Be Yourself: Why is this harder than it seems?
On a recent walk, I rounded the corner in a neighboring hood, and to my surprise I came across the most beautiful sight. Amazing landscaping? No. Gorgeous new house? Nope. A fancy car? Uhn uh. Don’t worry if that’s where your mind went. We are taught by our peers, our culture, the media, and eventually our friends and family what is beautiful. We learn early to find the norm and strive for it so that we can feel a sense of belonging, so that we do not feel alone. I call this norm-seeking. The pressure to fit in starts early. The challenge to be yourself starts early in life. Earlier than you might think.
The beautiful sight I saw was a woman playing basketball. Not just any woman. A woman I would never have imagined. I would guess she was in her forties, maybe older. She also appeared to be in her pajamas. This put a huge smile on my face. And, she was alone on a community basketball court. There was nothing remotely athletic looking about her. She was shorter and carried a little extra weight.
From the big smile on her face, to the bounce in her step, to the rather dramatic back kick of her right leg and twist of her whole body when she put her shot up to the basket, the whole experience oooozed joy. There was nothing familiar about what I saw. This woman, I thought, got the memo to be yourself, and she put it into action.
Having walked this path many times before, I anticipated seeing a group of kids shooting around, probably boys. Instead, I found this mid-40’s, un-athletic woman, alone. I do not associate pajamas with basketball. In fact, I am guessing that being in a public space while wearing your pajamas is still only socially acceptable (for whatever that’s worth) at Wal-Mart. Clearly, this was what she wanted to do, how she wanted to do it, and she was hurting no one, yet experiencing enormous joy. That is my kind of beautiful sight.
I look for these things in my day. They make me happy. Just like the lady that ordered salad for breakfast. (I didn’t even know it was an option – go to Panera if this appeals to you). Another beautiful sight was the owner of a custom home company who pulled up in his Jaguar to show me a house, only to pop out of his car in work boots, with his un-fancy jeans tucked inside, and a white t-shirt which was actually inside out. I loved the irony, and more so his comfort in being real. He had me at the inside-out t-shirt.
When we are true to who we really are, we are most likable. Think about the one person you with whom you feel the most comfortable to be yourself. This person adores you, don’t they? Of course, because with them you are truest and most authentic. You are real.
When we seek to meet the norm, we endanger our greatest strength: our truth and authenticity. What takes us away from our truth so easily? Brene’ Brown, a popular shame researcher would say it is our fear of disconnection. We all seek love and approval to feel safe. The power of feeling rejected, feeling foolish, or not fitting in are great forces that work to maintain social norms. We want to be connected. In fact, norm-seekers will trade their truth for acceptance. Unfortunately, there’s no amount of acceptance for who you are not, that will provide you with a feeling of connection.
To remedy this norm-seeking condition, we must know ourselves deeply, and be in touch with who we are and what we want. This requires that we stop, look and listen – just like we were taught all those years ago. Stop. Look around and notice what brings you joy. Joy doesn’t lie. (List 100 things that bring you joy – it’s a great exercise and will reintroduce you to yourself). Then listen to how you feel. Make choices that are consistent with who you are and that support your highest good. When you know yourself, and you are true to yourself, you cannot go wrong.
I think my dad said it best. When I was about 13 and very self-conscious about fitting in, he said to me, “Just be yourself, and if you do that, everyone will love you like I do.” Now I pass his wise words on to you. Be fearless in your quest to be the truest version of yourself possible. The whole world will love you. And should our paths cross, I for one, will be looking for that thing that makes you you.