I did something last week that felt really big to me. It may sound like a simple, small, or even a silly thing to you when I tell you what I did. But for me it was momentous and empowering.

Part of me felt embarrassed, being a 38-year-old woman, going to a body piercing studio. Aren’t these places only frequented by humans under 30? If I was going to change my body this way, shouldn’t I have figured that out years…no…decades ago?! Isn’t this something impulsive that only 20-year-olds do? But here I was, showing up for my appointment, after thinking about this decision for over six months.

I grew up, like so many women, in a culture that was eager to define everything for me. It defined what being a female meant, and what being a woman meant. Those definitions included overt and covert messages about how I was supposed to behave and what I was supposed to do with myself and my life. Included in this messaging was information on how I was supposed to be, in order to be good. What I mean by good is: accepted, righteous, and perfect. Being good, in my culture, was overtly valued and emphasized. And I wanted desperately to be good. I wanted others to like me, respect me, be proud of me. I even wanted to be an example and leader for other girls and women to emulate.

Another part of me wanted something different. As a teenager and young adult, I got feedback that I was rebellious. I found myself, for years, chronically having to re-align my views and behavior with culturally and socially sanctioned ones whenever I went astray. In one of these “rebellious” moments, I went to the mall and got my cartilage pierced.

I cannot tell you how much I loved my little diamond stud. I loved to twirl it absently in class. I loved how it shined. I loved how it felt playful, sassy, and cute. I felt like it was a way for me to show up in the world that matched how I felt on the inside.

But having more than one piercing per ear, did not match the cultural definition of good. I know that may seem silly. Especially if you aren’t from a conservative culture. But it didn’t feel silly when my dad seriously over-reacted and threatened to kick me out of the house if I didn’t take it out. It also didn’t seem silly when a year later, THE leader in my religious culture, made a statement that women should only have one piercing in each ear.

So I took out my diamond stud.

I remember feeling a little sad about this but I also remember that I didn’t think too long about it because I wanted to be good.

The hole in my cartilage didn’t take long to close and scar over.

A lot has changed for me, 20 years later.

While there is nothing wrong with wanting to be good, I have learned that I can be my own definition of good.

For me, being good means belonging to myself. It means learning to unravel messages from my culture and life and deciding what feels true for me and my life. It means remaining humble and open but also critical of messages that are unhelpful, or even harmful. It means respecting my thoughts, feelings, intent, and voice. It means trusting myself. It means trusting that I can make good and right decisions for myself and for my family. And if those decisions don’t always align with culturally sanctioned attitudes, that doesn’t make me rebellious. This also doesn’t mean I am free from making mistakes. But trusting myself means knowing that no mistake is fatal or final and I have what it takes to course correct when my truth inspires me to. I am allowed to journey and create my own guidebook as I go.

This unraveling process has been long and slow. It has been painful and hard fought. It has been lonely. It has felt brave. And it has ultimately felt like coming home to myself.

Getting my cartilage pierced again, 20 years after taking out my stud, felt symbolic. The young woman who pierced my ear told me that this particular piercing symbolizes “renewal.” I clapped my hands a little too enthusiastically as I exclaimed, “That’s exactly what this feels like for me!”

This moment was symbolic of my manifestation of a commitment to myself. A commitment to honoring myself, trusting myself, loving myself, and living my truths. It was my truth 20 years ago to have a piercing that I felt epitomized my personality, and it is still true today. So on the one hand, this new diamond stud helps me show up in my life that reflects who I feel I am; but it also means so much more.

I share this story for a few reasons. First, if you are on a similar journey of learning what coming home to yourself looks and feels like, know you are in good company. Your belonging to yourself doesn’t even have to look like anything. It doesn’t have to be a diamond stud in your ear. Maybe it’s an internal experience you own and hold tender. And know that it’s also OK that this journey can take decades of our lives.

In a similar vein, I strongly value giving myself permission, indeed, expectation, to continue to grow and change. I am not here to vilify any culture that influences us. There is so much beauty in all cultures and belief systems. For me, my growth has included careful examination of all the cultures I breathe, and deciding for myself what fits and helps me grow, and releasing what inhibits or harms me. This releasing is where I have grown into self-trust. Finally, I share this story because for me I will never become the example I want to be for others if I am simply a reproduction of the cultures around me. I want to be an example because I unapologetically embody myself and my life. This is my biggest wish for all of us: for all of us and from all of us. May we each move toward unapologetically embodying ourselves.