“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to change you is the greatest accomplishment.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
What a wonderfully simple yet complex statement! At first pass, it would seem to be obvious that you would aspire to be yourself. But we all know of the pressures to please others as we grow up. First the pressure comes from your parents, then your young peers, on to teachers and bosses. You find yourself constantly trying to live up to the expectations of others… and why not? It is usually a good thing to follow the wishes of those who’ve raised you, and it’s natural to conform to the ways of people who help you along the way. It is a lot like osmosis. It is also expected that prescribed pathways are followed, in a way, to repay kindness and debts. As an example, parents pay for your education, including arts and sports activities – so surely it makes sense that you’d try to excel in those endeavours as a form of “thank you”. The same goes for showing a good teacher or mentor that you understand their lessons and often end up developing further on the path they revealed and recommended.
However, at some point your own predilections and dreams emerge. Let them…and pay attention to them as they will become your guide to your ultimate destiny. While showing respect for your parents and elders, start to forge your own identity. Those who truly love you will be on the sidelines cheering your every step. Consider he words of Dr. Seuss, “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t care”. I couldn’t have said it any better!
Essentially, and ultimately, you don’t have any choice in the decision about being yourself. Since the time of Socrates, and no doubt before, a predominant human instinct has been to “know thyself”. The problem for some people however is that they harbour the inner (real) self and keep it separate from the self they display to the world. This predicament can eventually morph into a personality disorder if the gap between your inner person and public persona is too wide. Soon being in public will become a chore… you’ll feel like a phony. You’ll probably end up living the life of the recluse. Not a good result for most people…except the odd monk.
The best way to allow your inner self, that part of you that holds your real aspirations and dreams, to become what the world sees is to start cultivating the key aspects of those character traits. Start becoming that person in your mind and begin to feel this is your true self…soon actions will follow. You’ll begin to feel comfortable “in your own skin”. For example, if you want to become a musician then slowly tell people that you “are planning a career in music” and start acting that way. Surprisingly, this will start to help you as other people will begin to look at you in that light. Eventually they’ll tell others who are interested in the same path. Soon that will lead to communications between you and a host of other like-minded people. Your network will expand and you’ll soon be part of a musically inclined community… nurtured and growing professionally… all the while gaining confidence in the new you.
Another way to look at “finding” yourself involves a more proactive, less reflective path. Consider this George Bernard Shaw statement:
“Life isn’t about finding yourself; Life is about creating yourself”.
This is the other side of the coin. Maybe our “selves” are like a blank slate waiting for someone (you) to write the future. Maybe we shouldn’t dwell too much on ourselves. Too much soul searching can lead to a sort of paralysis – an inertia brought on by excessive searching for meaning.
I think we all instinctively know what we want to do… it’s just some of us are a little hesitant to “break-out”. But, I believe it’s the only way you’ll reduce anxiety and eventually find a sense of fulfillment. So just “do it” as the Nike ads encourage. Step into that real you! Oh yeah, and have some fun along the way! “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken”, Oscar Wilde once said. Now there’s a man who took some bold steps in his life, and left us a treasure of witticisms and profound writing.