I grew up watching “Friends.” As I watched season after season, tracking the characters and laughing along with the ambling plot of their lives, I was sure that when I grew up I would have life all figured out. I would know what my lane was, and have my character traits all parsed out. But I’m now the same age as Phoebe, Rachel and Monica were, and I do not have it all figured out yet. As it turns out, there’s no one scripting my life or defining my character’s role. Bummer. That seemed way easier. 

I’m still wrestling with disintegration. The inside of me doesn’t always feel compatible with the outside of me that everyone else sees. I feel like we spend most of our childhood and early adult years adding layers to ourselves that we have acquired from other people in an effort to cope and fit in, modeling bits and pieces of our personality, style and interests after people who seemed to be doing better than us. 

Meanwhile, we stifled the pieces of ourselves that didn’t fit the mold. Now I feel like I’m living that scene from “Friends” where Joey barges into the apartment wearing all of Chandler’s clothes and says: “Hi! I’m Chandler. Could I BE wearing any more clothes?” 

As I’m finally starting to shed some of my layers, it feels both complicated and freeing. Some layers get stuck as I peel them off and I have to figure out if it’s actually something of mine to wear, or if it belonged to someone else all along. 

Other layers have felt itchy and too constricting in all the wrong places, and  I feel like I can finally breathe when I get them off. One of those layers is thinking that my creativity is unnecessary and frivolous. I have spent my whole life choking out this creativity because I believed that being creative wasn’t of any great value to the world. Another layer I put on myself was that I should analyze less, smile more and be more carefree.

I was constantly weaving intricate webs of these obscure, minute details in life, but it was as if I was looking at the world from behind a glass window, unable to find my character’s role. I am slowly discovering, though, that if I expose these pieces of my core identity and combine them, it creates a prism: taking in light from the world, refracting it and reflecting it in a new way through art and writing. Transforming something as ordinary as light into something so dazzling demands that you appreciate its beauty. Turns out I shouldn’t have tried to hide these things after all.

Taking off layers can be exhausting. Exposing the tender-hearted, child-like version of yourself that’s been buried underneath those layers for so long makes you feel vulnerable, and at times you will ache for the protection those layers once provided.

If you aren’t sure what layers you have acquired, I challenge you to ask yourself: “What brought me joy as a child? What made me feel different? What did I try to hide from the world?” Sit with these questions. Take the time. Do the work. 

Don’t settle for the “you” that you have become over time. Fight for the you that has been hiding in the shadows all along.