I had a wonderful opportunity meet up with an old friend recently. After a great visit, I left the coffee shop thinking about the power of perception and what happens when you choose to believe either the best or the worst things that are said, believed, or whispered about you.

It made me wonder, if you know who you are, does it matter how anyone else sees you?

Does the answer change if you don’t?

I have always had a bit of an identity crisis. To the outside world, it’s best summed up like this: I have three college degrees. Each in a different last name. None in the one I use now. On the inside, it looked and felt like chaos. A broken and damaged little girl acting out soon grew into a woman who did the same.

Feeling like a woman without an authentic identity led to decades of confusion, with perceptions that ran to both extremes. It lasted until I finally committed to doing the hard, hard work to put the noise to rest.

Part of my wellness and self-care journey has been to both forgive the person I believed I was while working to heal the pain and trauma that felt burned on my soul. Along the way, I learned healing is nonlinear. It’s not as simple as moving from A to B, hurting to healed. I learned that it is possible to slip up and make mistakes while still moving forward. And thanks to the beautiful and supportive tribe of humans who surround me with love, I learned those missteps do not erase my progress.

But perhaps most importantly, I learned that I am the one who determines my identity. When I chose to internalize the negativity that allowed me to believe the worst perceptions were true, I behaved in a way that validated and reinforced that view. When I learned to first challenge and then change my thinking, when I chose to accept that I am a good person who has done both good and bad things – a person worthy of happiness, joy, love, forgiveness – I behaved in a way that brought more of it to my life. It was as simple as that.

Turns out perception only matters when considering how I perceive myself.