I don’t know how many times I’ve heard this advice, spoken both to myself and to others. Sometimes they’re uttered as general words of wisdom directed at anyone who’ll listen. Although well-meaning and true, I find this advice totally useless.
Before one can be oneself one needs to figure out what that is. Who that is. Who do I want to be? When do I feel like MYSELF? I didn’t figure this out until after 30. Then, once I realized I finally knew and felt at home in myself, the advice became redundant. When one truly knows and feels at home in oneself, how could one possibly BE anyone else?
When I talked about this on Twitter a while ago, my friend Joachim objected:
– What if one is not one, but two?
– Split personality? I asked, jokingly.
– Rather that you walk around thinking you’re one, but others see someone else, he answered.
Distracted by work, I promised him to answer later, in a more spacious format than the 140-character tidbits of Twitter.
Yes Joachim, “who I am” will always be in the eye of the beholder, to some extent. And “who I am” will always evolve through my interactions with the people around me. The ones I love and admire as well as the ones I dislike or simply disagree with.
I am not an island. I learn from others and with others. But they are not the boss of me. If I let other people’s perception and opinion of me take over, then what will I become? An insecure shell, constantly seeking to be filled by the approval of others. An existence without life. I have been there, and I never want to go back. I can’t go back.
At the core I will always be me, even as I keep growing and changing throughout life. It’s not about thinking I’m immune to the influence of other people, or that their perception of me doesn’t matter. “Being myself” is about trusting my inner compass. It’s about self-esteem and integrity.
Or as Eleanor Roosevelt so eloquently put it:
”It’s your life — but only if you make it so. The standards by which you live must be your own standards, your own values, your own convictions in regard to what is right and wrong, what is true and false, what is important and what is trivial. When you adopt the standards and the values of someone else or a community or a pressure group, you surrender your own integrity. You become, to the extent of your surrender, less of a human being.”