“Don’t trade your authenticity for approval.” ~Unknown
How often do you find yourself doing things just because you have to and not because you want to? I’m not talking about the hard work we do to improve at our jobs or the responsibilities we have to our families. I’m referring to those things we do just to please others, to project a certain image of ourselves to the world that isn’t in line with who we really are.
A few years ago, I was searching within myself to find out who I really was.
I’d been so obsessed with creating a mask that people would love that I could no longer recognize myself in the mirror.
I am an ambivert, and I don’t express my feelings much. I tend to smile rather than squeal with joy. I fall silent rather than shout with anger.
Because of these traits, people used to call me “poker face,” and I felt as if something was wrong with me. Determined to shed this label, I forced myself to be loud and attended all social events with my friends inspite of exhaustion. But deep inside all I wanted was a quiet appointment with myself.
Assuming that being extroverted was the only way to make friends, I pushed myself too hard, which led to an emotional breakdown. As a result, I fell prey to self-destructive habits like skipping meals, binge eating junk food, staying up late at night, and waking up at odd hours, which landed me in the hospital.
After that, I spent a lot of time reflecting on what had caused that situation and looked inside myself to know what I really wanted.
Since then, I’ve listened to my inner voice more than I’ve listened to others. I’ve started to be myself without worrying about anyone else’s opinion. And I’ve stopped fulfilling people’s expectations of me and started feeling comfortable in my own skin.
Some of the lessons I learned during the journey were…
Face your fears.
The two words that changed my perspective on life were “What if?” What if I spent my evenings curled up with a book? What if I excused myself from a social gathering when I felt exhausted? What if I chose not to express myself loudly?
Think about what really scares you. Think about what restrains you from unleashing your true self.
Is it the possibility of creating conflict between you and your friends? Is it the prospect of being different? Or do you fear your own inner critic?
Exploring your answers to all these questions will start you on a beautiful journey of self-discovery and open up different sides to your character that you may not be aware of. Spelling out loud what you actually fear is work half done to make it go away, which leads me to the next two steps on how to tackle them.
Calm your inner critic.
I discovered that, more than anything else, I was scared of my inner critic.
There is something inside all of us that alerts us when we go down the wrong path—our conscience. But I’m not talking about our conscience, but rather the voice that stops you from achieving your full potential. The voice that prevents you from doing something even though you know deep inside that it is the right thing. The voice that beats you up for the slightest error.
This voice inside me grew louder when I did something against the grain, like excusing myself from a party to enjoy a quiet evening. It accused me of being an anti-social, self-centred person. It made me think my friends would drift away if I continued this behavior. I felt controlled by this voice of mine, which turned out to be my vice.
Remember, this voice, which you’ve trained your mind to believe, is the result of the misconceptions about friends and life in general. So suppressing this voice is not the solution; the more you suppress it, the louder it grows.
Rather, this voice needs to be answered with reason. When I started explaining to my inner critic that it’s not always possible to be there for everyone else and that caring for myself does not amount to being anti-social, I felt the voice becoming feeble.
Repeat positive affirmations to yourself when the critic inside you grows stronger.
Whenever your genuine self feels threatened by others’ opinions, you need to love yourself enough to stand up for it. It’s only by fostering self-respect that you gain the confidence to face the world without a mask. Self-respect acts as a shield that protects your true self from the confusions of the external world.
Cast away the fear of being different.
It’s okay to have different wants and desires as long as you don’t hurt anyone. Your perspective on life does not have to be the same as all your friends’ perspectives.
Don’t pretend to share someone else’s view just to fit in. Understand that being different is not equivalent to being weird.
Having a different say on the matter brings with it the possibility of conflict. But conflict is not something to fear and be avoided, as it provides a chance to understand the person in front of you better and it can lead to interesting conversations, if you stay civil and open-minded.
I opened my eyes to the fact that nodding my head in approval at whatever my friend says does not bring me closer to her. When I started sharing my ambiverted views on socializing with my extroverted friend, we started arguing initially, but slowly we came to understand each other.
I gained insight into how extroverts have a natural tendency to express feelings loudly, and that being around people makes them happy. My friend, on the other hand, understood my need for a weekend at home to energize myself for the week ahead. She recognized that I actually enjoy spending time by myself. It proved to be a learning experience for both of us.
Only when you convey your opinion calmly, without needing to be right, can you forge a connection with someone. Accept the fact that you are unique just like everyone else.
Pause before saying yes.
Before you commit yourself to attending an event or helping someone else, pause and think about why you want to do it. It’s important to ask yourself first before saying yes to others.
The prospect of saying no often brings with it the fear of coming across as a rude person and potentially losing your friends. This rarely turns out to be true because in healthy relationships, both people understand that they need to provide space for each other.
When I decided to take a break from social obligations, I noticed that one or two of my friends distanced themselves from me, but nothing changed in my close relationships. They accepted and respected my decision.
Pushing yourself too hard will eventually lead to resentment. You can only be happy, and share that happiness with others, if you prioritize creating satisfaction from within.
Find your forte.
Everyone has a spark inside that needs the right channelling to shine. Experimenting and discovering what you really love doing is a great way to connect with your inner self.
When you do something that you love and have a natural flair for, you connect with yourself on a deeper level. You see the talents you possess. This gives you the confidence to be yourself without worrying about others’ approval.
Now, when someone calls me “poker face” it never bothers me because I know I am not an insensitive person with no emotions. I just choose to express them differently than others—through my writing. Writing helps me explore and express my emotions far better than speaking about them.
Make yourself feel good by taking some time for your favourite pastime. Engage yourself fully in that activity. Enjoy the feeling of getting lost in it.
Practice your art regularly, not for exhibiting it to the world, but to mirror the artist within you.
Strengthen your core values.
Core values are the principles that define us, and we should never compromise them just to please other people. Strong core values help us make choices that are right for us. They show us the path to peace in the midst of chaos. But it can be tough to hold on to our values when faced with outside influences, such as the people around us and the media.
When I was younger I believed that my work should do most of the talking, and I was confident in what I did. I used to believe that friendships happen, not by searching for them, but by putting myself in situations where I’d meet other people and having an open mind and heart.
When I started college, the urge to impress people made me forget these basic principles of mine. The idea of fitting in with my peers turned me into someone whom I barely recognized.
Eventually, I reinforced my basic beliefs by working hard to achieve my study goals and allowing myself to be authentic. I also listened to people with an open mind rather than dominating conversations. These small actions helped me reconnect with myself
Celebrate your true self.
Every person in the world has their own strengths and weaknesses. No one is perfect, even if they seem that way. What meets the eye is just the tip of an iceberg. So never beat yourself up for mistakes, embarrassments, or for having negative thoughts. All of these contribute to the uniqueness of your character.
The moment I started being myself, I noticed a lot of people just like me, lost and isolated in the big world. I actually made new friends who loved me as I am.
The world wants to know your authentic self, with all your flaws, rather than a staged, perfected version. So never be afraid to show your true colors.
We must grow and improve to reach great heights, but reach out only for those goals that truly appeal to you. Life has insightful lessons to teach—learn them your way, at your own pace.
Reveal your genuine self and expose the glorious treasures buried deep inside you to the world. Remove the shadows of self-doubt from your life and let your immaculate self soar high beyond boundaries.