On Jan. 20 around 11:30 a.m. I walked into the Great Clips here in Goshen with my friends Hannah and Annika by my side. It was time. For the past two years I have made comments to my friends and family about wanting to chop off all my hair, but eventually found enough excuses to then chicken out.

But here I was, mouthing the words “ready or not, here I come.” What led me to this point was a conversation with a friend in which we were trying to decide whether or not it was worth the three hour drive to Indy to participate in the Women’s March. When it came down to it, we decided doing something tangibly empowering felt right.

Therefore, I chopped my hair off and attended the Safe Zone training. Chopping my hair off to empower myself. Attending the Safe Zone training to gain tools to become a better ally and more inclusive of the LGBT community on campus.

Now as I reflect on both of these experiences I can identify how they inform each other.

While I may come across as a pretty confident person, and in many ways I am, I still wrestle with insecurities especially when it comes to appearance. From an early age I struggled with the fact that I was bigger than most of my peers. Shopping trips have most of the time ended in tears and self-deprecating thoughts. Athletics never felt like a place I could excel in because I was always the last one to finish the mile run around the track. Standing in front of the mirror has always been accompanied by turning off the lights to decrease the exposure and avoiding eye contact with myself especially when standing by my athletically toned bodied sisters.

All that being said, chopping my hair off was a huge step for me to take. Risking the fact that I might hate the way I look even more after chopping my hair off took a lot of courage. But what I found was that as liberating and empowering as it was to see my head slowly become bare, the risk didn’t end when the razor touched my head.

I felt it when I walked into work for the first time, into a gym full of people at my sister’s basketball game and into the dining hall. Even though I had already received so many deeply genuine and breathtaking compliments from people, I still felt vulnerable.

In the Safe Zone training I attended on Saturday, the statistic that 55 percent of LGBT felt unsafe at school due to their sexual orientation (2013 National Climate Survey) was shared.

As I look back at the moments of vulnerability I have experienced in the past few days, my empathy and respect for my LGBT friends, my friends of color, my physically disabled friends and my friends with eating disorders grows deeply. In a way that feels tangible and real like never before.

So what will I do with this newfound empathy and respect? I will allow it to continue to move me into spaces that are uncomfortable. I will allow it to open up conversations that do not shy away from insecurity, privilege and vulnerability. I will let it say to my friend of color, “While I may not ever understand what it means to not be white, I want to validate your experience, your story.”

My hope is that we all make the conscious decision to not numb only our pain, our insecurities, our points of vulnerability, but allow them to help us grow in empathy for one another. While our stories and identities are uniquely shaped, we all know what it feels like to not feel like we belong. Let us use that feeling to bring us closer.