What Do You Do When You Have No Idea Who You Are?

You are so pretty.

You are so fun.

You are so nice.

You are so funny.

You are so great.

You are so cute.

You are so outspoken.

You are so quirky.

You are, you are, you are…

Regardless of what your past looks like, I undoubtedly know you were told from a young age what you were, what you looked like, and what you should be and/or do. Seemingly harmless and often disguised as compliments, “you are” statements infiltrate our lives from the earliest age, the earliest memories. And they stick.

Case in point: Every Sunday, like clockwork, two dear family friends and women in church told me, “You look so cute today,” or “You are a spitting image of…” Regardless of who or where these statements come from, they all share one thing: They fill in the blank in the sentence “You are…”

Throw the niceness factor aside for a minute, and you’ll see there is much more going on in each of these statements, especially when consistently delivered to a young being in her formative years. Sure, compliments are great…but for what? Are we complimenting 10-year-olds on their ability to be empathetic and absorb social cues, or 15-year-olds on how great it is that they wake up every morning and learn to interact with other beings, growing each minute into themselves? No, we don’t.

I became obsessed with being told what I was, especially in the form of compliments. Most of us are, to some degree, but I became obsessed with obtaining as many “compliments” as possible. I grew up in a world where niceness was imperative (welcome to the South), and these compliments were defining my self-worth. If I went to church and didn’t receive a compliment about my outfit, I second-guessed if I had picked the wrong shoes or if I should have worn the sweater my mom picked out. If I wasn’t told, “You are so good at your job” after every project deadline achieved, I wanted to curl up and cry.

To take it a step further, the constant need to be told what I was and how I showed up in the world defined every romantic relationship I was in. It wasn’t until I met a man who opened my heart enough to allow my true self to shine and decorated me with the kind of compliments a partner versus a casual hang shares that I realized how much I relied on affirmation.

These days, I laugh when I think back to those moments before the bubble burst in my young 20-year-old life—the best years of my life if you will—because I was so sure I had it all together. It took life ripping apart at the seams one Monday in November and my rock bottom a couple of days later for me to realize I had no idea where to start to rebuild—because I had no idea who I was or what I wanted.

I spent so much of my life seeking praise, affirmations, and compliments from others that they were all I knew. I relied so much on others to tell me who and what I was that I struggled to define who I was, for myself.

My story, my life, relaunched the day I decided to invest in figuring myself out. It took time, prayer, wine, and help along the way, but it was worth every waking hour. Disallowing myself to rely so heavily on other people’s affirmations and allow myself to serve self-affirmations, guided by self-love, has been my biggest game changer to date. There are days when the light doesn’t shine as brightly within, but what I know is that when I wake up, my feet hit the floor, I breathe in the new morning air, and I look at myself and say, “Katelyn, you are here. You are living and breathing and making this day your own. You are strong. You are capable. You are worthy!”…well, let’s just say it turns out to be a pretty good day.

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About the Author | Katelyn Pfeffer

Katelyn Pfeffer believes in the power of people. She is passionate about aligning leadership and mindfulness. She is an avid theorist and strategist, drawing inspiration from the daily life lessons and stories of people and places she's never met.

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