We have all heard the expression ‘be yourself.’ It certainly sounds like a simple proposition doesn’t it? How often do we actually express who we truly are? If we were honest with ourselves, most of us would probably answer not as often as we would like. Nowadays it is the norm to get caught up in the whirlwind of social conformity, peer pressure, the latest fashions and fads, the list goes on and on. It is natural for us to want others to like and approve of us. Yet in the process it is all too easy to lose our individual essence, and become a mere reflection of who we truly are. Perhaps you may wonder if that is even such a bad thing. What exactly is wrong with desiring to fit in anyhow? Isn’t it a good thing to want others to like and approve of you?
Perhaps we should first ask what does it mean to be yourself anyhow? We have heard this statement so many times it it pretty much a cliche. Yet as is often the case with cliches, there tends to be a grain of truth behind them. My personal definition of ‘being yourself’ would begin with the idea that we are all unique individuals, no two of us are exactly alike. Of course we will immediately see this statement as an obvious fact. Even in families with many children you can clearly see the many different personalities amongst them. Identical twins are also not so alike when it comes to personality. It would appear that God, or Nature, or whatever you may believe is responsible for this thing called Life, has a preference for diversity. So it is not really difficult to argue that there must be a purpose for so many unique expressions of Individuals.
The second premise behind the concept of ‘being yourself’, would seem to indicate that it is a natural and beneficial thing to do. If you have ever had the experience of drastically changing your appearance or even your personality in an attempt to please others, you know how tiring it can be. When we force ourselves to behave contrary to who we truly are, it takes a lot of effort. We usually feel drained quickly. Even at a gut level we feel as though we are living a lie. Clearly, when we deny our individuality it is not a physically or emotionally healthy state to be in. I came across some wise words that say in effect, you might as well be yourself, everyone else is already taken. Truer words have never been spoken, at least on the matter of Individuality.
In my own life I can relate to how stressful I feel whenever my goal becomes about pleasing others. For instance, I have had a receding hairline for the past few years. It never bothered me until the day someone made a comment to the effect that I had a bald spot. I was rather taken aback by this unsolicited remark, and suddenly felt embarrassed. It wasn’t long before I was online searching for baldness cures in the hopes of stemming the tide of my receding hairline. After trying some expensive and ineffective treatments, I decided that perhaps I should just shave my head. After all, everywhere I looked online people were telling balding men that they would look so much better if they just shaved it all off. So that is exactly what I did. I told myself that it looked amazing, and hoped everyone else would agree. Although I wasn’t sure if looking like ole Uncle Fester was really that attractive. Turns out some liked the new look, and some didn’t. In the end I kept my head shaved for five years, until a dear friend uttered four life changing words. I had asked her what she thought of my shaved cranium, and she responded quite simply, well, what do you like? What do I like? What a concept! In that very moment I clearly saw that I had given my own Individual power away to others. It suddenly dawned on me that I never felt like ‘me’ with my head shaved. It was at that moment that I took back my power, and let my balding hair grow back in all its receding glory. Soon, I felt like my old self again, and I learned a very important lesson from that experience. That lesson of course was that I should always be true to myself, regardless of what others may think. From that day forward I made it a point to accept myself exactly as I am, flaws, imperfections and all.
Now my story certainly is a trivial one to be sure, but certainly not an uncommon one. It can take many forms, baldness only being one. Maybe you don’t particuarly like a physical characteristic you have. Maybe you feel like you have to live up to the image portrayed on television and in the media. You know, the Hollywood stereotype of physical perfection. When we think about it, we realize that our appearance will change over the years, often radically. Yet we know that we are the same wonderful person inside. These are only the outward things. What about when we change our own personality, or behave in ways that do not reflect who we truly are? Certainly we have all done that on occasion. We force ourselves to do things we don’t even enjoy just so we can ‘fit’ in. In the process, we have lost a piece of ourselves. Is there even a way out of the conformity madness that it so prominent in society? I would without hesitation answer with a resounding YES!!
The first step in becoming your true self is the most important one. In fact, it is the pillar upon which your unique individuality hangs. What exactly does this first step entail? Two words sum it up: Self Love. No, I am not implying the self-centered egotistical kind of self love. If we have any hope of expressing our true individuality we must first develop a healthy love for ourselves. Most of us have developed rather negative self-images throughout our lifetimes. If asked, we could easily create an entire list of things we dislike about ourselves. However, to discover who we really are we must begin by changing our self concept. It may be helpful to write a list of positive traits you possess. A wonderful spiritual teacher, Louise Hay, advocates using a personal affirmation to jump-start the self love process. One particular affirmation she suggests is ” I love and approve of myself exactly as I am.” She recommends repeating this affirmation several times throughout the day, verbally or mentally. It is also a good idea to remind yourself often that you are a unique and special person. There is no one else in the world exactly like you. You have your own wonderful set of talents and personality traits. Begin treating yourself with the same love and respect you would give a beloved family member, or close friend. It is imperative that you offer yourself unconditional love and respect on a daily basis.
The second stage of rediscovering your true self is one that entails a bit of exploration. Here again we might begin by creating a list of things we enjoy doing. Think of all your favorite activities, hobbies, musical tastes and so forth. Especially list your special talents and interests, we all have some. The idea is to create a self portrait of your own unique qualities. In essence, painting a mental picture of your beautiful one of a kind individuality. Once you are able to clearly see the wonder of you, others will begin to see it as well. You will have a refreshing air of self confidence about you. Others will notice something wonderfully different about you, even if they cannot quite figure out what it is! Of course you will know that you are merely being yourself, at long last.
The final step is to take your power back. By that I mean for every person, place, or thing in which you have invested your power, you must make a conscious decision to take your power back. No more hero worship of people you think are more attractive, smarter, or any other quality you perceive as missing in yourself. Of course you will still love and respect these people. However, you will no longer confer upon them any status that is rightfully yours. For every quality you see in another, know that you also have that very same quality in yourself. If you notice someone else is particually attractive, also notice that you too are attractive. The adage ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ is a timeless truth. Each one of us possesses our own unique beauty which is not dependent on our outward appearance. There is no one correct standard of beauty, even if that is the message perpetuated by Hollywood and society. It doesn’t matter if you are short, tall, fat or skinny, or any other negative label you can think of. At the center of your very being is a gorgeous, luminous unique individual. It’s time to let your light shine!