I didn’t get permission to start being myself until I was in my mid-thirties.

It was a few days after my last NFL game. We (the Ravens) had just lost a heartbreaker to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game. I was seconds away from my first Super Bowl, but Billy Bajema missed the “easy” field goal and that was the end of my professional football career.

Believe it or not, I moved on pretty quickly. I had my mind set on something new and interesting. You know us Geminis — we can’t help but chase the next new sparkly thing. For me, this manifested as chasing new philosophies or ways of looking at the world.

I feel like I am on a lifelong search for a real understanding of how the universe works. This time, it was through Access Consciousness. I was entranced: a philosophy that empowers you to ask questions. A set of tools that gives you an alternative to being judgmental — of yourself and of others. As Mother Theresa said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”

Access Consciousness is a powerful set of tools, mainly because it invites us to be more of ourselves. The problem is that most of us don’t really know who we are. We can sense ourselves somewhere under there. There is a sense that our essence, our light is buried down underneath something.

I theorize that a part of us is buried underneath our training. Most decent parents do an honest job attempting to raise well-trained humans. God bless them. As a parent, I constantly feel that tug to endeavor to train my kids to be what I think (or what society thinks) they should be. That’s what parents are supposed to do, right? This is a great example: we tend to bury our light, our genius, our unique perspective under our titles and our roles.

I experienced this to an extreme during my days as a famous NFL running back. I was so buried underneath my role in the community that I had to take pills just to be comfortable in my own skin. It seems that most of us, at least to some extent, got the message pretty early in life that it wasn’t okay to be ourselves.

One of the first words that kids learn is “no”. They learn that in order to get on, they have to learn how to navigate their parents’ insanity. The focus shifts away from (where I think) it should be on the development of Self, not the habitual suppression of It.

The good news is that it is not too late. It’s not too late to give yourself permission to be yourself. To be all of yourselves: the good ones, the bad ones, the ugly ones, the ones that intimate people, and the ones that are easily intimidated by others. Our genius exists in the conscious interaction and continual integration of all of our different selves (or needs or drives, to put it another way). Often the parts of us that have been shamed or humiliated most out of consciousness are where our greatest gifts reside, patiently waiting to be developed.

At least that was my experience. Following the loss to the Patriots while attending my first of many, many Access Consciousness classes, on the third day of learning tool after tool and clearing judgments, all of the sudden I got a glimpse of what I could be. I also saw clearly how judging myself posed the greatest obstacle to becoming what I knew I could be. I felt the need for permission to go for it. When I looked around for someone to grant me that permission, I didn’t see anyone. I had to give it to myself. With that permission, I told myself that I wasn’t allowed to judge me anymore. I made a silent promise that I wasn’t going to believe anyone else’s judgments about me, either. That I was going to be myself regardless how clumsy or awkward it felt. I knew that, like my development as a football player, I was gonna kind of suck at first and then get better and better.

I am a Virgo Rising in this lifetime. Remember Mother Theresa’s quote? When we give ourselves permission to be ourselves, it becomes easier to love ourselves. And with more love and acceptance in our lives, the easier and more enjoyable even life’s greatest challenges become.

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