"Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken." —Oscar Wilde
Like our fingerprints, we are all unique, and embracing this is one of the best things we can do for ourselves. Unfortunately, society, school, media, and our families push us to conform and follow along.
Why is this?
You might argue that, in its own way, this push to conformity comes from a place of care—a way to protect us and keep us safe. Whatever the motive behind this encouragement, though, this kind of thinking comes from a place of scarcity and fear.
Years ago, I shot a high school senior portrait session. As I photographed an 18-year old young man, I asked him about school and his future. He told me he was trying to be the best version of himself and allowing the right college to show up.
I found this to be a profound statement.
I asked him what his ‘best self’ looks like and where he got the idea of being his best self. He told me a story about his last day of his junior year of high school. As he walked to his car, he stopped to chat with a few different friend groups. When he finally arrived at his car, he cried, realizing he had no idea who he was. He took on a distinct personality for each group he talked with to please each set of friends.
Sitting in his car, this young man realized living this way was exhausting and not the kind of life he wanted to live. He decided he would no longer change who he was to fit in. He then proceeded to tell me his senior year of high school was the best year of his life because he was finally being his true self without worrying about what others thought.
I was taken aback by the epiphany this young man had experienced and began asking myself, "Who am I?"
I recognized the pattern for the first time. I was doing the same thing this young man—like so many of us—had been doing. I showed up as a different person for every group of friends and work environments I had in my life. I thought I was myself, but I was hiding parts of myself.
Growing up, I was a football player, embracing the narrative that I needed to be strong and masculine. At the same time, I loved music and singing, but I never shared this with anyone. I wanted to be in the chorus, but was too afraid of what people might think of the football player who also loves singing. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school when Nirvana released Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana that I was able to express my love for music and singing. Sadly, though, it still wasn’t enough to push me to join the chorus.
As I moved through my life, this pattern repeated—in college and again in my early professional life—all the while thinking I am being my true self. In reality, I allowed only parts of my true self to be seen.
It was not until my 40th birthday I finally said ‘enough is enough’ and stepped into my true self, my most authentic self.
Why did I wait so long?
Because I am human and it’s natural for humans to want to fit in and be part of the community. And because our education system teaches us to follow the rules, stay in line, and obey authority.
This may have worked in the early 1900s, but it’s an antiquated system that no longer serves us.
Now the question comes to how do we break out of this? How do we become our most authentic selves?
Give yourself permission to start discovering yourself, your true self.
Ask yourself the following questions:
What do I like?
What do I love?
What adds joy to my life?
Let go of what your parents, family, and friends like as you respond to these questions. Let go of what the media tells you is a ‘good’ life and start discovering what a good life means to you.
In doing this, remember we are all individuals. There are no wrong answers on your journey of self-discovery. As you start uncovering answers to these questions, start exploring them. Start doing more of the things you love, even if it means doing them alone. Do the things that add more joy to your life and notice how you feel. Study people who inspire you that are living an authentic life. Instead of watching the latest Netflix show, create a virtual mastermind group of inspiring people and watch their YouTube channels. Read biographies of inspiring people who lived an authentic life. If you enjoy watching movies, watch inspiring movies that will push you to be your best self. Gather your family and friends and watch the documentary “Finding Joe” about Joseph Campbell and discover our own hero's journey.
We live in an exciting time with so many resources at our fingertips. You don't have to have a large bank account to explore your likes and dislikes. All you need to do is make the time for yourself and start exploring.
The more you explore, the closer you get to stepping into your true self.
A wise older man once told me about the law of 20, 40, and 60. It goes like this:
When we are 20, we’re worried about what everyone thinks of us; at 40, we stop caring about what others think and start being our most authentic selves, and at 60, we realize no one was thinking about us.
It may sound harsh, but this is so true.
Charles Horton Cooley, an American sociologist, said: "I am not who you think I am; I am not who I think I am; I am who I think you think I am."
No one is thinking about us or what we’re doing, and, if they are, it’s because they want to have the courage to do what we are doing. Unfortunately, we stop ourselves from living authentically because of the made-up stories in our heads. We pull back from exploring our interests. We stop taking chances. We stop betting on ourselves… all because of these made-up stories. Then find ourselves living a life that is draining us instead of fueling us.
This life is to be lived and experienced. Not when you retire, but every day—yes, I did say every day!
I invite you to take time and start the journey of self-discovery.
Start with making a list of the things you like doing. Then create a second list of things you enjoy doing or would like to do that you’re not doing. Both will be living documents for you to continue updating.
Then start making time.
Make time to do the things you like doing and you’ll notice your most authentic self shining through more and more.
And remember: this is a process of self-discovery and is meant to be FUN! Now is the time to step into your true self.
Post by studio BE Senior Facilitator Joe Longo.
Joe is an energy-based yoga and meditation instructor and spirituality coach. He likes to keep things simple and fun, allowing everyone to be exactly where they are. His main focus is on helping students remember they are infinite creative beings creating their reality.