I’ve learned a lot in my many years. I’ve probably forgotten more than I remember, but the things that stick to me the most are what I learn from watching and interacting with people. One of these things is that controversy scares me in a way that it doesn’t seem to scare other people. I watch my family and friends share their opinions with no fear. I can’t do that. I don’t know why. Is it a deep desire to be a people pleaser and avoid upsetting anyone? Is it because I don’t have any convictions? Or is it because I don’t know myself completely and I’m not sure what to believe?

I have noticed that controversy seems to divide people these days. If you disagree with a friend on something minor, you can just drop your friend on social media. That sends the “I’m done” signal in a non-confrontational way and cuts off friends you have on social media exclusively. It’s a little tougher with in-person friends, but you can still cut them off. I used to have a really hard time dropping friends on social media because I felt like I needed to have as many friends as possible to prove my worth to myself. Like if 700 people want to be my friend, then I’m an ok person. But to drop someone…who the hell am I to tell someone they don’t get to be my friend? I’m working on it because I can see how much damage I have from people pleasing. I have spent a lot of time evaluating how I do social media-ing and how I wanted to choose who gets to have access to me. I get to decide that.

So I’ve been on a dropping spree of people who are fundamentally different from me. People I don’t actually like in person. People who were mean to me in the past but I felt like I had to make peace with THEM. People who get nasty if I timidly post something mildly controversial. I have to keep reminding myself that I don’t have to make peace with people who hurt me or make me feel bad about myself. I alone get to choose who is my friend.

I want to understand why, when, and how I became such a people pleaser. I remember being a pretty energetic, ok bratty, little kid. I did what I wanted and I was always in trouble and I didn’t care what my parents wanted me to do. I did try to do everything right with my grandmother though. She was older than my great-grandmother on the other side of my family. She expected perfectly and anyone who didn’t deliver knew she was upset with you. There was no question when you disappointed her. She was very clear about that. So yes, I did want to please her and I did keep parts of my personality away from her. She was not open to spontaneous bursts of noise, rambunctious energy, and disrespect.

As a middle/high schooler, I also did what I wanted, no matter what my parents preferred I would do. I did the same in college too. But somewhere in my early adult life, I shut off what I wanted and did what I thought I was supposed to do. I used to get so nervous at work if I made even minor mistakes. So I froze myself up and tried to be perfect. That made me indecisive, timid, and very fearful. I made up for that paralysis with being extra nice. The result of all of that was that people walked all over me. I was overlooked for projects I was interested in working, leadership opportunities, and good deals that I saw everyone around me doing. Now I find it very difficult to even know what I want.

Becoming Zander is the birth of the real me, the me that I’ve shut off since childhood. The me that offended my grandmother and didn’t give a fuck about what my parents thought of me. The me that isn’t scared of controversy or upsetting people or unfriending people on social media.

I’m hoping this rebirth of me will free me from those timid, people pleasing ways I’ve learned as an adult. That I will know myself from the inside out and I won’t be scared to show people who I really am. It’s almost like the more the real me tried to surface, the more I felt like I was performing and couldn’t let anyone in. If I told people too much about me, they would know that I wasn’t performing my character correctly. I wasn’t “passing” as who I was supposed to be presenting. I could feel my anxiety bubbling up more and more and my soul was actually dying. I was losing the will to live as the character I was randomly assigned at birth.

I realize that my very existence is controversial. There are people who want to pretend that I just need Jesus or that I need to be taught my place. That I need to just accept what is. Those people don’t understand that I knew who I was all along and this world forced me to play a character based on assumptions. I literally put myself away to make everyone else comfortable. I want to be done with that forever but I get scared. What if someone hates me enough to threaten me or hurt me? What if everyone I know abandons me? Those are the thoughts I put away now, to continue being who I know I am. But I can’t always keep those thoughts away.

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