|Picture by Thomas Brault courtesy of unsplash.com
When I was younger, a large part of how I defined myself was by the relationships in my life. I was so-and-so's daughter, so-and-so's sister, so-and-so's friend. That's not to say that I didn't have an identity of my own- I did- but it was nowhere near what it is now. While I was by no means shy, I guess I could call myself reserved. Added to that, living in a "small big" city like Nairobi (the population of the city is well over 3 million, and yet it seems that everyone knows each other), I was stuck with the burden of being the person I had been for the past few years.
Many of you who grew up in small communities and went to smaller high schools will understand me when I say that it's difficult to really change yourself when people still see you as the person you used to be. I was fortunate enough in that I got to go to a university where I knew no-one. Not an exaggeration; Sewanee literally had no person who was connected to my life in Kenya. I did meet people there who had some ties to Kenya, but they got to know me after 2010. It was scary at first, sure, but this was a good thing.
It's not like I pulled a snake move to shed off my skin and show another person underneath (forgive the visual). Rather, I had a chance to start afresh and make relationships that were not founded on the person I used to be, or thought that I was. I believe that we all change over time, and having a chance to express these changes can be very positive. Not only that; sometimes being in a new environment can help you realise that you've changed too! I'm still essentially the same person I used to be; I've just grown up a bit. I'm more confident, more independent, more questioning of the world around me. I meet people I knew pre-2010, and it seems that many of them have this to say "Wow, you're so different!" Not really, I don't think so. I just had a chance to recognise and express the changes in me that for some reason I was afraid to do before.
Yes, I'm still so-and-so's daughter, so-and-so's sister, so-and-so's friend; but now I'm quite comfortable being a so-and-so myself! Has this independence and confidence always been a good thing? Not always, to be honest. Dating especially is harder once you move to defining yourself by more than just your relationships. While dating in Sewanee, I emphasised that those relationships were just a part of my life, and could not be my entire life, especially so quickly. So when people came along who wanted more than that, I perceived them as being clingy and insecure, and downplayed the positives. I thought that depending on another person would mean compromising my independence, which I was not willing to do at all. Thankfully, time and good friends helped me see the light (older and wiser, right?).
However, considering the negatives of having so much space to explore myself, I'm glad I got the chance to! I'm definitely more confident in the friendships that I have now, and not as dependent on the relationships in my life, and this is so helpful considering that I have loved ones all over the world, from California to the Midwest to the South to the East Coast to England to Kenya to India to Australia. One thing that's completely new about me is my comfort, and even willingness, to walk into a restaurant alone. I haven't had much opportunity to do so since I got back to Nairobi, but soon I hope. In fact, I'm hoping to take a solo vacation later this year (fingers crossed)!
What's the point in all this? I'm just trying to emphasise that there may be times in life when you are completely out of your comfort zone, farther than you would usually push yourself, surrounded by people and places you haven't encountered before. Don't be scared of this; embrace it and use the experience to get to know yourself better. Accept the positives and negatives, and learn from them. Love the person you are, and the inevitable changes that time and such circumstances will bring in you!