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10 Ways to Be Who You Really Are

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” ~E.E Cummings

I was pretty shy and very quiet kid, so going to school for the first time in kindergarten was a terrifying experience for me.

After a short time, though, life brightened for me in my little elementary school. As it turned out, I loved learning and was a natural student. It was my bliss and often a respite from tumultuous home circumstances, the first place that I spoke out loud with confidence.

Unfortunately, in the urban neighborhood where I lived, being smart meant being very low on the social hierarchy.

For years, I was oblivious to this, but as I moved in to pre-adolescence, I became acutely aware of how my peers viewed me and felt increasingly embarrassed about standing out as a stellar student.

In one particularly memorable experience, I left the stage of a successful debate speech humiliated because I spied several of my peers mocking me in the audience during my delivery. This was a turning point.

Because of an intense desire to win the approval of my peers, I began to actively make decisions to fit in rather than finding my joy by expressing who I really was. Although uncanny to me now, at times, I even would intentionally give the wrong answers on exams to bring my scores down.

An occasional wrong answer didn’t change who I really was, but each decision I made to choose the approval of others, buried my true self deeper.

The momentary gratification of being liked or winning approval could have had profound consequences. It certainly left me feeling empty.

Every time we make small decisions to fit in, whether as a child or as an adult, we are burying a little part of ourselves down deep. This is really serious business, this denying of who we are.

Make it a habit, and you risk becoming confused about who you really are. Just search online for books on topics like finding your true passion or how to get back to your true self to get a sense of the energy it takes to find pieces that are lost.

In high school, I made a dramatic internal shift. Because of a newfound faith, I started to think about my future and felt that I had a responsibility to begin living my life in a way that reflected who I really was.  

This, rather than the approval of others became a driving force for me. Small decision by decision, I began to act with the courage to be me.

I’d like to say that from that period on, I have been always and consistently true to myself. That, though, would not be true. And ironically, not being honest about who I am.

The opportunities for adults to deny their truth in favor of approval are endless, and choices can feel complicated. In some moments, I have done better than others, whether it be stating an honest, but unpopular position or leaving a lucrative career for more meaningful work.

I do know for sure that I have never met one human being—not one—who regrets making choices that reflect who they really are.

Recently, something reminded me of the rewards of being true to who you are. My son asked me if I had three wishes for my life, what would I wish.

I was stumped. Really. Sincerely. Stumped. I couldn’t come up with one wish—not because I have arrived to a particular destination or had everything that I ever wanted, but because I know that I am truly on the right path, my unique, one-of-a-kind path.

There is good news though. Just like denying ourselves can bury who we are, small decisions to be you can have a cumulative impact too. The more often that we are brave enough to express who we are, the easier it gets. 

So, in this present moment, how about you? Are you growing up to be who you truly are?

Here are easy suggestions for building the being you habit. Pick one or more if you like.

1. Express your uniqueness daily.

Create a daily practice of doing or saying something that expresses you without regard to its popularity or commonality. It can be as simple as a wardrobe choice or saying no to a social engagement that will leave you feeling drained.

2. Make time for brief moments of solitude.  

Even just a few minutes during the day can help you connect to yourself rather than being caught up in outside forces.

3. Re-connect to a childhood passion. 

Think about what you loved to do as a kid as it can be a clue to your truest expressions. Anything you want to try today?

4. Write down three things that you truly value.

Take one small action every day to express your values.

5. Go easy on the pressure.  

There’s a difference between compromising your true self and having multiple passions. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to make the right choice when it comes to your calling. Sometimes you just have to pick something and take action.

6. Create relationships based on being you. 

Some people are more naturally inclined to care what others think. If you are one of those people, you also likely have a great propensity to be empathetic. Build upon that strength and reach out to others to get the support you need.

7. Find your mantra. 

Sometimes we end up compromising who we are because it is hard to say no. Write down on a small card your response to requests for your time or an opinion you are not prepared to give. Doesn’t have to be eloquent—“Huh, I’ll have to think about that” works.

8. Support someone else in self-expression. 

When you see someone standing out rather than fitting in, be a voice of encouragement and support.

9. Create art.  

Buy a small journal or notebook just for self-expression. It will be one of the best purchases you will ever make. Spend even one minute a day writing or drawing a picture. No directions required.

10. Remind yourself how important this is.  

Hang up a sign with the quote at the beginning of this post or another that reminds you the importance of being you.

If you feel like your true self is lost under the debris of fitting in, take heart, you are closer than you think. If you are a being you master, then add to the above list. Either way, I’d be honored to hear your stories in the comments.

Photo by Liz Grace

Avatar of Paula Grieco

About Paula Grieco

Paula Grieco is an entrepreneur, writer, and co-founder of What’s Your Brave?, a writing and media project dedicated to giving parents knowledge and resources to raise daughters who live their one beautiful life courageously. You can reach Paula at paula@whatsyourbrave.com or follow her on twitter.

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  • Paige

    Paula, this was a fantastic article! How could you have known that I was searching for something similar to this?? And you started with a quote by e.e. cummings, one of my all time favorite poets!

    I have been in the midst of a major depression for a very, very long time. At this point, I am struggling to regain who I was before the depression hit, and have been having a very difficult time of it.( I have been in therapy for what seems like forever.) I had even been researching how to “reinvent” yourself, as a way to move past the low feelings and the painful place I’ve found myself inhabiting.

    After reading your article, I believe that I don’t need to create a whole new me, but go back to finding my authentic self, which I was doing before this all started.

    I am going to use your list to get myself going, and make sure that I talk to my therapist about it, too. If I could just find that real me again, I think that a lot of the depression would lift and float away like morning fog.

    Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us, and for showing those of us who are looking, which road we should be taking!

  • Lars

    I like #8.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sheila.mcgregor.94 Sheila McGregor

    Hmmm… being myself has never been a problem for me. I became a vegetarian in 1978 (I was 13), and I did not know a single other person who was a vegetarian at the time. i started rescuing dogs a couple of years later, while still in high school. I am pushing 50, still a vegetarian and still rescuing dogs (there are 9 fosters in my home right now). I don’t really fit in with any social group though– so maybe I am a little too outside the norm? I don’t think I would want to be any other person though…

  • Kate

    Another favorite and applicable quote: “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” ~ Oscar Wilde

  • Brian

    You will only live a short time. Who are you and what is it you really want? – Erich Fromm

  • Paula Grieco

    That’s great to hear Sheila! As far as fitting in to a social group, I don’t think there are many people that fit neatly into any particular group. Real connection, IMHO, comes from being who you really are.

  • Paula Grieco

    Thanks Paige! So glad to hear you are taking good care of yourself and seeking therapy. This isn’t professional advice, but from my experience, exercise can also help. Blessings to you.

  • Paula Grieco

    Love that one too!

  • Ramachandra

    Totally enjoyed reading the article…it really brought back many memories of my childhood. Very good write up.

  • Paula Grieco

    Erich sums it up well! Thanks Brian.

  • Paula Grieco

    I like that one too. Thanks Lars!

  • http://lmfgoldenbullets.blogspot.com/ Lisa May Francisco

    I love the entry you posted! A quote I just read the other day on The Daily Love is very applicable to the topic of being your truest self . ; “Healing may not be so much about getting better, as about letting go of everything that isn’t you – all of the expectations, all of the beliefs – and becoming who you are.” – Rachel Naomi Remen
    It is so easy to fall into the trap of acting the way we think we should or how others want us to, but once we have the confidence to go with that inner voice telling us to be who we really are, that’s when the magic happens. Everyday we are given opportunities to explore what makes us the happiest and when we become more aware and alert about what ignites our soul, the more we lessen the importance of other people’s approval or validation. As a result we are more self-assured with our choices, appearances, and perception of who we are to others.

    Thanks for the tips!

  • Paige

    I don’t know who said it, but also: If you try to be someone else, who will be you?

  • http://www.facebook.com/charles.cable1 Charles Cable

    For years I wanted to own my own magick shop in my home town. It’s not the best
    place in the world to most but I love it here. It’s where I grew up and I feel
    connected here. But for years I allowed my fears and my thoughts of how others
    would perceive me to stop me from being me, from following my dreams. I was afraid
    because of my weight that I would be laughed at, I was afraid because of my
    youth I wouldn’t be taken seriously, I was afraid that I wasn’t really me and
    that I simply wanted to create a false face to show the world. A face of the
    mystic and the advisor, the village witch/wizard who was there to help others
    and themselves grow. The “me” I felt in my heart had become so small and so far
    away from who I was, until I began to take little pieces of myself back one
    piece at a time. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t always fun, and it wasn’t quick but
    I am becoming the “me” I was born to be, the “me” I forged a life from. I’m not
    done but I’m enjoying me now and love showing others me and how they can do the
    same. Thank you for this post, it is truly beautiful.

  • Paula Grieco

    Thanks Lisa! And I will check that out.

  • Paula Grieco

    So true Paige.

  • Paula Grieco

    Hey Charles, Thanks for your inspiring and honest comment.

  • Sarah haller

    Thank you. This resonates.

  • http://loveconstructors.com/ Stephanie

    Wow, wonderful written! What a wisdom. Especially you suggestion of creating relationships based on being you touched me, because in the past so often I thought that the other person would not like me enough if I would just be me. Now I know that this is not true and I am so happy to be able not to have to pretend anymore :)

  • Niyati

    This is such a fantastic article! I throughly enjoyed reading it and it immensely helped me to see certain things more clearly. Thank you for writing and sharing!

  • Kirsty

    Love this article. I also spent a great deal of my life changing myself to please others and was terrified to show people the real me. What i realised is, even when you’re trying to be what you think others want, you’ll never please everyone. It was a big realisation for me that people actually like me a lot more when I’m just being myself – crazy huh? This article is a great reminder to stay true to myself and do what makes me happy – regardless of what other peole think.

  • vincent

    Thank you for this. At the moment I’m trying to work on who I am and what I want. It’s very difficult as I’m so used to living for others and being exactly what they need for fear of being on my own. Reading this has helped, I need to do more thinking.

  • http://twitter.com/RachelJTan Rachel Jessica Tan

    Such a great post Paige. Thank-you. We all need a little reminding…this is perfect :) X

  • Chika

    Hi Paula…I really enjoyed reading your article and the quotes within the comments section. Well done.

  • Abigail

    This is really wonderful! I have always struggled in many ways to be myself. I have always been told “you talk too much”, “you are ridiculous”, etc. It was when I decided those opinions of others reflected more about who they are than I am that I decided to dismiss those negative comments. Although, my conditioned state came from an older brother who even a couple of months ago made the comment to me “No wonder you will be single forever.” It stung, I won’t lie, even now the power and hurt of those words is there but I know once again that is really no reflection of who I am and although I will never have a relationship with him (for many more reasons than just that comment), I have learned to forgive people for their judgments and forgive myself for believing them, however brief. I now know that the only real opinion that matters of me is my own. I thank you for sharing your story because it is truly affirming to know that throughout everyone’s life one way or another they may lose themselves but sometimes through that it helps us to find ourselves.

  • Aljoscha Laschgari

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Matt Creen

    “It’s not only your right to be yourself, its also your duty.” – Eleanor Roosevelt