“Just be yourself,” they say, as if it’s the easiest thing in the world, as if doing that doesn’t actually require an immense amount of growth and knowledge.
As if it’s not the most terrifying thing any of us have to do.
I’ve always been different; sometimes, it’s been said with a loving smile, and sometimes, whispered behind my back. But there has always been an underlying feeling that somehow, by being who I am naturally, I was not what others wanted me to be—and so I changed.
Like a chameleon, I began to learn how to blend in with those around me until eventually, one day, I simply forgot who I really was.
It doesn’t happen instantly, but rather in a million small ways until that inner person—that light—is lost forever. Suddenly, we are gone and in place of our true selves is a shadow of who we were meant to be. Sure, we may smile and walk the talk and do all the right things, but inside we’re empty because we’ve sold ourselves in an attempt to blend in.
I suppose it’s natural to want to blend in, to a degree; growing up, no one is revered because they stick out, and we’re taught through unconscious influences that it’s better to just be like everyone else than risk not being liked for who we truly are.
In truth, I’ve only had two people in my whole life encourage me to be myself.
I’m sure there were others who wanted me to be me, but I think the difference is that these two people who continue to encourage me actually see me—they know who I am. They’re not fooled by the phases I may go through, or the lies I try to tell myself, and because of that they will always be a part of my life. One is the sister I never had, and the other is the man who will always have my heart.
But even having the support of two people who love me this way still doesn’t guarantee that I’ll actually make the choice to be myself.
And this may be the truth for many of us.
We can have people in our lives who encourage us to be who we truly are and love us unconditionally, but ultimately it still requires a leap of faith for us to make the choice to no longer hide from ourselves.
In so many ways, it often seems like it takes our whole lives to become the person we are meant to be.
This has less to do with others, and more to do with us learning to be okay with the parts of ourselves that don’t quite feel like they fit, or the ones we wished made more sense. It’s a struggle to unlearn everything we were taught about growing up, being happy, or being successful, and to simply relax into being who we were born to be.
The draw with being ourselves is that when we make the choice to be us, we also drop the masks, which offer protection and anonymity. We can’t be ourselves if we are also still trying to hide who we really are. In some ways, it seems that we develop this duality where we can be multiple things to multiple people which all somehow satisfy a need within us, but still challenge us to discover who we are, authentically.
To grow up and decide to be ourselves can feel like standing naked in the middle of Times Square during rush hour.
It’s inconvenient and terrifying, but there’s also no other way to truly find happiness than to first admit what being ourselves means for us. We can’t spend our precious days living for other people, as a martyr for doing the right thing, nor can we swallow what sets our soul on fire because we are afraid of burning too hot.
So, perhaps it’s fear that we have to battle the most. Fear of being seen, of being different, and of letting others down because they wished we were someone other than who we truly are. But we weren’t born to be who our family or friends want us to be. We each came here with a specific purpose, and the longer we hide from our true selves, the longer the true meaning of our life will elude us.
It is scary because the truth is, not everyone will like or understand us. And more so, not everyone will accept us. But, isn’t it a greater risk to continue hiding our true colors and only have the affection and approval from others because we behave as we are expected?
The change happened for me when I realized that I’d rather have two people—hell, even one—who truly loved me for the complicated, crazy mess that I am than a hundred people who only liked the parts they wanted to see.
I don’t have any desire to win popularity contests, to have my contact list full of “BFFs” or men who think they can sweet talk me into taking off my clothes, because none of that actually means that these people know the real me—or that they love and accept me unconditionally.
When we get real with ourselves, we also require anyone stepping to us to do the same. Relationships with lovers, friends, and even family can change when we begin to accept authenticity instead of complacency.
“Be yourself,” they said—I just never realized how long it would take to get there.
But the minute we begin to be ourselves, we also lose the ability to be anything else. Once we make this choice, there’s no going back to life as we knew it.
All that remains is the path ahead and the knowing that this time it’s okay to make it all about us.
Author: Kate Rose
Image: Allef Vinicius/Unsplash
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Copy Editor: Catherine Monkman
Social Editor: Travis May