Do You Have The Courage To Be Yourself?

29 September, 2013

It sounds like an easy question, but upon second glance, perhaps not. How can we find ways to be more authentic, in everything we do? And why is this important?

I don't know about you, but when I am in new situations that involve new people, I seem to do something interesting. In the process of wanting to fit in, I tend to lose a little of 'myself' and and act in a way I think others might want me to. Ultimately, I do this for acceptance, like we all do. Acceptance is a survival instinct: our ancestors had to live and travel in packs in order to survive. If we got left behind on our own we wouldn't have the skills and resources to survive alone. So, no wonder in the modern age what others think of us still plays an important role in who we are (or who we think we are). We don't need to kid ourselves and deny this; if we try to pretend we don't at all care what others think of us we would be behaving as a sociopath behaves. The question is therefore not whether we care or not, but the degree in which we care and when that is useful or not useful.

I was watching the first interview between Dr Brene Brown and Oprah again today, and it reminded me of this (sorry, I know Oprah is a bit stereotyped! She has some amazing teachers on Super Soul Sunday though and I have made it no secret that I am a huge fan of Brene's work). They were talking about this idea of 'hustling for your self-worth' - which I think means the same as what I am talking about here: changing parts of you who are to get approval and acceptance - and therefore worth- from others. Oprah says you know when you're in the act of 'hustling' because you feel uncomfortable but pretend you feel comfortable, you laugh at jokes that you don't think are funny, you say things you wouldn't normally say and so on.

In Brene's research on vulnerability, shame and courage, she categorises a certain set of people in the world as the 'wholehearted'. These are people who are not afraid to be vulnerable and fail, are therefore courageous, experience the joys of life wholeheartedly. In short, they do what Brene says is 'showing up in their lives': they take risks and don't hold back because of fear. The single most distinguishing factor about this category of people is that no matter what happens, their self-esteem is not on the table. They don't hustle for it. Fail or succeed, laugh or cry, gain or lose, they maintain a solid sense of self-worth, no matter what. In other words, they feel good about who they are inside, no matter what goes on on the outside.

So, where's the balance? If you happen to be a loud and boisterous person, and you walk into a serious business meeting for the first time and don't adjust your manners appropriately, this could cause a problem, right? And, if you act the 'wallflower' for too long, you'll start to feel inauthentic and no longer like 'you'. And what does it mean to truly be yourself? Could you answer that for yourself right now?

I certainly know when I start to hustle: it feels like I am trying too hard and it feels all wrong, like I am wearing someone else's clothes and my body starts to itch. Yet, to show the real me to everyone I meet straight away wouldn't be appropriate either. I certainly know how it feels when I can just be authentic Charlotte, and the journey is to have the courage to be her - within the bounds of social appropriacy - at all times. Lately I have been asking myself an important question when I start to feel uncomfortable:

What would the most authentic Charlotte do right now?

It brings me back to my centre, and halts any tendency to 'hustle'. It's not always easy though, and does take the courage to run the risk of non-acceptance. To echo the words of Brene though, I have - through her teachings - discovered that it's more important for me to have courage and to 'show up' than it is to be liked and accepted by everyone.

How about you? Do you have the courage to be more of you who are, more often? What would happen if you did?


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