I’ve been working on this post off and on for quite some time, so I’m excited to finally share this with you. The past few months have included a lot of change for me – job changes, moving, engagement, wedding planning, family obligations, etc., and I’d be lying if I said it’s been smooth sailing! Thoughout these months however, I’ve had an important lightbulb moment that I think might be helpful for some of you.
That realization in summary is that so many of us (including me!) spend way too much time focused on pleasing other people and being “the person” other people want us to be. We loose sight of our authentic selves and our goals and life plans end up intertwined in the expectations placed on us by others. But the fault lies not on those who place expectations on us that don’t align with our true identity. The fault lies on ourselves for accepting those expectations as our own.
Throughout my childhood, I often heard from my mom four particular words. Be true to yourself. These words would come most often when I struggled to make a decision. I would tell my mom how torn I was, how I felt like I had to choose one friend over another or how I wasn’t sure how to move forward with something because I knew it was the right thing to do but that it would make someone else upset.
As a child, I was super concerned about upsetting other people — family, friends or teachers. But I also had a strong sense of self. I knew exactly when I didn’t believe in something. So in those moments, when I was torn between upholding my integrity and maintaining my relationships, my mom would always say those four words. It is something that has stuck with me, something I hear replay in my mind all the time.
Fast Forward to the Present
I reflected on this advice and had my lightbulb moment when I stumbled across a TedTalk, “The art of being yourself” by Caroline McHugh. McHugh talks about how easily we get wrapped up in what others think of us. It made me realize how often I am concerned with what other people are thinking and how other people are feeling, that I often lose sight of my own thoughts and feelings. My desire to please other people can be damaging when it means I am not maintaining my authenticity; when I am not remaining true to myself. Of course, there are times when our thoughts and feelings must take the back seat, like if a loved one is sick and wishes to be taken care of in a way that we would not have chosen.
But all too often we function on auto-pilot and put the thoughts and feelings of our friends and family at the forefront. We let their vision of who we are dictate our lives, and we loose that clarity we once had as a child. When that happens we risk loosing touch of who we are. And as Caroline points out, we cannot be content with ourselves when we do not know what rings true in our hearts.
Almost in synchronicity, soon after I watched McHugh’s video, Will sent me an article, “Why We Love Ourselves But Care More About Other People’s Opinons.” It discusses how we place more importance on other people’s opinions than on our own opinions. We seek acceptance from others, and in many ways it’s natural to do so. But as I’ve mentioned, we loose contentment with ourselves when we don’t place enough importance on our own thoughts or we shy away from being true to ourselves.
This revelation may seem irrelevant to some of you. It may seem like a no-brained. I may also sound like a crazy person. But the important thing isn’t my lightbulb moment. It’s figuring out where I go from here, and how to stay in touch with my authentic self.
I’ve realized just how much I overthink what I’m doing. I wonder what people will think. I question whether or not people truly understand me. I question whether or not I unintentionally offended someone. And I’ve realized how much extra stress that puts in my life and how much time it takes out of my day to day life.
My goal now is to recognize those moments when I am overthinking things and redirect my thoughts into a positive direction. I reaffirm my authenticity, but reflecting on the things that align with my true nature and letting go of the things that are not me.
It’s unfortunate we live in a society where individuality and differences aren’t celebrated more; where so many people copy each other and accept someone else’s identity as their own. We should aim to be more accepting of different people’s thoughts and not expect everyone (including close family and friends) to live or think the same way we do.
Authenticity is a quality of high importance to me. I look for it in the people I surround myself with. I know this post may seem idealistic, but I hope some of you can relate.
Cheers to YOU!