“I am not my image”

Responsibility. Expectations. These are the words that constantly storm around in my head. Am I doing the right thing? Am I being the right person? What will everyone think about my actions, my choices, my decisions?

I grew up in a small Jewish community and went to a small Jewish day school. There weren’t many other people there to take charge, so many responsibilities often fell on me. I was the kid who was asked to volunteer. I was the kid who was called to shovel snow. I was the kid who was dependable and reliable and responsible. But I didn’t ask for all of that. I never asked to be the leader or the student council president or the religious inspirer. It fell on my plate, and I never had a say. I had those roles, whether I liked them or not.

As a result of all that pressure, I began to identify and define myself based on the image that was given to me. I did the jobs, I took the responsibilities, and I maintained the image.

I was afraid to disappoint people. I didn’t want to disappoint my community. Or my teachers. Or my friends. Or my campers. Or my parents. Before I made any decision, I asked the same question: what will they think? I couldn’t say no. I couldn’t act the way I wanted to act; I had to do what I thought the communal “they” expected of me. What will they think of me? What will they say about me? Will they judge me? Will they question my choices?

By the end of my high school career, and throughout my gap year in Israel, I grappled with my perceived identity and my actual identity. I realized that so many of my decisions and actions were made strictly in order to please others. I hadn’t been doing what I felt was right; I was doing what I felt would be perceived as right, by everyone else.

I realize now that I need to start acting for myself. However, I also understand that my actions are an important part of who I am. I want to be a leader. I want to be the counselor my campers can look up to. I want to be the responsible one. But I need to be doing things for the right reasons. I shouldn’t act because I’m afraid of the result of my saying ‘no’. I shouldn’t question every single thing that I do and wonder whether everyone in my past would be ok with it. What makes my actions mine, what makes me free, is my ability to act without pressure or persuasion. I want to be able to make decisions not because I’m afraid of what the world will think, but because I truly believe in those decisions and the direction they will take me. I am not merely an image, concocted and molded by the people around me. I am more than my insecurity.