The Dearest Friend You’ll Ever Have Is You

It was late at night in the summer on a Saturday. I heard his voice projecting loudly throughout the crowded patio. I turned the corner, and my eyes fixed upon him. His stature was as towering as his voiced rumbled with bravado. He was surrounded by an entourage of people, all of whom appeared eager to benefit from his willingness to take responsibility for the ever-growing bar tab.

I studied his face curiously. It reminded me of this black labrador I once saw who was intoxicated by the simultaneous showering of treats, belly rubs and ear massages. He was drunk, but it wasn’t just the whiskey; he was gorging on every offering and oozing of the attention.

Some of those surrounding him behaved liked minions; some swinging their hips, some flipping their hair, and some circling his chair nervously. We locked eyes for a moment, and he smiled at me flirtatiously. Although I nodded politely, I felt a twinge of sadness. The entire scenario was so void of any substance, I could barely look upon it without feeling empty.

There was such emptiness behind his boastfulness. His entourage may have been impressive to some, but his reservoir of self seemed painfully hollow. I empathized with even the most vulnerable and perceivably weak parts of it. I knew that facade so intimately.

What Do You Think of You?

In life, we often labor harder at gaining the approval of others than we do at actually investing in a relationship with ourselves. Some of us do it by flaunting our expensive cars, handbags, designer labels or credentials. Some of us do it by waving our credit cards in the air and proclaiming “Hey, guys, the drinks are on me!” while impressing others with our funds and generosity. Some of us do it by posting a string of seductive, cleavage-on-a-platter selfies.  Some master the game of name-dropping. Some of us live on ramen for a week just so we can afford those Snapchat-worthy VIP level seats. Some of us simply say, with a wink, “Just ‘google me’…”

It’s all the same on the inside; it just manifests itself in different ways. It’s a simple deficiency, and has just as simple of a remedy –

what ever happened to what you think of you?

If you were to pay a visit to the person existing inside of your head, would you ever want to return again? What are the thoughts which follow you into the shower? Who are you when the music is off, when the beat isn’t dropping, when the drinks stop flowing, when your newsfeed is uninteresting and there is nothing to distract you from your truth?

It doesn’t matter how talented or genetically-blessed you are, how alluring your eyes, how much fame you acquire or how admired you come to be – every aspect of life cannot be glamorous and thrilling. Some aspects are sticky and muddy; some boring and mundane. Even those who are the most skilled at running from themselves must face the buried layers eventually.

Maybe your truth will find you in the bathtub late one night when the rest of the house is quiet. Maybe it will happen when you are puking over the toilet and no one is around to pull your hair back for you.

It doesn’t matter how inventive one becomes with creating distractions and crutches for themselves; the truth will always find us. It may present itself as a tap on the shoulder or a series of gentle knocks at your door. If you ignore it or try to distract yourself from its call, though, it will manifest into painful attempts at getting your attention.

No relationship can ever replace the relationship one must cultivate with themselves. No amount of money, sex, pleasure, fame, flattery, Twitter followers or credentials  can ever suffice to distract anyone long enough to keep the tenacity of their soul from making its truth known. It will never stop calling us home. It will never stop demanding that we quench its thirst. Ourselves – that’s who we must love first.

For so long, the notion of being admired was one of my greatest sources of motivation. I didn’t just want people to approve of me; I wanted them to adore every shred of me, forever and always. Anytime someone criticized or rejected me in even a tiny way, it felt tragic. I tried to present myself as this confident person who needed no one’s approval, but as much as I had myself fooled, it was never the truth.

Moments of flattery injected me with temporary feelings of superhuman exhilaration. It was almost like a drug. The especially colorful and elaborate ones would become the intoxicating soundtrack of my whole day, but I learned it was always fleeting. I was dining on fake food.

But now? The truth is: I mostly care what I think of me. I want to make myself proud.

This shift in my thinking has made me somewhat dangerous at times because the notion of criticism was something I had been perceiving as a frightening monster when really it was nothing more than a powerless, tantrum-throwing toddler.

Not long ago, a lady wrote me claiming she had been contemplating suicide, and that my words made her realize what a terrible choice it would have been. Obviously, I was profoundly touched to have been the catalyst for her rescuing herself. I was moved to tears, in fact. But, just as I’ve had skyrocketing compliments, I’ve received scathing criticisms as well. One person wrote me saying I was one of the most hypocritical writers on the internet because I was photographed wearing – gasp! – mascara while on a mission trip.

It burned a little, and I felt the knee-jerk reaction to defend myself – but, only for a moment. I swiftly buckled that toddler right back where it belonged.

Because I am defined by neither the praise nor the criticism, the popularity nor the obscurity. Neither are entirely about me, but more about another’s interpretation of me.

People are sometimes going to love you, sometimes going to hate you, sometimes going to be changed forever by you and are sometimes going to just ignore you. Some friends are going to walk away, and some are going to stay. Some are going to hold you up until they need you to return the favor, and some may just suck your every drop of juice only to later spit it back into your face. I’ve choked and gurgled on doses of all of the aforementioned varieties. And I know that even those with the best intentions will sometimes grossly misunderstand you. Regardless, you must never stop being a friend to yourself. Everything else tends to work itself out if you pledge forever to keep your commitment to that.

Lacey Johnson

Madam Wonder: Founding Editor

Lacey Johnson is an award-winning editor, essayist and journalist who earned her degree from Belmont University in 2011. She has worked with a broad range of celebrities and entrepreneurs — including the likes of Betsey Johnson, Deepak Chopra, Shark Tank's Daymond John and Olympic Gold Medalist Shawn Johnson. She is editor-in-chief for The Connect magazine, and her work can be read in a variety of print and digital media sources including Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, Woman’s Day, Mirabella, PopSugar, and others. With a deep intrigue for human beings, and fiery passion for smacking her readers in the face with the truth, she writes and reports boldly about topics that challenge the status quo — in the realms of love and relationships, popular culture, travel, spirituality, women’s issues and the nuances of a fulfilling life. She is also deep in the process of co-authoring her first book, which is a gutsy exploration of the illusions of fame, power and success, told through narratives involving some of the people the world most idolizes.

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