In some form or another, and at some point in our lives, we hear the message “just be yourself.” It’s a pretty standard message that lives in children’s books, popular music, and in the vocabulary of well-meaning teachers and other caregivers. And so we think to ourselves, “Ok, that doesn’t seem so hard.” We probably listen to it but mostly brush it off, because it sounds like kind of a vague, redundant statement: equally obvious and nonsensical at the same time.
So we bumble along through life, being ourselves until something happens and teaches us that being ourselves is a bad idea. Someone comes along and pokes fun at us. Or we fail at something while expressing who we are. Or we learn that being different doesn’t help you climb the social ladder. And so we change. We adapt to be who we think will be more loved and accepted. We do this for a while until we get stuck. We wake up one day and realize we’ve traded the integrity of who we are for all the things we thought we wanted. But in reality, all we ever wanted was to be loved and accepted for who we are. Maybe our realization isn’t even that dramatic. But one thing we do know is that we don’t feel good inside.
At this point, we have two options: continue like before or change back into the person we know we are deep down. And so it is. We realize that the only way to find authentic, deep-seated joy and fulfillment in this lifetime is to peel back the layers of who we’ve become over time and reconnect with who we really are inside. To stop pretending and hiding. Even if it’s painful. It may mean saying goodbye to relationships, to jobs, to a whole reality, really. Or it might just be a small series of gentle shifts depending on how you’ve lived your life up to this point.
But a real reason it might be a challenge to step into who you truly are is due to fear. It’s scary to muster up the courage to live and serve the world from your authentic self. It’s vulnerable. For the first time, if you fail, the stakes are as high. Failing from a place of authenticity gives you nowhere else to turn. Or what if no one cares? But the secret is this: If you are acting from your authentic self, it won’t matter if no one else cares because you’ll care. And that’s enough. The second secret is there is no such thing as failure. There might be setbacks. There might be feedback that’s different than what you hoped. But it’s all just information, designed to help guide you forward, even more accurately than before.
However, this fear is two-pronged. It’s not just the fear of failure lurking. It’s the fear of success and the joy inherent in acting from a place of inner truth. Brene Brown has concluded over ten years of research, that “Joy is the most vulnerable emotion we experience.” She goes on to explain that most people can’t tolerate this much vulnerability and so they find a way to sabotage it. Gay Hendricks calls this the “upper limit problem,” an inner ‘thermostat setting’ that determines how much success we allow ourselves to enjoy. When we exceed our internal thermostat setting, we often do something to sabotage ourselves, causing us to fall back into the old, familiar place where we feel safe.
And so it takes awareness and courage to operate from who we really are. But we must try. Not only for the sake of our happiness in this lifetime but for others as well. When you act from a place of authenticity, you free the people around you to do the same. They might not even be consciously aware of this fact, yet it remains true. In her book, A Return to Love, Marianne Williamson explains: “As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
In short, the world needs you more than you will ever know. And you need you as well.