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Forgetting Who You're Expected to Be and Becoming Who You Already Are
By Kelsey Grimm
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WHAT’S YOUR “IT”?
Okay, so let’s be real, y’all.
And I don’t mean “let’s share safe surfacy socially acceptable stuff.” Like, I’m so over that. And we’ve all done it. In small group on Wednesday night, or the Zoom Bible study, or even coffee dates with friends. The topics that are like “I just feel like I should be spending more time in my devos.” Or “I should really try to be more organized and stay ahead of laundry, so it doesn’t consume me.” Or this one: “I should really start working out more because these other moms are seemingly finding time for self-care and it’s probably important.” Or “I’m just a stay-at-home mom, so I should try to pursue something on the side so I feel like I’m contributing more.”
Nah, girl. Let me paint the real scene for you: I’m sitting here with no makeup on, greasy hair that hasn’t been washed since last Saturday probably because #momlife, and in the same yoga pants I’ve worn the last four days in a row. But I’m across the couch from you, eye to eye, about to dump all my deepest insecurities and the lies I tell myself every day, a bunch of reasons I’m not enough. See if any of these hit home for you too:
I’m too broken to love again.
I’m too broken to be loved again.
If I tell myself I’m okay, I can be okay.
I can get through hardship on my own.
I don’t need other people.
God shouldn’t use someone as messed up as I am.
I don’t deserve to be used and to see my dreams become reality.
Because of my platform, I need to have my life together. People are watching.
If I can control my surroundings, I will feel secure.
If I can measure up to what I think people want me to be, I’ll be fulfilled and happy.
My achievements are what make me influential and valuable.
God will only bless me if I’m walking in His way.
I can be who people need (or want) me to be.
What I do makes me who I am.
If my body looked that way or I weighed less, I’d feel comfortable in my own skin.
My guess is that you probably either resonate with some (or maybe even all) of those things or you’re going, Geez, girl, you got ISSUES (tell me something I don’t know).
For real, though, that list? It pretty much sums up the things I’ve told myself for most of my life. Just rereading it now makes me tired. Like, it’s exhausting. And the thing that every freaking line of that fifteen-item list has in common can be boiled down to two words: false expectations. Soul-grinding, depression-inducing expectations I’ve placed on myself or allowed to be placed on me by the world.
So, no. I’m not a have-it-all-together author standing up here writing to you down there. And really, if I’m being honest, I’m not even qualified to write a book telling other women how to think, live, or feel. So, breathe—because I’m not going to should on you. Culture does that to us incessantly. I’m not going to be another echo chamber getting all up in your business telling you what you should do, be, or think. And besides, we do that enough to ourselves every day. Amiright?
Before we dig in, I want to let you know why I decided to write this book in the first place. I honestly felt like it was a culmination of a lot of hard years colliding with the courage to finally share my story in hopes it might help someone else… maybe you. In fact, a couple of years ago, before the idea to write it was ever born, a friend asked me how I would describe my life over the last decade or so in one word. I hardly even had to think about it before I saw the word come to mind in bold letters: hard. Don’t get me wrong; there have been plenty of incredible mountaintop experiences that I will carry with me for the rest of my life, but so much of the last dozen years resembles a pattern of long, dark seasons strung together by occasional bright ones here or there.
So one of the reasons for writing was for my own health. I needed to get out of my head and heart and get down on paper what I had been through, what I had learned, and where I wanted to go. For me. From there, I started to realize that the more I told my story—the story you are about to read—the more stories I received from people like you who resonate with it. By simply sharing my pain and being as open and vulnerable as possible, I made a connection with other women (mainly) who, like me, desperately wanted out from underneath the suffocating pressure of performance and expectation. Just like the title says, they, like me, were over it.
Over the guilt.
Over the shame.
Over the second-guessing.
Over the self-hatred.
Over the pervasive need to be perfect.
Just. Over. IT!
In some ways, this is more a narrative than it is a “teaching” book. I’m not a therapist, pastor, or counselor. In fact, my hope is that as you read my story, it will be more like sitting under a blanket across from each other on the couch talking over a cup of coffee. Just sharing our stories, our hopes, and our dreams like best friends.
Right up front there’s something I need you to know. I was raised in a very loving, tight-knit family. My parents were—and are—incredible people who’ve truly loved me unconditionally every step of the way and have given me space and freedom to step into my true self. They’re still my husband’s, Caleb, and my best friends on the planet. And they are phenomenal grandparents to our two boys, Emmett and Beckett, and our daughter, Collins.
