In the past, whenever I heard phrases like “Be your best you” or “Be all that you can be,” I automatically assumed that meant that I should be the best version of myself I could be. The best girlfriend, the best daughter, the best employee, the best everything. Most of the time, this meant that I was constantly striving to be who I thought I “should” be and doing what I thought I “should” be doing.
This friction between who I actually am and who I was constantly trying to be caused me all manner of heartache. I woke up every morning and looked in the mirror to be disappointed in who I saw, not because I thought I was a bad person, but because I had all of these expectations of myself of which I was constantly falling short. When I looked at myself, all I saw was wasted potential. I was even starting to suspect that it was “too late” for me to ever live the life I thought I should be living, because I kept making choices that took me further away from the person I thought I should be.
It was only by acknowledging and accepting who I am (rather than focusing on who I wished I could be) that I’ve been able to eliminate some of this friction. I can look back now and realize that many of the choices I have made weren’t actually bad decisions, but were external extensions of who I truly am inside. I’ve also been able to identify when I’ve made choices that weren’t guided by “being myself” and start to course-correct those mistakes.
Ironically enough, by letting go of who I think I should be and accepting myself, I’ve taken one step closer to respecting myself in the morning.
The important part of sentiments like “Be your best you” or “Be all that you can be,” aren’t the words best or all… it’s you. If we clear out the rest of the junk, the important words shine through: be you.
Being Your Best is Not Doing The Best
I’ve started thinking of this effort as trying to be the “most” me rather than the “best” me. What does this mean? It means identifying the values that are integral to the my definition of a life well-lived and living those values every day. It means not letting the roles I play in other people’s lives dictate how I live or measure my own life. It means not worrying at someone else’s raised eyebrows (or even just my imagining of someone else’s raised eyebrows) and just doing my own thang.
Of course, “doing my own thang” brings up a whole new set of issues. In our culture, “be yourself” often just seems to mean you should pursue your own interests, whether those are popular interests or not, and rock it. If life were a movie, it’s okay to be the nerd, but by the time the credits roll you should have achieved something awesome, been recognized publicly, and gotten the pretty girl to fall in love with you.
Should, should, should. It all comes back to putting pressure on yourself to do something.
What Happens When You Are Your Most “You”
When you’re truly being your most you, however, the pressures and the “shoulds” fall away. There’s nothing you “should” be doing differently. When you’ve identified how you want to live your life and then you live it that way, it doesn’t matter if you’ve achieved anything or been recognized publicly. You’ve eliminated that friction between yourself and the world around you.
Does this mean you won’t have disappointments? Of course not. But you’ll have a set of values that you know you believe in that will guide you in responding to those disappointments constructively. Does this mean you’ll be “successful” by the world’s standards? Maybe not. But being true yourself is its own kind of success, one you can find satisfaction in every single day.
Interestingly enough, the more that I focus on truly being myself (and being open with others about who I am), the more I’ve felt most of the social weight I once perceived fall away. Rather than being judged for taking my own path, my willingness to be vulnerable and share my journey with others has generally resulted in the people around me being intrigued and sharing their own stories of self-discovery with me. By not focusing on “fitting in,” I’ve been able to connect with others around me in a much more meaningful way… which has made the fear of being different virtually disappear.
So How Do You Find Out Who You Are?
The first step is to let go of ideas of who you “should” be, who you wish you were, or who your parents / family / friends wish you were. Try to let go of self-judgment and accept yourself as you are. This means monitoring your internal self-talk for phrases like should, should have, shouldn’t have, or Lindsay, you’re such a fucking idiot sometimes. (Oh wait, that might just be me.)
Once you’re aware of your self-talk, here are some questions you can ask yourself to guide you in discovering who you truly are:
(Pay attention to whether the things that make you sad or off-balance are real or are your own perceptions about your life. I’ve discovered that most of the things that make me unhappy are actually neutral and it is my own thoughts about them that make them negative.)
As a child, what made me happy?
What do I find comforting? How do I self-comfort?
What am I afraid of?
Discovering who I actually am has helped me feel the world is opening up to me again. I don’t feel as though my options and my future are narrowing around me as I walk a path pre-ordained by the culture around me, but instead am walking a path of self-discovery on which anything might happen. It’s scary, but it’s also exciting–and a relief. It’s such a relief to stop fighting being myself.
Much love. 🙂 Lindsay