself, I felt better. I didn’t leave thinking I was Denzel or anything, but it felt better to just feel comfortable looking at myself in the mirror.
As the title states, today, I feel a great joy and peace to TRULY be myself. Yes, people still talk. But at this point, I barely even notice it. The truth is, no one knows whether you are being yourself except you. The “peace” comes from the fact that people DO recognize and appreciate my personality. When I was younger, since all I got were people who put me down for who I was, that’s what made me think I was wrong. Even when I was praised NOT acting like myself, I wasn’t comfortable. But today, when people say that they enjoy talking to me because I’m very intelligent and a great person to talk to; when people ask for my opinion because they know I’m going to be unbiased and think things through to give them a sensible answer; when they thank me for my positive attitude even in situations that aren’t so great; those are the times that add to my joy and peace of being truly myself. Those other aspects aren’t me, so when they come to mind, people will not think about ME; they’ll think about society or the ones I would be following. When these things come to mind, it will also be Robert People who comes to mind.
Now some may see this as “corny” or “cheesy” that I’m saying these things, but guess what? That’s what comes with the joy and peace of being myself. Once upon a time, I may have, but today, I don’t give a damn what anybody has to say about it. I’m comfortable enough with who I am and I mean TRULY comfortable to the point that I know that I’M the person who determines what’s “right” and “wrong” about myself.
Not you or anyone else.