But juxtaposed with that, however, was the conservative cultural bubble I was raised in. Evangelical, embedded with a lot of silent expectations—like, I was born into this invisible river of expectations. If you were raised in a Christian environment, you will probably relate to some or a lot of my story. Yes, I did learn about a Jesus who is real and loving and whose love for me is unconditional. And at the same time, another subtle but very different message was at play: If you do the right things, say the right things, and act the right way, you will prove yourself to be a “good” Christian and God will not withhold from you His blessings.
Was that message preached from the pulpit? No. Did my parents raise me to believe that? Absolutely not. But the conservative American Christian culture that shaped me most certainly modeled that message. And it had a deep, lingering, and damaging effect on me (as you will see).
But I want to make something crystal clear—this is not an ax-grinding, “why the church is terrible” book. Not even a little bit. I have a deep love for the church to this day. But this is the story of a girl who came to believe—wrongly—that her worth was measured more by who she was, not whose she was. And I was shaped by an unspoken set of rules and standards of conduct and behavior.
So, yes, conservative Christian culture had its flaws and laid some of the groundwork for the expectations I tried to live up to initially. But you want to know what it’s grown into? You want to know what else has spoken into the silent expectations us girls are hit with every day in real time? The current culture we’re living in now. The curated, Photoshopped, idealistic culture that screams at us and hits us from every angle, everywhere we turn.
The messages are loud and clear. Today’s culture tells us exactly what we’re supposed to be: what our bodies should look like, where our beauty and worth lie, our level of success based on what we can offer the world, how we should interact with others, and what our relationships with them should look like. It tells us what to eat, what to wear, how to carry ourselves, how to raise our children, what makeup to use, how often we should work out, and what our goals should be.
The world is very clear about these expectations—do everything and look good doing it. Be a perfect career woman, wife, mom, daughter, friend, sister, and so on. Balance it all with grace and ease. Be attractive, but not too sexy. Be confident, but not too loud. Pursue your goals, but also raise perfect kids. Work out and eat right, but be comfortable in your own skin. Don’t let anyone take advantage of you, but be accommodating and polite no matter what. Look put-together, but don’t be vain.
Like, here’s an example of one of my typical “working-day-in-the-life” schedules of this usual stay-at-home mom:
6:00 a.m.: Wake up an hour before the rest of the house. Wash face. Drink coffee in quiet peace.
6:15: Work out.
6:45: Take a shower without a tiny audience asking for a million things (actually wash hair).
7:00: Wake the children, who slept peacefully through the night.
7:30: Make a well-balanced breakfast that everyone eats happily.
8:00: Hair and makeup team arrive to prepare for video shoot while children play independently and quietly on their own.
9:30: Put the littlest baby down for her nap without a fight.
10:00: Kiss the toddler boys and grab clothes for shoot and head out the door on time and prepared for the day.
12:00–4:00 p.m.: Shoot series of music videos that go smoothly.
5:00: Arrive back home to happy children.
5:30: Cook another well-balanced meal that said children eat without arguing, then clean it up.
6:00: Play with children and read books together.
7:00: Bathe children, brush teeth, and sit and talk about the day.
8:00: Pray and kiss children good night. They all fall asleep and need nothing.
9:00: Pour glass of wine and take an Epsom salt bath.
9:30: Have passionate, great sex with husband after a riveting conversation about life and the future with him.
10:00: In bed, lights out, children sleep through the night.
PSYCH! Here’s what it actually looks like on days that I’m working (video shoots, recording days, etc.):
6:00 a.m.: The children are awake well before me—screaming on the monitor to come get them up (after I’ve been up twice already during the night to nurse one who still doesn’t sleep through the night).
6:15: Bring all the children to bed with me so I can nurse one while the other two jump on the bed between Caleb and me as we try to squeeze in ten more minutes of dozing.
6:30: Peel myself out of bed and drag my butt to get coffee while all the tiny children make their needs and demands known.
6:45: Deny them candy for the first time in the day (It’s not even 7 a.m. yet, guys!) and settle for throwing a Lärabar at them so I can drink my coffee in “peace” for three minutes and try to wake up while they watch Daniel Tiger.
7:00: Listen to the children make more demands. Say no to candy for the second time.
7:30: Finally convince myself to turn off the TV and make them play and do something that uses their brains.
