So I was watching ‘reality TV’ last night while I elevated my broken ankle. Near the end of the show, one of the characters, who had faced her share of challenges, both physical and mental, and who had stared down her fears, stated simply that she liked herself. She was happy with who she was.
I thought about that statement for a long while. She didn’t say it with bluster or defiance. She didn’t say it as a challenge or an excuse. It was a matter-of-fact declaration, and no explanation or details were necessary. I admire that.
So much of the time, we are surrounded by reasons we shouldn’t or can’t like ourselves or why we don’t measure up. We’ve been socially trained to fall in line and go along, to walk the well-trodden path. We are conditioned to desire some fictional ideal. We suppress or redirect or dismiss a lot of our feelings and opinions and instincts, and that is normal to us. But (thankfully) there are always those who step out of line and out of the box, who unashamedly announce their independence. Confident and seemingly fearless, they don’t waste precious time worrying about what other people think of them or the social mores they might trample. They don’t strive to be like someone else. They just live.
Wouldn’t that be nice? I covet that confidence. I wish I had it. I wish everyone had it. It takes courage and deliberate effort to be your own ‘authentic self’ (a term I’ve seen a lot in recent years). I think we get used to filtering our own voice through so many layers of expectations that we sometimes forget what it sounds like. We forget that we are just as important and relevant as every other person out there. Period. No more, no less. We forget that the media, in all their different forms, make choices for us and influence our behavior so relentlessly that we begin to accept that behavior as our own, even when it isn’t. We allow ourselves to be labeled and defined even when those labels and definitions don’t fit. We let other people decide who we are, what we do, and how we feel. It’s like 7th grade, forever: the Cool Kids decide who the Uncool Kids are. Why is that?
Down deep, these independent souls know exactly who they are. Not who they’d like to be, who they think they should be, who they were expected to be, or who someone else wants them to be — who they really are. And they are satisfied with that.
Sure, there is probably always room to improve – to learn something new, to work on a bad habit, to develop discipline. But these improvements come from a genuine place, not a desire to fit a role or external expectation. That’s the difference between them and the rest of this self-help society. When we let the external decide the internal, we don’t grow, and we don’t learn who we are. It is only when the internal decides the external that we mature and develop.
We can all be authentic and true to ourselves, and we should, but it’s easier for some folks than it is for the rest of us. I struggle with this a lot and find myself going along to get along in many situations. Why? I’m not entirely sure. I wish I knew. I’m better at listening to my inner self and my heart than I was when I was younger, and maybe that’s all part of growing up and living, but I still find myself wishing I had the courage to step out of line once in a while.
Are you allowing someone or something else to define you? Are you bearing the burden of expectations from family or friends or society? Do you feel as if you are playing a role, not actually living your life?
Or are you satisfied with the person you are, even if you think you could improve? Are you listening to your fundamental values and inner voice?
Life is short. I believe we are all given the gift of life with some purpose, and it is our responsibility to find out what that purpose is and pursue it. In order to do that, we have to listen to what is inside us, not the clamor outside. What is reflected back at us from the fun house mirror of society and the world is merely a shallow distortion of who we are and who we can be.
You are not less than, and you are not more than. You are enough. You can be content with your strengths and weaknesses, your motives, your beliefs, and your traits. You are imperfect and unique. You can be a work in progress, and there is no shame in that. If you are working on yourself – physically, emotionally, spiritually, or behaviorally – you have a goal and a direction. You get to decide what you truly value and what inspires you. You get to decide what you will discard and what you will allow.
I’m rambling now. But that simple, televised proclamation of acceptance and satisfaction really resonated with me. It may be easier to follow the path others have set you on, but you and I both know it is more satisfying and soul-sustaining to choose your steps with the confidence of knowing that this is the right thing for you.
This above all:
To thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
— Hamlet, Act 1, scene 3