I really encourage people to be themselves. Be creative, a geek, quiet, outgoing…just be you. I like to think I am just me. There are several problems to this that we all face however.
One thing that stands in our way of being ourselves is the fact that we grow, learn, and change throughout the years allowing for us to, in some ways, consistently redefine ourselves, or at least tweak ourselves. I don’t know about you, but I’m glad I’m not the person I was at 20. I thought I knew so much, mmmm weeelll. That said, some of the mistakes I made back then caused me a great deal of pain, but made me who I am today. I grew; I changed. I have to say I’m glad and I hope that 20 years from now I’m not the same as I am today. I want to continue to grow, learn, develop and hopefully improve.
A second problem we face in being ourselves is that no matter what we say, we all care what other people think. We don’t want to let people down, be thought of as weird or an outsider. We want to fit in, be respected, and be loved. Sometimes we even want praised. This second issue is where we can get into trouble. It is important to remember that it is normal to have some of these feelings, but still be true to ourselves. Some people struggle with this so much so that they are like a chameleon, changing to please the people they are around and then changing to please the next group. When we live like this we lose ourselves almost completely.
How do you know if you are a chameleon? Can you make a decision without knowing what everyone else is going to do? When you go out to eat do you ask what others are having before you pick what you will have? If you ask so that no one duplicates and you might share, that is fine. If you ask because you want to make sure you are ordering a “like” dish in either money or style then ask yourself why? Does it matter? Is someone else paying and you are being thoughtful or is it that you don’t want to appear to cheap or to flamboyant? What about gifts? Can you tell people what you want for a present or do you say “whatever you want to do” because you don’t want to rock the boat? You can state how you feel and be gracious, it’s OK. Learning to make decisions is a healthy boundary saying “this is where I end and you begin”.
I admit that sometimes I struggle with all of this. I have to encourage myself to feel free to believe what I believe, do the things I enjoy, eat the things I like, say what is on my mind, but importantly by doing it graciously. In the process of being true to ourselves we want to be accepting and kind and let others be true to who they are. This is real tolerance. It says I believe what I believe, but I care for you even though you believe something different. I like what John F. Kennedy said about tolerance. “Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one’s own beliefs. Rather it condemns the oppression or persecution of others.” If you can do this for others you can learn to do it for yourself.
As you cultivate the thought of being yourself and how to do it I hope the action you yield is twofold; be yourself and let them be themselves. Will you still care what people think? Sure, so will I, but it doesn’t mean that we have to act any differently. Just shake it off, because you know what? They are most likely standing there worried about what you think. I am very fond of saying this next sentence and I believe it is important, this is my life’s motto: “I like you being you, even if you being you is different from me being me”. You might want to try saying it the other way “I like me being me, even if me being me is different from you being you”. My suggestion is to practice, take baby steps and enjoy you in each stage of life.
I’d love to hear from you. How do overcome the struggles of being true to yourself?