"What will keep you from doing much good — is caring too much what others think." - Ann Voskamp
When I was in the 4th grade, I dressed up as Theodore Roosevelt.
Each year, all the students in 4th grade were required to do a "Biography" project. We were told to pick anybody throughout history to read about, then had to dress up as the person and tell the class about their life. I picked Teddy Roosevelt. Unbeknownst to me, I was the first girl in the history of this assignment to choose to be a boy. I identified with him as a human because he had severe asthma throughout his life. I was diagnosed with asthma at the age of 2, and it was both neat and comforting to me that as children we both suffered in the same way.
So I didn't think for a moment about what anyone would think if I put on a fake mustache and didn't present the life story of Amelia Earhart, Helen Keller, or Betsy Ross.
I did it just because I wanted to.
I unearthed this photo recently and have spent much time thinking about that little girl. The more I have pondered it, the more I have grown to admire my 4th grade self, because I have lost much of this courage along the way in my life.
For a number of years, I was very conscious and worried about others' opinions. I have experienced a disheartening and difficult amount of instances of people speaking very poorly about me behind my back, both in school and in ministry. Worrying about what others thought and said about me became my greatest struggle. Because of these incidents, I tried for a number of years to blend in at school, at events, and among people because I thought…if no one notices that I am here, they cannot form an opinion about me. I didn't dare do anything different or speak up out of fear that someone would find something negative to say.
I have spent much time, energy, and prayer moving past this, and have thought a lot about our society's preoccupation with what others think. As we grow to become adults, we waste an exorbitant amount of time in our lives worrying about what others think of what we own…what we look like…what we choose to do with our lives…what we wear…who we are. And oh, how it steals our joy, and our potential for living more radical, original, beautiful lives.
We can fall into this space where we don't buy the dress with the crazy pattern that we feel great in because girls might think, "What is she wearing?" We lose the bravery to ask our friends to youth group because people might say, "She is way too into her faith." We lose the courage to let fun parts of our personality shine because others might think, "Wow, she is annoying." We worry about what people will think if we speak up when we know we should, and somewhere along the way our audacity to pave a new way of doing things can completely disappear. And surely, you and I could both spend many moments wondering, "What would people think if…"
But the truth of the matter is that you are not defined by the opinions of others, you are defined by the God who made you to be you.
I am continually searching for the fullness of that spirit within me, that spirit of a 4th grader who wouldn't stop to wonder what other people would think or say. As I continue to re-collect this spirit of being who I am, I want to encourage you to gather your courage today. Be who you are and stop worrying what others think. Life is far, far too short for us to keep worrying and wondering. Be you. The unashamed, original, brave you.