Shine on, Stumpy.

It had been about a year or so, I suppose, of attending classes at my favorite yoga studio in town with some regularity; usually the same three or four classes on the same three or four days. It was inevitable then, really… despite my desire to remain somewhat anonymous, keep my focus on myself, and stay out of what I’d heard could be some rather nasty gossip circles… that I made a friend. An incredibly kind woman, whose name I could not remember to save my life began greeting me every Tuesday and on the particular Tuesday in question, beaconed me excitedly to her mat and introduced me to a (presumably) new friend of hers.

“Marta, this is Jaci.”

I smiled at Marta and shook her hand.

“She’s a dancer,” my yoga-friend asserted, almost proud of me in front of the new member of our little group.

Marta raised her brows, smiling as though she were properly impressed.

So did I. In surprise.

Tentatively, I attempted to delicately correct my friend.

“No…” I began.

“Oh, sorry. She was a dancer,” She assured Marta before looking to me for validation.

I smiled awkwardly and shook my head.

No, no. I was not a dancer. I had never been a dancer. Oh, I took ballet and tap dance as a little girl… took a class in an effort to lose weight one month as a young adult… but I was not a dancer. I was still fumbling frantically around in my mind for a kind way to make the correction when she gave it a third try.

“Oh! A gymnast!”

Both women looked at me in hopeful anticipation. Again, I shook my head, wearing an almost grimacing smile.

Nope. Not a gymnast. Same deal; I had taken some classes as a child, but…

I felt badly for my friend when I was finally able to give them both the disappointing news; I was not a dancer or a gymnast. I was a writer. And marketer. But mostly a writer.

My friend seemed genuinely surprised, as though she had been sure.

“But you’re so flexible!” she protested.

I tried to smile as I shrugged, totally at a loss for the explanation she clearly hoped was coming.

Gratefully, we were all called to our respective mats to begin practice and the whole thing was over. But even now, years later, I think of that interaction and wonder what kind of stories that woman must have made up about me in her mind to make me a dancer. Or a gymnast. Me.

I’m certain I’d never said anything to that effect… nothing even remotely in that wheelhouse. In fact, until she’d brought it up, I’d rather forgotten I ever took any dance or gymnastic classes. In truth, I’d always thought of myself as stocky, even to the point of overweight. Awkwardly muscled and built like a square. With legs like trees – badly misshapen ones at that, thanks to a gristly motorcycle accident. My sister had nicknamed me Stumpy, particularly as I got re-acquainted with my legs post-accident and struggled – more even than I had before – to move at any brisker pace than a stroll. We’d shared many a hearty laugh as I half-galloped, half-wobbled through crosswalks in an effort to beat the light, swinging my “stumps” in circles out from my hips rather than bend at the knee. A dancer? Um, no.

The thing that I really find interesting, though, is the disparity between what I thought of myself – especially at that time in my life – and what she thought of me.

Several years ago I learned about the value of the way we think about ourselves, the way we talk to ourselves. (That’s a whole ‘nother story.) Since then, I’ve taken great care to think of myself in more positive terms. However, I also strive for authenticity and the acknowledgement of my own personal truth. I had become quite comfortable with my less-than-dancer-like build and movement. I even appreciated the quirkiness of it, the essence of me to which those qualities contributed. I still do.

I don’t know why I thought of that whole interaction just the other day, but as I reflected on it I realized what it meant to me. It was a reminder. We have so little control over the way we are perceived by others. Regardless of what we tell people about ourselves or how we imagine we look to the rest of the world, people will somehow form their own impressions. And they’ll always be at least a little bit off because even we can’t accurately perceive ourselves. Accuracy is impossible and subjective. But it doesn’t matter. The only thing we can control, the only thing that does matter, is how we see ourselves… and that we like the person we choose to be, as much as possible, every single day.

Shine your bright, awkward, dancer, stumpy, flexible, and inflexible self. You’ll have a great chance of being perceived as beautiful, joyful, and peaceful. And – quite likely – YOU’LL be happy.

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