Over the last few months, I’ve sat down to write this blog post numerous times, and ended up staring at my computer screen. I’ve been struggling with my thoughts and how best to piece them together on a page so that they resemble something halfway intelligent. Today, I decided to say screw it, and just go with whatever ends up on the page, so if it gets crazy off topic, forgive me. Let’s get started.

All my life, I’ve been a numbers person. I’ve always noticed trends and patterns with numbers, and I enjoyed noticing them and making sense of them. Then I started noticing trends and patterns in every day life. Those are sometimes harder to make sense of. Luckily, society tends to be numerically inclined, whether people want to admit it or not. Don’t believe me? Look at it this way: we have standards for quite literally everything. We have education standards that students (and sometimes teachers) are required to meet in order to progress or graduate. Employers have qualifications applicants must meet to even be considered for an interview for a position. We have beauty standards. We have health standards. We have standards of wealth. We have mathematical standard deviations in analyses of everything, which aim to determine how far away from the norm something is.  We have standards of proof. We have political standards, believe it or not. We have societal expectations and gender expectations, which are more or less behavioral standards. We have personal standards and dating standards and so many others that the word “standards” doesn’t even sound like a word anymore. What happens when none of these standards are good enough?

A few years ago, I knew three things in my life needed to change: where I lived, what I did, and how I lived. They weren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, and the first two definitely could’ve fallen under the third category. What I really needed to do was overhaul my life. I was unhappy, perpetually angry and short-tempered, and didn’t know where to start to make anything better. I decided to start by questioning how I got where I was.

Somehow, I had gotten off track from where I wanted to be. I spent 6 years in college and grad school in different states learning how to live as the person I (mostly) wanted to be instead of the person my hometown expected me to be. When I returned home I quickly found myself to be a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. Instead of just accepting that I was a square peg, and I had no desire to fit into a hole anyways, I forced myself into it, shaving off bits and pieces of myself as I went. In order to get back on track, I had to decide how I was going to get those pieces back. I chose to make changes in my life that let me live by my own standards.

I’m not really sure how I came to define my own personal standards. Some of them can and do overlap with what society tells us is normal or expected. Some of them I believe are better even though society tells us it might be weird. I stopped caring about what society thinks, and focused on who I wanted to be, and how I wanted to be that person. I decided that I wanted to change where I lived. I wanted to be in my own space, to be able to go to the store without seeing people who had known me since I was a kid and who had known the version of me that I no longer wanted to be. I wanted to live in a space where I could be my full self. I wanted to work in a job that I didn’t despise. I wanted a job where I could park my car and walk inside, and not spend 5 minutes in my parked car, telling myself to go into the building because I had student loans to pay. I wanted to be someone that could face her own reflection in the mirror and not just be ok with what I saw, but to be happy with it. To be able to look at my reflection and smile, not grimace or sneer or feel disheartened, turn off the bathroom light, and walk away.

I started off by making little changes. I bought clothes that made me feel powerful or comfortable or, gasp, attractive, even if it meant I was wearing a necktie or motorcycle boots. I stopped convincing myself that I would one day cave in and start wearing makeup. I started convincing myself that I didn’t need it, because I look just fine without it, and sometimes more than just fine. I started looking for apartments, for new jobs, for new opportunities. I started looking into getting a dog, because I find dogs naturally make a lot of things better. I started being my real self, after years and years of denial. I started living authentically. I started letting go of stupid, petty things. I started challenging the status quo. I started building others’ confidence, instead of standing by and watching others tear it down because that person for some reason doesn’t meet any or all of those stupid standards I named earlier. I started challenging the way people think, in polite, respectful ways. I got my knee fixed, and I went on an international vacation I’d been dreaming about for 6 years to celebrate it. I recently felt that my knee was in good enough condition to train for and run a 10k race. I got a new job and a new apartment and a puppy and I am noticeably happier…and yet, it’s not enough.

I am happier than I’ve been in a long time, and I’m continuing to take steps towards meeting certain standards I’ve set for myself. It all began when I started asking myself questions, so it seems fitting that I end this blog post with more. What happens when you work for years to meet the standards you set for yourself, only to find that they are no longer good enough? What happens when you don’t know where or how to set the new ones, so you don’t know how to go about meeting them? What do you do when you don’t know what to do?