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The worst pairs of shoes I have ever owned were the ones that didn't fit!
Peer pressure to be something that you are not, to be pressed to operate outside the bounds of your comfort zones. When we force it; when we attempt to squash our own dreams and lives into the shape of another, it hurts. It's painful. It's the kind of discomfort that goes way beneath the surface, leaving more than a blistering sore. It aggravates the soul, unstills the mind, and breaks the heart. There is disquiet and discontent when the shoe doesn't fit.
I lived in the countryside when I was growing up, far from the allure of the city lights. My childhood was spent within the wonders of nature, exploring deep gorges, following river trails, climbing waterfalls, running through sugarcane fields. I played backyard cricket, practised karate, climbed trees, cycled, and walked everywhere. I studied hard. I wrote. I read a lot! I developed a love for the written word.
My mom followed an Eastern Philosophy that saw us attending regular Bhandaras and Satsangs and so my life was quite different from most of my peers growing up.
I had no exposure to under-age drinking, fake ids, sex, and clubbing. I was therefore not street-wise like my counterparts whom I encountered when I entered University. I found myself in a whole new world - feeling sheltered, over-protected, out of place. For a time, I tried to fake it. I said yes to party invites, flaming sambucas, down-downs, countless cocktails, crazy nights out. The shock to my system was too much, too soon. I bombed.
I was supposed to be loving this newfound freedom, but instead, when I gazed down at the sleek black heels adorning my feet, the ones which had received countless compliments, I knew deep inside that they did not fit and my social life did not fulfill me. Heck, it had taken me weeks just to learn to stand upright in them! Instead, angst and stress prevailed in the place where joy should have thrived. I was self-conscious and constantly aware of the discord. I did not want to be an instrument for another, a channel for unfulfilled dreams, wearing the shoes of another, never quite measuring up inside.
Now, this is not to say that I did not enjoy my time at University. In fact, I relished it! I cherished it. My intellect was challenged, my horizons were broadened. I encountered true diversity in education for the first time in my life, having grown up under a system of Apartheid. I made some great lifetime friends with whom I still laugh and cry, across the oceans, to this day. I earned two degrees and spent countless hours engaging in chat forums, primarily on Health and Wellbeing, on the internet in the early 90s. I reconnected with school friends from my local area and engaged in more familiar activities of camping, hiking, and bbqs. I led more of an outdoor daily life than a nightlife. Evenings were reserved for my own quiet reflections and growth; reading, writing or enjoying my favourite tv programmes with my parents and siblings.
I had a lot of fun with my Uni mates, but now instead of trying to fit myself completely into their social lives, I was instead working out where our circles of interest and influence converged, and it was in the overlaps, that true friendship was born and nurtured across an incredibly diverse range of people. I learned to look for points of confluence and found that if we seek with a genuine heart that we can create meaningful connections with almost anyone that we encounter along the way.
I realised that I didn't need to be an imposter in my own life. By remaining true to myself, I could connect with people at a more meaningful level. I enjoyed pubbing as opposed to clubbing and when I did go out dancing I preferred the smaller local clubs to the razzmatazz of the big city scene. So I changed my shoes and I pulled on my boots instead. Short boots, tall boots, heeled and flat...and they fit like a glove. I found balance.
Now the shoe is on the other foot and I am striving to live the best version of myself. I have tried to pursue a life of diversity. I am able to engage and interact with most people that I meet, as I always look for the small ways in which we fit naturally as opposed to trying to force the narrative. I am a mom to two young children and I support their dreams, their interests, their realities, and encourage them to look for the good in others, to seek the synergies that connect us rather than the differences that break. No imposition. No pressure.
I am me, just me. My shoes may not be fancy, and to some, they may be plain. But they are comfortable. They fit. They are me. And I am happy.