Find your true identity and then live it… fully.
I haven’t always been true to who I am. At times, I’ve consciously or unconsciously portrayed various personas, something I felt necessary to get the job done or fit into my environment. This wasn’t meant to fool or deceive anyone. Not in the least. I was just trying to do my best with the tools and skill set that I had.
Eventually, I realized how my quest for perfectionism and pleasing others prevented me from being me. But owning your true self and accepting all of the flaws and quirks can be scary. Showing up as who I thought I should be was much easier and safer than living authentically.
Maybe you, too, have worn various masks during times of your life. Actually, it’s quite natural to do so because humans are taught to strive, connect, achieve, and please. Yet, in the process of trying to do all of these things, we often neglect to honor and accept who we are.
When I looked back, I realized how often I ignored my true self. Most of my early years were all about achievement – in the classroom, on the tennis court, wherever I went. I thought that being the best would gain others’ approval, allow me to be popular, and make me happy. Not only did I work hard, but I also learned how to play – perhaps a bit too much. However, I eventually regained balance. Still, during this time I was not present, as my concentration was solely on the future – who I wanted to be, not who I was.
During my “thirties” and “forties,” I was anything but in the moment. Instead of being preoccupied with my future self, I started to focus a bit too much on what others were thinking and how they perceived me. This only led to a loss of confidence and lots of worrying. Ultimately, my body suffered. At age 47 I was diagnosed with breast cancer, requiring a double mastectomy, chemo, and seven years of tamoxifen. Immediately I made my health a priority. However, something told me that it was more than my physical body that needed attention. That’s when I began to ask questions, questions I’d never considered before.
Now that I am half-way through my fifties, there’s been a huge shift in how I think and act. I don’t try to please others as much as I have in the past, and I admit that I’m far from perfect. Doing this has added ease into my life, as I am becoming comfortable with me. When my true self makes decisions, the results rarely steer me in the wrong direction. Life seems to have more grace and joy. Yet, if I fall back into old patterns, I often end up in situations that are less than desirable.
A good example of this occurred while I was revising my novel, Learning to Bend. Feedback from early readers indicated that they struggled to understand why Jenna, the main character, left her fiancé, Ben. In the original manuscript, Jenna ended the engagement because deep inside she knew that Ben was not the one.
However, being a first-time author, I lacked the necessary skills to properly convey Jenna’s emotions to the beta readers. So, I needed to come up with another version – and fast – because Jenna needed to leave Ben so she could go to Bend and meet Jackson.
One of these readers casually suggested that I make Ben gay. I took pause. Actually, this was an excellent idea. Then, the reader could feel compassion for Ben – as he struggled to hide his sexuality – yet also empathize with Jenna – because she was in a horrible predicament, engaged to a man who kept secret that he was gay. So, I rewrote the beginning of the book to incorporate this idea. I thought I had nailed it.
But then I spent time with a man who is open about his homosexuality. And all of the sudden I felt grimy, as if I’d sold out, exploited a sensitivity that some people may struggle with. That’s when I acknowledged that I’d compromised myself by writing what I thought others wanted to read. In essence, I was not functioning as my authentic self.
Immediately, I went back and once again revised the beginning of the book. And now that it’s published, I am very happy that I did. Perhaps more people would have liked the other version. But if I am going to be the author that I want to be, I will not write something just so it will sell… I need to write what feels right.
My “aha” about my book skims the surface of an important question. Why do we care so much about others’ approval? If we’re truly being authentic, do book sales, obtaining “likes” on social media, or having a cadre of followers on Instagram really matter?
“It’s not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the person who is in the arena. Whose face is marred with dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly ... who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly ...” – Brené Brown
Sure, I want glowing comments about the book. Yet, I must be realistic. I will receive bad reviews, and people will find typos in the novel. Like Jenna, I want everything to be just right. But as she discovers, if we are focused on being perfect, then we aren’t challenging ourselves, stretching our abilities, and remaining open to new possibilities that could be even better than our wildest dreams. We are not in the arena daring greatly.
Becoming vulnerable allows who we really are to show up. It took me quite some time to accept this concept because it challenged tightly held beliefs. I thought vulnerability equated to weakness. But I was so wrong. It’s actually the opposite. Vulnerability requires strength, grit, determination, and perseverance. And when we allow our true selves to be seen, well, that’s when the magic starts to happen.
Find your authentic self, step into the arena, and you be you!