I love making people laugh. I always have. I take every chance I can to crack a joke and act like an idiot.

You’d think because of that I’d never take myself too seriously. But the truth is, I do—more than most people I know.

When I act like a clown, it’s intentional. When I make myself look goofy or immature, it’s deliberate. When I’m the butt of the joke it’s because I’ve allowed myself to be.

But I avoid looking unintentionally silly or stupid. I refrain from openly enjoying things others would make fun of me for liking.

The view I hold of myself is narrow. It’s defined by who I’m not and what I cannot do. I can’t cheer at a sports game because I’m not that “kind of person.” I can’t take a dance class because I’m “bad at dancing.” I can’t act too confident because what do I deserve to be confident of? I can’t see myself any other way than what others have deemed appropriate and acceptable. 

One of my biggest fears is seeing myself in a way that rings untrue to others. I’m afraid of losing sight of what I can actually do. I’m afraid of becoming the butt of a joke for people who find my lack of self-awareness comical.

So, instead of saying I can do anything, I say the opposite. Instead of looking in the mirror and praising what I see, I nitpick the imperfections.

Because, in my mind, I’ve always thought it was better to do nothing and be nothing than to open yourself up to scrutiny. And because of that, I decided to dull my own light before someone else could snuff me out.

I’m not alone in this. Plenty of my peers do the same things. They insult themselves before someone else can. They mock people for taking an interest in things others may deem corny or lame. They jeer from the sidelines because they think it’s better to never play than to risk losing. They clam up at the smallest of compliments because their self-image doesn’t line up with what they’re hearing.

For a long time, I thought my behavior was normal. I prided myself on being more self-aware than others. It wasn’t until I saw my friends and peers exhibit this behavior that I realized how toxic and out of touch it was. Hearing my beautiful friends call themselves insults no one else ever would, and saying they couldn’t do things they clearly could, opened my eyes.

We aren’t self-aware. We may not see a warped version of ourselves that is superior to who we actually are, but we’ve embraced one far inferior. We’ve embraced a version of ourselves that’s ugly and unworthy. One that apologizes for simply existing.

We can’t bear the idea of loving a version of ourselves that’s untrue. Yet, we’re perfectly content with hating a version of ourselves that’s equally as fictitious. Why is that? If we’re going to lie to ourselves, why not have them be kind ones?

Self-awareness isn’t about recognizing what you can’t do or setting limits for yourself. It’s taking an honest look at yourself and accepting who you are—with no regard for what’s right or wrong, or good or bad.

Self-awareness is realizing you know yourself more than you give yourself credit for.  It’s knowing self-love is honest and real, and that you don’t need people to tell you your truth to know it yourself. Because if you know yourself enough you know that the words and actions of others cannot change who you really are.

So, don’t let the opinions of others and the barriers you place on yourself stop you from self-exploration. Don’t put yourself down because you think you need to beat others to it. Don’t limit your potential because you’re afraid of deviating from what others expect of you.

Instead, Explore. Be the you that feels most authentic. Look in the mirror and see the person’s that there. Really there. And remember: you are enough.