8:00: Hair and makeup arrives, and I’m still scrambling to find a bra and pants.
8:30: Hair and makeup starts on my very tired face, and we get interrupted 3,238,795 times by children needing various things (one needs his butt wiped, one needs a boob, one needs another snack). Say no to candy for third time.
9:30: Baby is fussy since she was up three times the night before. Pause hair and makeup to pacify baby.
10:00: Finish hair and makeup. Scramble to find clothes and shoes and jam them into a bag. I’m already running fifteen minutes behind schedule and should’ve been out the door at 9:45.
10:15: Grab youngest baby and diaper bag and rush out the door (can’t leave baby at home because she’s nursing and can’t be left with a nanny yet).
11:00–4:00 p.m.: Shoot a series of videos with littlest baby in tow, so we get interrupted eighty-seven times.
4:30: Finally wrap the last video and load up and out. Put baby in car seat for forty-five-minute drive home while she screams because she didn’t nap the entire day.
5:15: Finally get home with screaming baby. Unload the car. Come inside to two other crabby toddlers (because 5:00 p.m. is the witching hour) demanding dinner (and, of course, candy).
5:30: Pull out hot dogs and mac and cheese and call it dinner—which no one eats after asking for dinner.
6:00: Everyone is in meltdown mode. Early baths. Children ask for snacks (and candy) for the 22,342nd time that day. Turn on a show for testy kids again while I change into sweats and take bra off again.
7:30: Finally wrestle the children to bed, but walk up the stairs four different times for various other needs and demands (water cup, bathroom light on, dropped a paci, final hail Mary attempt at candy, etc.).
8:30: Collapse on couch. Husband pours me a glass of wine. We try to talk and connect, but I’m falling asleep.
9:00: Peel self off of couch to brush teeth and fall into bed before being awakened at 2:00 a.m. to nurse the baby.
You guys. This is what a work day actually looks like for me.
It’s exhausting, isn’t it?
Like, it’s not great. I want to be able to do it all and do it all well. I want to be able to work, be a mom and wife, connect with friends, and have time for self-care—but how? On most days it’s impossible. I wind up falling into bed before 10:30 p.m., utterly exhausted, defeated, and feeling inadequate on all fronts. I just can’t live up to all the expectations I feel every day. It’s crippling.
Anybody feel me here?
But I’m here to tell you guys I’m learning—and starting to break free from the feeling of being weighed down by it all.
Before we dive in further, I am going to give you a few major spoilers here—but I think it’s a good jumping-off point:
Spoiler #1: There is an answer to the question Can I ever break free from the expectations and pressures I’m hit with all the time? And wait for it—the answer is, yes, you can (but not by yourself).
Spoiler #2: The path you take to get over it—whatever it is—will probably look a hell of a lot different than you think. (Sorry. But it’s true.)
Spoiler #3: You can’t do this alone. We were never meant to journey through life alone. So asking for help—whether it’s in counseling, or confiding in a friend or mentor—is not weak. It’s brave. We need one another.
Spoiler #4: You’re already loved. And you’re already enough. Just as you sit in this moment right here, reading this. Having dreams and goals of being the best version of yourself is great, but not at the expense of losing your true identity. Your true identity lies in the fact that you’re already loved, valuable, and treasured by the One who created you.
Close your eyes and think of your “it” (don’t roll your eyes at me, just do it for a minute). The thing you’re leaning into that’s sucking the life out of you. The expectations you’re trying to live up to but you’re failing miserably at. Maybe it’s what other people think of you. Maybe it’s a betrayal. Maybe it’s a dark secret you’re keeping because you have to look like you’ve got it together. Maybe it’s a broken relationship. A crippling death. A diagnosis of disease. A lost dream. An addiction. A body image issue. Maybe it’s a past regret that keeps you up at night. If you’re anything like me, it might be several “its” strung together… I mean, you read my list. But they eat at you. Take up space and energy in your heart and mind. You can’t shake them. You can’t seem to break free of them.
Because the truth is: We’re human. We’re multifaceted. We’re messy, and most of us have lots of issues—very rarely is it just one. So, I’m here for it. Hit me with your list. I promise you’ll get the full story of mine and the consequences of them the more you read on.
One more thing before we start: Even if your list is enormous—as in, a Mount Freaking Everest of pain and heartbreak and darkness within you—there is hope, I promise. Trust me, I’ve been the girl who wanted to throw it all away once.
