“If you want to be happy, don’t do something you don’t like. Don’t say something you don’t mean. Pretending and lying to yourself will only breed unhappiness.” ~Michael Lee
Do you like your job? Do you love your partner? Are you happy? You may answer yes to these questions, but is that what you believe deep down?
Most of us go through life pretending rather than living. We find it easier to tell ourselves that we feel good about something or someone than to admit we don’t. After all, contentment doesn’t require action. By convincing ourselves we’re happy when we’re not, we avoid the difficult decisions that would be necessary to change our current situation.
If we pretend everything is fine, there’s no need to quit that job we hate. We don’t have to contend with all the risks, fears, and potential disapproval we might face from friends, loved ones, and colleagues if we leave it behind.
We don’t have to tell our partner that we aren’t in love with him or her anymore or that we aren’t happy in our relationship.
We don’t have to swallow our pride and ask for help when we need it because, hey, everything is just fine!
We can simply smile and keep pretending.
We try very hard to pretend everything is fine in our lives while knowing deep down that this couldn’t be further from the truth. We spend so much time trying to conform to society and the expectation of those around us that we lose the ability to listen to our hearts.
Is it really necessary to ask ourselves if we like our job or still love our spouse or partner? Do we really have to ask ourselves whether we’re happy? The truth is, something inside of us already knows the answer. More often than not, the answer lies in the fact that we have to ask the question in the first place. When we’re genuinely happy, we know. And when we aren’t, we know that, too.
It doesn’t take much courage to go through life pretending everything is all right. Exposing our true selves, fully embracing our deepest desires, and facing our fears, however, requires a tremendous amount.
In all honesty, I spent many years of my life pretending. I told myself that I was happy with my job, despite knowing from the very first day that it wasn’t the right fit for me. I pretended to agree with everyone around me to avoid the risk of rejection and disapproval.
In a way, I’ve even pretended to be shy. I’m a natural introvert, certainly. But at the same time, being shy was very convenient for me. At many times, it was a means to stay quiet, avoid risks, and maintain the illusion that I was better than I really was.
After spending so much time hiding my true self, I finally reached a point where I’d had enough of it. Enough of being fake, enough of superficial relationships, enough of trying to be liked and seeking the approval of others. Enough!
It was then that I made up my mind: I would stop pretending.
I didn’t want to have fake relationships where people liked me for something I’m not because I was too scared to show them the real me.
I didn’t want to play it safe during a date for fear of failing to give the correct answer or saying the wrong thing and ruining everything. We all want to be loved, but if we’re on a date with someone who is hyper-analyzing every little thing we do, waiting for an opportunity to reject us, how could they possibly be the right match?
Even if that strategy works, aren’t we running the risk of ending up in a lackluster relationship with the wrong person by pretending to be someone we aren’t?
It’s easier to pretend than to be truly honest with ourselves, but what's the point? It comes with a steep price.
If I pretend my current job is satisfying, what are the chances that I will make the necessary changes to create a fulfilling career that will bring meaning to my life?
If I pretend to be happy in a relationship when my true feelings clearly say something else, how can I improve my relationship?
If I’m constantly trying to be someone I am not, how can I create meaningful relationships with people who would have loved me if only I had given them a chance to know who I really am?
I wanted my relationships with others to be meaningful, profound, and emotionally rewarding. I didn’t want to constantly analyze every word that crosses my mind, and handpick only those that will earn me the approval of the person I’m speaking to.
I wanted to be able to say that I hated something even when everyone around me loved it. As a French person living in Japan, I wanted to be able to admit that I have no interest in French literature even when everybody expected me to. I wanted to be able to say that I know nothing about wine and can’t eat cheese.
I wanted to freely admit that I couldn’t remember much about the movie my friends are discussing. When asked about my hobbies, I wanted to say with excitement that I love learning rather than murmuring “I like watching movies and listening to music” or something like that.
These days, I’m being honest, showing the real me, and saying what’s true for me.
When working on a new project that required me to navigate between spreadsheets most of the time, I told the client that I wasn’t good at using Excel due to my lack of experience with it. In the past, I would have hidden that fact, felt bad about it for days or even weeks, and blamed myself for “not being good enough.”
During parties, I have no qualms admitting that I hate my job and can’t wait to quit. In the past, I would have pretended I liked it just to fit in with everyone else.
I’ve openly shared my passion with people I’ve just met, discussed the business I’m currently working on, and even talked about how I envision my future. In the past, I would have remained quiet.
And yes, I have unapologetically stated the fact that I don’t like cheese!
I’ve been saying these things for a while, so it isn’t exactly a new accomplishment for me. What is new, however, is how I feel about saying and doing these things.
I once felt guilt and shame over it, but those feelings have dissipated. At some point, I stopped feeling bad for not liking cheese. I stopped apologizing for not enjoying my job, and I stopped blaming myself for not knowing how to use Excel. That was even more freeing than speaking my mind and staying true to myself!
In short, I went from qualifying and explaining my honest statements to saying the truth as is, without all the unnecessary comments that I would usually add to it. I stopped apologizing for being me and stopped feeling bad about myself because of things that cannot be changed.
Pretending is costly, although it is not money we give away, but rather peace of mind and happiness.
Fortunately, we always have a choice. We can keep pretending everything is okay, refuse to take any risks, and settle for an okay relationship, a mediocre job, and a run-of-the-mill life. Or we can make a decision to accept ourselves as we truly are, embrace our fear and discomfort, and give ourselves a chance to create a meaningful relationship both with ourselves and others.
It might be time for you to stop pretending and start being truly honest with yourself. Otherwise, you could miss a chance to find a career that leaves you excited to wake up every morning and meet people who love you for who you are, not for who you pretend to be.