The door on the cage was left open and she tentatively stepped towards it. She couldn’t understand why it would be left opened and risk the chance of escape.
Was this another trick that would put her self-confidence to the test yet again?
All her life, she had felt trapped in a cage of standards that she just couldn’t escape from. She was tied to the idea that in order to succeed, she had to reach some unobtainable standard set by others to be liked and accepted for who she was.
From the time she was very young, she felt the bars around her by a system that didn’t accept her way of learning. She was expected to sit in a desk and learn the lesson being spoon fed to her. The cage door slammed shut if the rules were not followed. At such a young age, she learned that her unique way of looking at things felt wrong.
She was different from classmates and friends.
In her relationships with others, timidly she would venture outside the norm, only to be frowned at if her beliefs or opinions didn’t match those of her partners. Rejected time and again because her romantic view of the world was not the same as theirs. She had learned over the years to keep these thoughts to herself and not share them with others.
She was obviously misguided in her silly romantic views on the way love should be.
In the workplace where she thought she was accepted in the form of a job offer only to learn that she must perform in a restricted environment of tight schedules and set hours in which she was expected to be creative. She was left feeling like she needed to turn her creativity on and off like a light switch. Hearing time and again that is not the way things are done if she ventured to offer suggestions or new ideas. We must all follow the parameters set out she heard repeatedly.
So once again, she would stop offering herself.
She knew she did not fit into a mold. She was a square peg in a world of round holes. From her viewpoint, others had no problem being and doing what society expected of them. So she questioned herself. The answer to her was obviously that she was the problem and gradually she learned to tone herself down to suit others.
Friends, family, co-workers and lovers could all live in a way that didn’t bring them frowns and disapproval, but she could not. She felt she was to blame for what she now viewed as shortcomings. She tried at times to whittle away her edges on her square peg but this made her even sadder and more distant than not fitting in did.
She all but gave up trying to discover where she fit and of finding where she belonged. You would never know it to look at her though as she hid behind a mask that she had created to make others think that she functioned the same as them.
That was four months ago and it feels like a lifetime ago. That girl was me. Those thoughts were mine but they no longer belong to me. They belong to her because by chance I stumbled upon an open door in her environment. A door that was accessible and inviting and I felt inspired to apply to a writing program that fate put in front of me.
For the first time in a long time, I was curious about this open door on my cage. Should I go near it? Should I risk disappointment yet again?
At first, I viewed the open door on that cage as a trick. Surely if I got close to the door, someone would come along and slam it shut. Someone would laugh at my writing and my ideas. Someone would point out why I shouldn’t trust myself because it had happened so many times before. The hope and anticipation that I had felt growing inside would be thwarted by yet another opportunity stolen from me as I would hear that door being closed.
I was leery of approaching the door and so I sat and watched from a safe distance. But the longer I watched, the more tempted I was to venture towards this opening, one cautious step at a time.
Wait for the door to be closed.
But no one came to close the door. No one told me that I couldn’t make it. No one stopped me from risking my heart by reaching the outside of that cage. In fact, quite the opposite seemed to be happening.
In the book Attached, Amir Levine and Rachel Heller talk about the relationship research they have done. They have found that the more supported a person feels, the more a person feels they can achieve. We live in a society that looks down on depending on others to lift us up. We are encouraged to go it alone. Their research suggests that the more one feels supported, the more courageous and fearless we can be to take risks.
I felt encouraged to dig deeper because I felt supported. The exact words that were used were too “dig deeper and tell us your story”. Someone actually wanted to hear my ideas. So I dug! I dug deeper into parts of me that had long been hidden. I was inspired to find the courage that I needed to break free of the cage that had imprisoned me for so long.
This feeling felt foreign to me and it was contrasting to anything I had felt in a long time. I was unaccustomed to this trust that I was being given. That I—a square peg—did belong. With a little support, this new world that had unlimited potential was teaching me to empower myself. Teaching me to inspire others to empower themselves.
Finding that I was not alone in this plight, I shared my stories. I bared my soul and in that, I was beginning to see that others out there were struggling just like I had been. While being nudged towards that freedom, I knew that I could offer support to others. I was not feeling coaxed or tricked into a new way of thinking but actually supported in my own thoughts. By sharing my experiences, I hoped others might see that their cage does not have to exist.
Confidence was the sensation I was experiencing and the support I was receiving was allowing me to gain self-confidence to know that my perceptions and theories were ok. That my hopes and dreams were worth reaching for and I saw that others could reach for their stars as well if they were offered the same type of support. If I could learn to rely on myself, so could others. They just needed a little help.
The rose colored glasses were not feeling like a weight anymore. Nor did I feel the edges of my personality dulling and I didn’t feel judged for my beliefs and viewpoints. I actually felt like they mattered and that there were others out in the world that held true to the things I felt. The feedback I was getting from people reading my articles showed me that they too were seeing beyond their cages.
I am still cautious about the cage door closing. How could I not be? I have lived my whole life weary of that door closing. But I feel braver than ever knowing I have someone in my corner.
I truly feel that I am well on my way to finding where I belong. I don’t have an exact picture of what that looks like but I know I am on the right path. That with the knowledge I have gained by taking a chance and knowing that there was someone who believed in me, I have the desire and the ability to do this on my own. I am ready to accomplish amazing feats. I have finally booked a trip that has been on hold for 26 years. I trust my instincts on becoming the writer I now believe I can be. I am confident to make decisions based on my needs.
It is not that we need a cheerleading team to validate us, we just need acknowledgment that we are not alone. I needed to find that for myself and I have, with the help and support of some amazing people in my life and you can too.