So make a deal with me. Will you open your heart up to at least the possibility of hope for where you’re at right now? Will you open yourself up to the idea that you’re already loved? That you’re already enough? That you don’t have to keep living under the paralyzing standards culture and society rub in our faces every day? That there’s a better way of living, learning, and loving if we only open our eyes and see our inherent worth?
More than anything, I want to thank you and encourage you. Thank you for trusting me enough to go on this journey with me. I’m just a little ol’ transplanted Midwestern girl telling her story—but in some ways, it represents all of our stories. And, yeah, I do want to encourage you. Even if you’ve been abandoned by everyone who’s ever loved you or whom you’ve ever loved. Because even then, you’re not alone. You’re already loved, and nothing you do can change that.
So cheers to this wild ride we’re about to go on together.
ONCE UPON A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT
Would it be too clichéd to start off by saying that it happened on a dark and stormy night?
I mean, isn’t that how clichés become clichés? Because some universal truth echoes through them?
Well, it was. Very dark and very stormy. In every way.
My life was a disaster. Like, a natural disaster. There I was, twenty-three years old, living in a beautiful home in Nashville, dating attractive guys, being invited to freaking awesome parties—all while living out my dream of being a professional recording artist. I had finally made it. It’s what I had wanted my entire life.
Only, that dream had turned out to be a nightmare.
Growing up, what I absorbed in my spiritual journey was that if you prayed hard enough for something, and you behaved well enough to deserve it, God would give it to you because you’d worked hard to stay in His will for you. But that wasn’t my story as I drove through the rain. Because me? I felt nothing. Nothing and everything at the same time. I was hollow, and it hurt like hell.
A normal person would probably do some introspection. Change up their lifestyle. Some counseling, maybe. But me?
Enter Hurricane Kelsey.
She had a lot of movement, plenty of destruction, and very little direction or predictability.
When I’m feeling especially anxious or antsy, sometimes I find myself running from it all. This particular night my escape plan was to take a long, dark drive alone. So on that stormy night in 2012, that’s what I did. And even though I wanted to be pissed off and indignant, I was actually terrified. Filled to the brim with shame. I hated the person I had become.
I’ll never forget how hard it was raining. I don’t know if I recall it ever raining that hard since. The kind of rain that slaps across your windshield in sheets so violently that you’d swear the glass was going to shatter. That’s all I heard as I drove in silence with nowhere to go and no one on my side anymore.
The backroads of Nashville were empty. I liked it that way. So I drove around aimlessly, scared to death about what would happen next. Because I knew I had messed up for real this time. And I was pretty sure there was nothing I could do to fix it.
The it I was failing to fix was me—my entire life, really. I’d just recently graduated from college. I’d broken off a really unhealthy engagement to my fiancé, Chris (not his real name), and I was trying to put back together the pieces of my shattered life. I had nowhere to go and no bright future ahead of me. I spent that entire summer hopping from one metaphorically numbing drug to another. It was a summer of meaningless relationships, late-night bad decisions, and dishonesty.
My parents were terrified for me. They tried tirelessly to talk to me, to open the lines of communication and figure out why I was spiraling out of control.
But I kept to myself. They could never know about what Chris did to me. What I allowed Chris to do to me. At the tail end of that tumultuous summer, I was offered an opportunity to audition for a new Christian girl pop group in Nashville, and since I had nothing to lose, I decided to go for it. After making the group, I had moved to Music City to embark on becoming the Spice Girls of the Christian world.
I had such high hopes of erasing my past and starting over in Nashville, where no one knew me. I wanted to forget the pain I’d stuffed deep down for all those months. But it turns out, you can’t outrun your pain. It catches up with you, and it had followed me straight to Nashville. I didn’t get the fresh start that I was so desperate for.
In fact, my bad decisions picked up right where they left off, just in a new city. I partied. I went out. I drank. In fact, I was coming off another long weekend of binge-drinking and irresponsible sexual decisions.
It had been almost a year since my abusive fiancé and I had split, but I still drank on it. And drank some more. I medicated it with any distraction I could get my hands on.
Because I didn’t know what else to do with the pain. And here I was again—in another unhealthy relationship that I knew was bad for me and headed for nowhere.
