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The Most Important Thing I Ever Learned

If you’re a smart and successful woman, you can relate to what I’m about to say.

Since I was a little girl, I was pushed to be like everyone else (being born in the Soviet Union and raised in communism’s ideals), yet I was always striving to be better, faster, and stronger.

I faced pressure from my mother who told me, “You have to study hard and work hard to survive.” (I have worked since the age of twelve.)

I faced pressure from my environment, which reinforced that I wasn't good enough. Strengths were taken for granted and weaknesses were given full attention.

I was raised in a culture where if you studied very hard and got “A’s” in all subjects except for math, your parents and teachers would put all of their attention on that one “B” and push you for more.

Everyone dressed the same. Everyone had the same furniture at home, watched the same several government-run TV channels, and stood in hours-long lines to get the same basic groceries.

The government pre-determined what your beliefs would be before you were born.

There was no individuality and no freedom of self-expression.

The pressure to be a certain way—seemingly “perfect” in a clone-like way—has created a lot of fear of being judged and fear of failing—as well as hidden feelings of guilt and shame.

But more importantly, the pressure to be “someone” as a part of the system didn’t allow me to find and be myself.

I didn’t know who I was.

All I knew was that I had to PROVE myself to others according to someone else's imposed standards.

I had to show that I was just like others in things I was able to do and have.

I wore the mask of someone who had a seemingly “perfect” life, whatever that meant.

Gosh, it’s so hard to be someone you are not.

You know, right?

The constant comparing, self-doubt and approval-seeking.

The worrying, over-analyzing and over-thinking.

What a draining and exhausting way to live.

I’ve worn social masks for years and years.

Until one morning when I stood up in front of a room with about 100 people and told them the truth.

I told them that I wasn’t honest with myself and with others.

I was searching for myself in the eyes of others.

I felt like I lost myself and had no idea who I truly was.

I was SURVIVING, not living.

My focus was external—looking good, being right, having control and avoiding pain.

I learned that the cost of it was being myself: authentic, vulnerable and free.

I also realized that being me is life’s greatest gift.

It’s a privilege.

It’s a choice.

For the first time in my life, I let myself be me.

There was a lot of healing, self-forgiveness, and self-compassion in the process.

Having always been a very healthy person, I suddenly got extremely sick.

Being a “strong” woman who hadn’t cried for days, I cried for hours releasing all those unresolved emotions that had been buried deep inside.