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I don't know about you, but when I was in third and fourth grade, I got my first dose of "You're weird" and "You're different".

A handful of us had been bussed to another school district, separated from our friends, and dropped into a group of kids and a culture unlike what we'd known and thrived in up until then. We didn't know how to fit in, and they didn't know what to do with us. In our group, boys and girls alike had long hair and were sporting India-import clothing. Our parents were hippies, experimenting with their lifestyles and with us. In the other group, well conformity reigned supreme. We all eventually found our groove with each other, and yet I remember distinctly pulling back from fully and freely being myself from that point on. 

Fast-forward to middle school, and I remember being told by a friend, "You're too serious. I don't think I want to be friends any more". And, as a young adult, "You're too intense. I don't think I want to hang around with you so much." And, more than once in my first 25 or 30 years of living, I heard that I was "too sensitive", I "think too much", and I "talk too much".  It's no wonder I shut down, went within, and mastered a set of adaptive behaviors - some destructive and some constructive - to help me through life.

Fortunately, though I developed some problems with self-esteem and over-use of anything that made me feel good, I also started journaling when I was 9, played outdoors and in with my core group of friends, took music lessons and sang.

Today, a lot of years later and as a person in long-term recovery, I know that journaling, playing outdoors, spending time with friends, and singing are evidenced-based practices proven to restore and maintain well-being. Thankfully, too, those struggles with low self-esteem and substance use led me to discoveries about myself and life I wouldn't trade for the world.

Maybe it took the path I did walk for me to find my true self and fully and freely be her. Maybe, if I had not gone that way, contrasting experiences that brought my attention to different aspects of myself might never have occurred, and those aspects would not have been developed.

This month, as we continue to explore Centers for Spiritual Living's Global Theme, "Love Out Loud", I invite you to consider whether you've learned to appreciate and love your uniqueness and the way you like to live.

What would happen if you re-interpreted the stories of your earlier years? Might you discover some things you never would have known about yourself and about living if you hadn't walked exactly that path? Do you have a unique understanding as a result of your experiences which allows you to help others like no one else can? Is there a purposeful path rising out of that?

Today I know that is my joy and purpose to teach, speak, write, sing, facilitate, and lead in some part of humanity's awakening. What is your story telling you is yours to be, do and offer in this world? You're the only one who can be that person, do those things as you do, and give that gift. Why not start loving yourself and living as who you truly are? Not only will your own joy and sense of purpose increase, you'll be inspiring others to find theirs, too.  So, what do you say? Why not start today?