For most of my life, I’ve been a pretty self-conscious person. I’m constantly judging myself, and I imagine (much more than is probably true) that other people are judging me, too. I have spent years of my life evaluating every little thing that I did, trying to see if it was “right” and adjusting it if it wasn’t. I spent many years trying incredibly hard to be, do or say what I was “supposed” to or what was “expected” or what (I thought, probably incorrectly) would make people like me — I denied who I really was a lot.
I’ve come a long way. Part of it is just growing up, part of it is the intense work I continue to do on myself to grow and have more peace. A lot of it is becoming a parent. Becoming a mom, and really accepting that what I do, so much more than what I say, will shape how my kids turn out, has provided more motivation for me to improve myself than anything else I’ve ever experienced. I know that if I deny who I am, if I worry more about pleasing the vast, faceless masses than I do about being happy, my kids will do the same. And that would be tragic. So, I work on it. I’m learning to ask for what I need, take ownership of my opinions, lighten up A LOT and be in the moment. (I hope these lessons rub off on my kids.) I act silly, I ask for help when I need it, I try not to take myself (or my failures or successes) too seriously. (I’ve also really embraced the idea that I’m just not cool, so even if I tie myself in knots trying to “do it right”, I’m probably not going to manage it, so I might as well enjoy myself.)
But living in Vienna is helping, too. It’s a huge city, and we know almost no one here. We also know that we’re probably violating custom and etiquette here nearly every day, so what’s a few more times? There’s an incredible freedom in being anonymous. This liberation allows us to do things easily and without thinking — things that we might have done anyway at home, but with much more awareness of our appearance or concern about the audience. I’ve laid down in the middle of a city square to get a good angle on a picture of a statue. We’ve danced in the rain and sung (loudly) while walking down the street. Just tonight I danced — silly and exuberant, while wearing running clothes — with Benjamin to some wonderful street musicians playing on Vienna’s answer to New York’s 5th Avenue.
This is the way I want to be. I know that following my heart and doing what feels right is going to make me much happier than worrying about what someone thinks of what I’m doing. I know it will give me more wonderful moments with my kids, and I hope it sets a good example for them. I know that this is a way in which I’ve been permanently changed — now that I’ve tried these things, and seen how little it matters what anyone else thinks, I think I’ll be able to hang on to this . . . even if someone I know might be watching.