The roads I drove down were narrow and winding. Usually, I’d find comfort in that—in the beauty and peacefulness of the rain splashing on empty fields in the middle of nowhere. But not tonight. Every twist reminded me of the things I didn’t see coming. That no matter where I went or how far I tried to run, there would always be turns that I could never anticipate. I was afraid of the darkness that I knew lived inside me and felt it would never go away.
If you’ve ever been in an abusive or toxic relationship, you know the labels that come with them: Unworthy. Unlovable. Irredeemable. But you need to know up front that my reason for writing is not to tell you about that toxic relationship. Sure, that’s part of my story. But the main goal in sharing my story is to tell you what led me down the road to that relationship—and what led me out. Mostly, it was expectations inside my head that were either flat-out wrong or very, very skewed. Expectations about myself—who I thought others wanted me to be, and who I thought I needed to be.
As I drove that night, it felt like I had made it in the Christian music scene—but that still wasn’t enough, because I would never be enough.
I wasn’t well. The people around me knew it, I knew it, and I was too ashamed to go to God with it.
Earlier that day my manager had called me in. He was like, “Look. You have to get a handle on this, Kelsey. I don’t know what else to do. I can’t keep you on board if you keep acting out. I’m trying to help you. I need you to listen to me; I need you to listen to somebody.”
I think I mumbled something that resembled an apology, but we all knew I wasn’t changing anything. Then I took off in my car—and a dark afternoon turned into an even darker night.
Somehow, over the sound of the downpour, I heard the faint buzz of my cell phone. I fumbled to grab it and look at the caller ID: DADDY
Here’s the thing you need to know about my dad—he doesn’t get mad. Almost ever. I can count on one hand the number of times he has ever been so angry that he raised his voice at me. Add this night to the one hand.
I don’t even think I had even said hello before he started laying into me.
“Kelsey! What are you doing?! Are you trying to ruin your life? Did we not raise you to be better than this? What is your problem?! You better get yourself straightened out or you will lose everything. This is insane. Your manager is terrified, your mother is terrified, I’m terrified. Get it together.”
Then he hung up.
I dropped my phone and stared straight ahead, squinting. Because now I was battling the rain and my tears.
Kelsey, your dad just screamed at you. Now you’ve lost everyone. Good. Freaking. Job. Slow clap for your stellar character and judgment.
But honestly, I knew he was right. He was justified. He wasn’t demeaning—he was scared. And I got it, because I was scared, too.
Tears turned to sobs. Like, that real ugly cry where no sound comes out at first and then all of a sudden, it’s a tidal wave overtaking you. It’s so strong, you can’t catch your breath. I gripped the steering wheel until my knuckles turned white.
You know how some people have a rock bottom? Well, my rock bottom apparently has a trap door. And I had just fallen through it to somewhere so full of despair that I knew I’d never be okay again.
I’ve never been a suicidal person, but it crossed my mind in that moment. Steering wheel still in hand, the idea entered my mind.
Just veer off the road, Kelsey. Just drive straight into a tree, off a bridge, anything to end this sorry excuse for a life.
Then my phone buzzed again. This time I had to reach beneath the driver’s seat to get to it. I glanced at the screen: DADDY.
In a world that sends an ‘unspoken message of perfection’ Kelsey’s sweet spirit and willingness to share her vulnerable story of shame and self-discovery is a breath of fresh air. I’ll take an authentic read of personal experience, hard work & triumph any day of the week!
—Heather Land - Comedian, Author & Recording Artist
To me, this is more than a book. It’s words out of my own mouth! Even with our differences, we feel the same systematic pressure. I cried and laughed all in the same chapter. The message of this book is a must hear!
—Cara Clark - Nutritionist, Author & TV Personality
I’m a fan! Anyone brave enough to get this honest & real is a force to be reckoned with. For all of us who need a shot of courage, truth & grace - this book is a must. Well done Kelsey!
—Grace Valentine - Author, Podcast Host & Speaker
It takes courage and kindness to look back on the things that broke us. Kelsey’s story is a reminder that every fragment of our life matters and can be reconciled.
—Moriah Smallbone - Recording Artist, Producer & Podcast Creator
I relate to this message on such a deep level. In this book, Kelsey breaks loose the shackles of expectations that many of us women carry every day. We have been taught to prove ourselves and strive for acceptance. But along with Kelsey, I’m OVER IT.
—Madison Prewett - Author, Speaker & TV Personality
- On Sale
- Sep 21, 2021
- Page Count
- 272 pages
- Worthy Books