Every time a client shares their story, it strikes me how often it just comes down to the fact that they are scared to simply be who they are. How often a mask is put on, reality and truth not completely shared. The authentic self hidden from view.
What makes it so hard to be ourselves?
Somehow it would seem that it’s the easiest thing to do, just be you. Yet just being you can sometimes also be the most difficult thing to do. What stops us from respecting our own boundaries and truly owning who we are – rather than hiding our true feelings under a cloak of optimism and perfectionism? “Nothing wrong here, don’t come looking. We’re doing just fine!”
It’s not a story that is unknown to me. Being an only child of mixed heritage, the drive to belong has shaped my life for a long time. I simply wanted to fit in, I didn’t want to look different from my family, from friends around me – I just wanted to belong. Yet I often found that people picked up on my differences, sometimes with intense curiosity, other times with malice. I was acutely aware that I did not fit in and so I tried to mould myself: to be kind, to be smart, to be perfect.
My story is only an example, but in fact, I believe most of us hide our true selves in some way because of a deep-seated desire to belong and fit in. Over the years we cover all the sides of ourselves that we feel are not worthy of being seen. Somehow we are not right. For me it was not being white enough, not having straight eyes enough, not being extrovert enough. I can continue the story but this is not about “them”. Ultimately this is about what we ourselves believe to be true about ourselves.
We try to adhere to a set of parental or societal standards that we believe dictates who we “should” be. We create a mental self-image that we feel we have no choice other than to stick to. And we hide our true feelings and what we perceive as weaknesses. Rather than just simply the vulnerability that comes from being a human being. We try to cover up the feelings of not enough, when really what we should have said is you belong and you are loved.
As we grow older, the layers just keep being put on and on, until at some point we ask ourselves: who am I truly underneath all of these layers? We end up feeling lost, disconnected from passion and a sense of purpose because in many ways we have lost ourselves. We run on automatic pilot, ticking all the boxes that we feel we must tick somehow. And if we’re not careful, time will just pass by. Leading us to a moment when we come to realize, I’ve lived my life according to what I thought everyone else wished.
Ultimately, I believe our purpose in life is to become ourselves again as that is when we will shine brightest. The process of finding out who you truly are at your core can be a slow peeling back of the layers. Again and again, seeing underneath and discovering what is truly yours.
Is this my belief or someone else’s?
Is this my dream or someone else’s?
Is this my path or someone else’s?
Is this mine or someone else’s?
So how do you start peeling back the layers and be yourself?
- At its simplest, by being curious and asking yourself questions. What is it that I truly want in my life? What are my plans for my work or career? How do I want to spend my time and energy? By stepping away from your daily life and bringing in time for reflection. Journaling, spending time in nature, alone time, talking to a friend or loved one, or seeking support from a coach or mentor.
- By having the courage to get closer to what might not be working for you in your life. Where are you sitting in dis-ease? Where lies your discomfort and what does it have to tell you? Have the courage to listen and investigate. It is only by being honest and looking at what is not working for you that you can then find ways to improve things.
- Dare to show your true feelings more. This doesn’t need to happen all at once, but catch yourself out when you’re using verbose language to cover up what it is you truly want to say. Be more open and direct. Speak up about your feelings. Wear the clothes that make you feel good. Do the crazy little things that make you happy.
Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.
- Stop listening to everyone’s well-intended advice and check in with yourself first. What is your experience? What is your body telling you? Form your own opinion first and then consult with a few trusted others. Be the one who decides what you take on.
- Accept yourself with all your imperfections and quirks. We are all imperfect beings, that is simply the nature of who we are. Bring softness and kindness to yourself in the way that you speak and treat yourself. It is only if you can do this for yourself that you can genuinely treat anyone else with the same consideration and compassion.
This is a process of discovery that requires you to bring in an open heart and mind. It asks curiosity to see what is truly there, compassion to be gentle with yourself and courage to unfold each layer. Yet with each unfolding and each discovery comes a greater sense of who you are, what you are here to do and how you truly want to live your life. And with that, comes a greater sense of happiness and meaningfulness. Take this journey my dear one, it is one of the most important ones you will make.
– Photo by Michel Paz