To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best day and night to make you like everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight and never stop fighting. E.E. Cummings
Today is Character Day. (Not to be confused with Roald Dahl Day, also September 13 this year, hence BFGs running amok all over social media!). Just as it sounds, this is a day devoted to talking about character and the importance of developing character strengths for resilience. Fitting then for the last of my #40DaysOfMum blogs and talking about being yourself.
40 Days of Mum has been all about having a good summer with the kids and with yourself - that is, using the time and change of pace for a spot of mum-discovery. The ultimate purpose, of course, is to apply what you’ve learned to help you find greater fulfilment and a career that actually feels like you.
Knowing what you like is a key part of the process. I’ve given you lots of ways to discover that. But a fulfilling career depends not only on KNOWING yourself better. Critically, it comes from BEING yourself.
This is the final piece of the puzzle.
Almost from the minute we’re born, we’re asked to conform. Is your baby a good sleeper? Do they sit unaided? Can yours read yet? We’re judged, labeled and evaluated; praised when we fit in and criticised, admonished or worse when we don’t.
Having the courage to be you in a world that prizes conformity is no small task.
It requires daily effort and attention. And most of us are merely intermittently ok at it.
Becoming a parent can make it even harder. Raising children brings so many challenges and changes. For many women, one of the biggest is loss of identity and confidence. And losing confidence in yourself makes being yourself tremendously difficult – especially in the workplace.
Love and acceptance are two of our most basic needs. So it’s not surprising we find it hard to have the courage to assert boundaries, speak up and be ourselves.
The answer does lie in being courageous. But it is also important to have compassion (for yourself mainly although having compassion for anyone will do to start) and be comfortable with your own vulnerability.
Knowing and DOING are very different things.
It’s all very well to know that I need to be ‘open to my own vulnerability’ if I’m to stop wearing a mask and be myself. But what does that even mean and how do we do it?
Well, here are a few practical things you can do to be more you more of the time.
1. Pay attention. When are you not being yourself? When do you put on a mask and what is that mask? What happens when you’re wearing it? I talk a lot when I’m uncomfortable; nervous self-deprecating chatter.
2. Do something differently. Now think about something very small you could do differently that would allow you to take off your mask. Be really specific: as huge as our discomfort can feel, addressing it is as simple as doing something, anything, differently. I’m teaching myself to say less when I first meet someone and to wait to hear from them. For me, it’s about learning to be comfortable with the pauses and to give the conversation time to develop.
3. Help others to be themselves. Listen fully and generously, to hear what the person is trying to communicate rather than what they’re saying. Once you understand then respond, to what they’re really communicating. This generosity sets the tone of your interaction: by giving others permission to be themselves, you’re creating a space for you to be the real you.
4. Hold back on the judgment. We all judge, label and evaluate. Our society is structured on judgment. But if we’re able to have an open mind, and be curious about others, we allow other people to be themselves.
5. Don’t ‘should’ all over yourself. Should is a word that needs to be banned. When we do something because we feel we ought, we’re not being ourselves. So if you catch yourself saying the s-word, replace it with ‘want’ and see how that works.
6. Celebrate difference. Step out of the echo chamber and welcome different points of view. Try to understand alternative opinions. By allowing others to be themselves and valuing the differences between you, you will most likely change the way you think about yourself.
7. Don’t ask permission. Do 'you', the best fullest version, and don’t wait on anyone’s permission for that. You’ll never please everyone. In trying to do so, you upset the most important person, you. You can always beg forgiveness if need be.
You may have noticed many of my tips are about how we relate to people. And for good reason. By being curious about others, celebrating them for who they are, appreciating and valuing difference, not only do we help those we’re with to be themselves, we also create tiny shifts in our relationships. That, in turn, makes it easier for US to be OURSELVES.
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