I almost don’t feel qualified to write this, but what better time than in the midst of the journey to write about the journey? That’s where I find myself, in the middle. Still in progress, still learning, and ever growing in my knowledge of who I am. How the world views me, how I view myself, and who God says I am.
What have I found thus far?
I. Am. Her.
I’m a single woman, with a full time job, and a solid group of positive people actively involved in my life. I hold my faith close to my heart and I experience a functioning relationship with the Creator of the Universe. On paper, I have the world at my fingertips and I am “I-N-D-E-P-E-N-D-E-N-T” Right? Yes. I also have fears, unfulfilled desires, cellulite and sometimes a potty mouth. I’m Jess. Hardly perfect, but fully me.
My entire life I have struggled with my self image, as many women and men do. I am not alone in this, I realize. That should bring me comfort but it’s actually quite alarming. It’s not fun to admit or think about living in a world where we are constantly taught to compare ourselves and along with that, judge everyone else along the way. We are encouraged, that we can “fix” our perceived shortcomings, change who we are to be someone better, who, by the way, most likely also struggles with their self image. I don’t have a solution or a quick fix for this issue, but I do have my experience. I am finding transparency is healing, as is learning to embrace the process.
About a year ago, after a night out, and countless times of measuring myself up to the girl across the bar, I came home, popped open a bottle of red wine and pondered life. Jesus drank wine, and so do I, and sometimes, Him and I have great conversations over a bottle, other times, we just dance in my kitchen. I remember sitting on my sunken in couch, looking up at the sparkle lights in my living room, POURING my heart out about my insecurities. I told God what I wanted for my life, asked what I was meant to do, and how to do it. Honestly, I don’t remember much after that. I woke up the next morning with a drunken note in my phone, “I’m alone, tipsy, but I’m me, BITCH, I AM HER!” Thank you, drunk Jessica. I laughed at my note and went on with my day, my week, my month, and another after that, never thinking too much about that night or the note.
More time passed and at 26 I felt I was having an identity crisis. If I use any one title or “cliché” as a measurement of who I am, I am sub par. If my identity is solely that I am a Christian, it’s said I swear too much, I drink too much. If my identity is only that of a business woman, I am not successful enough, or smart enough. A desirable woman? Although my derrière is close to perfect, I am not fit enough and my pores are not small enough. Any one of these scenarios and I fall short. I rip myself apart and tell myself why I am not enough.
Another month passed and as I was driving my red Pontiac Vibe, or as I like to call it, my go cart an awakening began in me. I was winding around beautiful curves of the same road I had traveled, hundreds, if not thousands of times. The same road that carried me to school and youth group as an adolescent, and then the gym and my job as an adult. Its like the road knew me, and it birthed a moment of reminiscence that pulled my mind back a decade and then two. I remembered a moment from when I was twelve years old, at a friends house dressing up in her clothes. They were too tight for my rolly-polly body and for the first time I experienced feeling self conscious about my image and whether I was cool or not.
A picture was taken that day, of the three of us in our newly discovered outfits, fourteen years had passed, and when I got home from driving the familiar winding road, I pulled that picture out. I began to weep. 26, and I’m looking at my twelve year old self realizing, “I never showed that little girl love.” I continued to delicately thumb through the box of memories as my weeping turned to sobbing. Fifteen year old Jessica, “I never showed her love.” Seventeen, twenty, twenty one… A beautiful girl, changing into a woman, who constantly told herself, “You’re not good enough, smart enough, pretty enough. Do more, be better, because you girl, are not enough.”
I, as my friend Rachel would say, ugly cried that day. Face contorted, tears, snot, raw emotion and all. I ugly cried for all the love I never showed that girl, that woman, myself. I looked in the mirror, which, for the record you should avoid at all costs while ugly crying… and I decided, “I’m going to start showing that girl love.”
I made a commitment to myself in that moment. I didn’t know what it would entail to show yourself unconditional love, and I’m still learning. Lending grace and overflowing love to those surrounding me is something that I find comes naturally. Showing it to myself proves to be much more challenging. Why is that? I still don’t know all the “rules” to my newly found commitment. I have to remind myself daily to be released from the self critical judgement and rise above. Challenging at its best, exhausting at its worst. I have found it helpful to stop defining myself by any one segment of what makes me who I am. I am an independent woman, I have a Christian faith, a great work ethic with childlike wonder as well. I am curvy and fit all in one. I am wild and yet professional. I am her. Jessica, and with a little sass, I am Hurr!
The list goes on, of everything I am, and yes, there will always be room to improve. While learning to show myself love, I have found that there’s a delicate balance to making and carrying out my goals. I no longer allow them to be fueled by negative thoughts about my current state. They are now motivated by a mindset of self care and gratitude for the life I have been given. If we don’t choose to love ourselves as is, honey, good luck. We are flawed. Perfectly imperfect and it’s a beautiful blessing that we are able to evolve. We should rejoice in this gift. Our minds will expand if we stretch them, ideas will change if we let them, and our bodies will be shaped and strengthened if we work hard with and for them. For me, the key to this is to do my best to enjoy the journey… not to lust after an end result but to acknowledge I am where I’m at, to be present and take it all in.
It’s been a few months since I had the very specific, very memorable ugly cry. The days to come brought validation sprinkled with doubt for my new ideas and the choice to show “that girl”, the woman in the mirror, love. I found myself in the go-cart, yet again, weaving the backroads home from work. I was on auto pilot, deep in thought and I felt like God met me in that space. The words came into my head as if they had been spoken to me, not of my own thought. They spoke to my spirit, and with them came understanding. “You are enough”, “You know who you are.”
I repeated the phrases, at first in my head, then out loud softly, until finally, I was proclaiming them. “I am enough and I know who I am!” Like, duh, Jess! It was the loudest whisper I had ever experienced. It lit a fire up under me and I became excited. The commitment I had made to love myself was solidified in that moment. I was pulled right out of my “quarter life crisis”. Released. I know who I am. I’m not Mother Theresa, Einstein, Beyoncé, or Tyra, but I’m doing a damn good job at being Jessica Lynn Richards. It took me a long time to rejoice in the fact that I am very different then some of my favorite people. Friends, celebs, and icons. I am Jessica, and that doesn’t mean I’m not going to play a part in greatness, it means I get to play a part in greatness starring myself.
I feel free in accepting that I am not perfect. I’m no longer afraid to show my flaws. I get to refine myself while enjoying every step of the way. This post started while sitting at my dining room table in my tiny apartment. It moved to the sunken in couch below the sparkle lights in my living room. Touched up in a bar at the Portland airport over a bloody Mary, finalized on an airplane on the way to Washington, DC and finally, posted on the patio of sun kissed cafe thousands of miles from home. I am her. You are her. You are him. Yourself. Enough. Qualified to live the life you are living and empowered to create and experience the changes you desire. Enjoy the process, lend grace to the person looking back at you in the mirror, be transparent, and love yoself! It’s just getting good!