Through all the years of growing up, I tried hard to be a positive person. Like with most of you out there, life has not always been easy, and at times that was very challenging. But more than that, I learned that there is a difference between being a positive person and pretending I am always happy to please other people.
My childhood was when I went through some of the most difficult times. I was constantly in a mind game with myself to try and focus my thoughts on being happy even though what was going on around me and in my own head felt like the complete opposite. In the fifth grade, I was given the nickname “Smiley,” as I always had a big smile on my face. I was showing everyone my happy exterior, but on the inside I battled with my confidence, sense of self, and knowing that I was just different from the other boys in my class.
As the years went on and I got older, I continued to hide my true feelings even more. One of the many reasons was that I did not completely understand what was going on in my own mind. Coming to terms with being gay and finding your own identity is not the easiest thing to do. You go through all kinds of emotions including the back-and-forth denial and the feeling that something is wrong with you. At such an early age when you feel different, you feel vulnerable. And when you feel vulnerable, you don’t feel safe. It is not a good place to be in.
Part of me also had an issue with telling my parents and other relatives what was going on because I did not want to disappoint them, and I did not want to bring what I thought was extra “problems” onto them. It was almost like I wanted to show them that I was always happy so they did not have to be concerned or deal with any extra worry.
I have since realized that I was very much what they call a people pleaser. Making sure others were feeling happy over my own emotions was very much a part of my make up. One small example I remember during junior high was when my grandfather gave me a cool new jacket, which I wore to school the following day. One of the older kids in a higher grade came up to me and asked if he could wear it that entire day. Part of me was probably scared of what he would do if I had said no, but the other part did not even think to not say no. I gave him my jacket. I felt like such a fool, so weak and deflated after doing that.
This may resonate with some of you, especially if you have a tough time expressing how you really feel or doing what you really want to do. Perhaps that is because you don’t want to hurt other people, or you want other people to be in a good mood, even if that affects you negatively. This carried on with me, even when I was older and working at E! News. I was so serious and focused on making my boss happy in any way that I could, that it consumed every last bit of me. It made me feel like I was excelling in my career to one degree but, at the same time, it was draining me.
During this time, one of my dear friends at E! asked me during our work day if I could run with him quickly to grab a cup coffee. I remember thinking he was crazy and kindly telling him I did not have the time. He looked at me straight in the eyes and basically told me that “I needed to get a life,” as everybody is allowed to get a break from time to time. I was so hard on myself and engulfed in being overly available at work that taking time to grab coffee seemed like a luxury. His words really stuck with me, and I began to reflect about the way I was thinking.
I started to ask myself, “What do I want?” “How do I feel?” “What do I deserve?” That was when I came to a crossroad in my life and made the decision to change. Since then, I have realized that it is so important to take your own feelings into consideration and speak up no matter what the circumstance.
I don’t know why it took me so long to find my own voice, but it feels so good to say what you mean and mean what you say. The first few times I was able to say, “No, thank you,” to something I did not really want to do felt incredibly liberating. Now, I am very conscious of my feelings and very aware of the difference between being a positive person and pretending everything is OK when it’s not. I now live with the mission that “yes” really does mean yes, and “no” really does means no. It is that simple.
If you find it difficult to speak your mind or feel pressured into making a decision, please know that it is always appropriate to take time to digest your own thoughts and feelings before giving an answer. Whether it is something as small as committing to weekend plans, or something big like what the next move you want to make in a relationship or career is, always be aware that you are in control. You are the owner of your words, and nobody is allowed to take that from you.