I was recently considering how my ideologies, beliefs, standards and boundaries have changed drastically over the last twenty or so years. The old Dawn liked what you liked. Any remotely persuasive argument would have me agreeing with your view. I trusted the conclusions of others far more than my own. I did so, in part, for approval, and in part, because I genuinely believed others were more informed, had vastly more life experiences and their opinions caused me to feel inept. Rather, I allowed it to make me feel inept. In romantic relationships, I would claim to like boxing if the guy was a boxer. I would watch a boxing match on tv and feel validated that the dude was so impressed to have found a girl who liked boxing. I don’t like boxing. I liked being liked. In friendships, I must have been a rather boring companion. Essentially, I regurgitated for you, what you’d shared with me, 100% agreeing with anything you favored. It was exhausting. And, it became disorienting when I realized I had no idea what Dawn liked, believed or valued. I hadn’t trusted my own thoughts on a given topic in so long, that I didn’t have a starting point in simply being me. I was forever afraid (truly- fearful) of offending ANYone. It was a way of life and my daily norm. “Some are leaders, some are followers.” I’d always tell myself. And, holy mother, was I ever a follower. I’m not sure of the exact moment when I shed the cloak of falsehood that so inaccurately defined me, but I remember saying a curse word in front of a very conservative Christian lady whom I’d never heard utter a solitary “bad word.” I dared not offend her with my daily language, and I thought I was refraining for HER sake. She’d known me for years, and her mouth dropped for a quick second when I glossed over a response containing a vernacular bomb turned adjective. I shocked myself, too. As it turns out, this was the first step, as I remember it, that began the shedding of years of lies. And, who would have thought… I am more loved and respected today than then. The people I attracted after I stopped trying to please the world became my tribe. Ironically, I was finally at peace with having a disagreement and comfortable with standing my ground. No persuasive argument could shake my beliefs, simply to please the person standing in front of me. It. Felt. Incredible. To begin to know myself was, and is, a journey that never fails to satisfy my quest in walking my most genuine path. I am honored to regularly receive correspondence from friends, readers, acquaintances, former employees, and even strangers who were directed to me for information or advice on issues with which I’m too familiar. Divorce, addiction, interpersonal communication struggles and myriad other life issues. As I’ve said so many times, everyone is a natural at something. It happens to be that solutions to 3rd party challenges, both urgent and long term, are intuitive to me. And, if it’s sought, I am willing to converse over a topic that plagues you until we arrive at a solution. And to think, there was a time I’d have waivered had someone ask me for advice on which shoes to wear with an outfit. The old me would have tried desperately to discern which pair YOU liked best, and I’d go with those. Unbelievable, isn’t it? As pitiful as it sounds, being a human chameleon is nothing more than a warped ego. If I am not living my truth out loud, in essence, I am saying others spend an ample amount of time thinking about me and my views. Newsflash. They don’t. It’s safe to be me. It’s safe to be you. I did lose some ‘friends,’ instantly, when I no longer validated every word spewed from their mouths. I gained FRIENDS who respected my whole person…people who could call me out on my bullshit, and I could do the same with them. I am in love with those individuals who also choose to leave the cage to their inner lion unlocked at all times. It doesn’t mean any of us feel the world is entitled to our opinion on every namable category of life. It does mean that when those opinions are expressed, it’s from the heart. Those who resist and retaliate against your authentic self are not your people. Challenging one another in a healthy, safe and thought provoking way is a hallmark of true friendship. This type of reciprocity between friends sharpens us. It expands our minds and stretches our imaginations. Challenging your belief system, questioning your personal choices and demeaning your values, however, is clearly the opposite of promoting your growth and development to becoming a better human being. Only toxic social circles carry an obligation of sorority-esque sameness. When ‘different’ is threatening, to an individual or to a group, move on and move fast. You will either suffer a silent erosion of your true self, or you will spend your time fruitlessly and futilely striving to be understood, always justifying your stance. In either case, the chameleon will overcome the lion. Chameleons are housed in small enclosures. And, even then, they are constantly changing to blend into their surroundings. Lions are fearless, roaming beasts. They sleep just fine at night. They don’t worry about the rest of the animal kingdom…they are lion’s for fuck’s sake. (See? Once upon a time, I wouldn’t have dropped the “f” bomb to a throng of mixed readers. I tried “friggin,” and “Pete’s,”…just didn’t have the punch.) Unfollow at will. At the tip of the funnel, I have spent well over two decades being unapologetically me. I am kind. I am forgiving. I am long suffering and will probably be the last person to give up on you. But, don’t dare cross the boundaries I have spent time, energy and devout introspection constructing. And, I won’t cross yours. Don’t talk to me about needing to gain weight. Really. I’ll hurt your feelings so fast you won’t believe I’m the same person who waxes poetic over human kindness, empathy and grace. Don’t shove your religion, your politics or your favorite morals down my throat. Don’t expect a respectful response if you judgmentally disapprove of my not-so-social-norm way of life that suits me well. I molted. If you are already a lion, I commend you. If you are still a chameleon, your enclosure isn’t secure…it just looks and feels like a tiny prison. You could be out in minutes if you exercise the slightest force on that false ceiling. We all have our limits. Pretending we don’t is a bludgeoning of your very soul. Know thyself. And, see to it that others know your boundaries and limits. Enforce them. If you’re still with me, I’ve managed to successfully demonstrate how people-pleasing leads to a fragmented personality, leads to a barren soul with no compass, leads to a final straw which becomes the first tiny piece of building material in constructing what has been destroyed, plowed over and disrespected, first by YOU. No one will ask you to lay out your beliefs, preferences, ideas and likings for the purpose of respecting them. Even knowing, it never fails to amaze me, the absence of boundaries prevalent in our world. If you don’t fit the mold of these overbearing bullies who need to adapt to a much smaller sphere of activity because their nose enters the building before they do, you may need to ask yourself, “Could I talk intelligently about myself, as a person, for three solid minutes?” If not, why not? Strip it down. Get raw with yourself. The slower you are in thoughtfully deciding what makes you, you…the quicker you will realize when your core values and personal boundaries are being blatantly ignored. If others move away from us because we enforce our limits, and refuse to be disregarded, just consider it as the trash taking itself out. No, you probably know by now, I’d never call another human “trash.” But, you don’t need them. If they were going to empower and strengthen you as friends do for one another, they wouldn’t expect to have free reign over the bad feelings they elicit. Chameleons don’t roar. Lions don’t change their colors. If you are like I was and have been a shrinking violet much of your life, the good news is, it’s not too late to decide and declare who you are, dammit! There will always be people-pleasers and there will always be those eager to treat them as small as they see themselves. Climb the small, plastic tree in your glass case, give the lid a shove and set yourself free. Lie stoically under your majestic Baobab just as a lion of the Serengeti. Be unapologetically you. And, when you see a chameleon, let them in on the secret of the false ceiling. Because, we all have the birthright…to roar. I honor each of you. Peace, Warriors.