I love this photo.
It’s not just that it incorporates so many of my favorite things: sunshine, mountains, the outdoors, farming, my most comfortable jeans, cover crops, the husband, my favorite ratty hat from my favorite (not ratty) local brewery.
It’s also not that it’s a perfectly sweet picture of Mike and me, doing what we do.
But before we get to why I love this photo so much, allow me a question:
When did you grow into your own skin?
For me, it happened this year. In one of those rare moments of instantaneous clarity. The ones you see in movies, where the sky clears, the air shifts, something imperceptible alters and the protagonist’s life, or at least their perception of life, is never the same again.
I had a terrible interaction with a parent at school. This wasn’t your run-of-the-mill terrible interaction (“Oh, hey, I got yelled at on the phone/in car line/via email again…)” This was an interaction that left me shaking in my office, made the head of school turn his car around, (“I am ditching my meeting. I will be there in three minutes,”) put the entire campus on lock out, and eventually resulted in police involvement.
It was a bad day. So bad, that my principal asked me several times if I was planning on coming back. I answered with a tight-lipped smile and a nod.
The next morning, I woke up and calmly stepped into my own skin.
I was done.
I was done being waylaid by wildly inappropriate parents. (It happens more than you’d believe.) I was done sugar coating truths. I was done being intimidated by people louder, pushier, and more aggressive than me. No more, no thanks, no más.
But then, almost instantaneously, I realized that despite the shitty day I’d had, I hadn’t been cowed. Shaken up, but not intimidated. I handled it appropriately, drew my line in the sand, took a deep breath and made it through the crazy. Plus, I got one hell of a learning experience out of it.
In truth, I didn’t step into my own skin that morning.
I simply became aware that I already had.
Which brings me back to this photo. More than all the previously mentioned wonderful things it contains, I love it for the expression on my face. The way I’m holding my body. The eye contact with the camera. The cool confidence. If I had asked someone to snap a photo that embodies who I am, who I’ve become, this is the photo they would take.
This is me. Circa age 40.
The last few years (5 years? 10? Perhaps my whole life?) have led towards a slow settling. A solidifying. A shift into my own bones in a way that actually makes me feel heavier. Stronger.
And while there abound essays (and books and make-up commercials and self-help shows and entire industries) based around women turning 40, I’m rather unwilling to chalk up this recently-realized confidence to an arbitrary age.
I am not grounded because I am 40.
I am grounded because I am where I belong.
I am grounded because I have done the slow, hard work, of becoming me. For me, this took about 40 years. For others, who knows? I’ve met folks much older who seem chronically unsettled, and old souls much younger who move about with unnerving wisdom.
I choose not to fret too much about either of those groups, but to simply concentrate on me being me.
And here’s what I’ve discovered about being me: it doesn’t mean I have it all figured out. It doesn’t mean I feel confident in every moment. It doesn’t mean that I’ll never again have one too many beers on a night out, and never again wake up thinking, “Oh, boy…what weird shit did I say?” It doesn’t mean I’ll never again be awkward, never again put my foot in my mouth, and it certainly doesn’t mean that I’ll never again make spectacularly impressive mistakes.
But it does mean that when these things happen, they don’t bother me much. And even when they bother me, I know I’ll get over it. I am solidly aware of my strengths and weaknesses and try, at least, to operate with them in mind. As I am equally aware of the values that drive me, and try to live by them daily. Which sounds like a bunch of wishy-washy, self-help-y crapola. Which it is. Just as it’s true.
It means that I’ve simply come to realize that all of that embarrassing stuff I do is completely normal. Everyone does stupid things. Everyone feels intermittently insecure. Not everyone, apparently, has the occasional one-too-many beers but I, for one, have come to the firm realization that I cannot survive a life buried in both public education and farming while being a teetotaler.
I have also come to the unpleasant realization that, at age 40, “one too many” usually means “two.” That unfortunate development, I will happily chalk up to age. The spirit is willing, but the body is entirely too prone to hangovers.
Being me means that I can laugh. It means that I am quick-witted, but only in writing. It means I am terrible at verbal comebacks and also terrible at keeping a clean house, assembling Ikea furniture, (assembling anything, really,) and dealing with strong emotions. I have a tendency to put everything that matters into writing and very little that matters into spoken words.
But I’m rock-solid in a crisis. I am slow to judge, quick to listen. I observe more about people than I let on.
I am comfortable in my own skin.
Which is why I’m where I belong. For the moment, that means that I’m farming. While juggling a full-time job in education. I’m with my husband. And my dog and my cat and approximately 17 high-strung chickens.
But if all of that changed tomorrow, I’d still be where I belong. Because once you settle into your own skin, you’re not easily removed.
So, allow me a second question:
What does your skin look like?
What’s your picture?
If you had to sum up you in a snapshot, a few words, a piece of art, what grounds you to the earth? Make you know that you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be? That you’ve made it – fallen into your own bones in a way that is only and exactly you?
I ask, in all sincerity, not out of a calculated interest to get people to interact with a blog (another thing I’m fairly clumsy at is self-promotion), but out of a meandering curiosity to see what “grounded” looks like. Because by choosing to be me, it immediately negates me being anyone else, which is more namby-pamby, wishy-washy, self-help-y crapola. Just as it’s true. By being me, frequently covered in dirt, grime, sunscreen, and occasionally chicken poo or a rogue spray of fish fertilizer, I know I will never be a perfectly tailored me with an impeccable sense of style and any sort of understanding of the latest fashion trends. Or, let’s be honest, even a belief that chicken-poo covered jeans need to be washed daily.
They totally don’t.
I’m cool with that. It’s what fits me. Fits my bones. Settles my soul.
Show me your picture.