I have a hard time being myself if I’m the 40-year-old in the club — I’m irresponsible.
If I’m the 20-year-old at home on a Saturday night reading a book — I’m boring.
No matter how I slice it, there’s something a little bit wrong with being me.
Someone’s uncomfortable, annoyed, disgusted, unhappy, embarrassed…or all of the above.
I’m constantly apologizing, hiding, rationalizing, justifying, deflecting …or all of the above.
And to be honest. I’m ridiculously exhausted.
I feel like I can’t be myself around anyone.
Why don’t you all just let me be great? I sometimes ask.
But the thing is — why am I even asking them?
Why do I find it hard to be myself?
I know, I know. I have a hard time being myself more than anyone ever told me it would be.
And even on the days when it’s easy, there’s a tinge of doubt deep down; wondering if there may be repercussions tomorrow, of me being me today.
After all, being me has lots of positive consequences.
But that’s not the problem.
The problem rests in the negative-you-just-came-out-of-nowhere-and-slapped-me-in-the-face kind of consequence.
And let’s not front as this has never happened to us.
Everyone’s been there at some point in their lives.
I’ve been there.
You’ve been there. We’ve all been there.
Examples of how I have a hard time being myself
Like I decide to be me and someone decides all of a sudden that they want to get mad at me because of something that I said in jest.
Or I decide to be me and someone’s frustrated because being me to them means that I didn’t consider their feelings.
Or how about that time when I decided to be me and got dumped? (No need to rehash this one — no fun in going back there).
Here’s the thing.
Being me today seems worse than all the bear, tiger, and whatever other animal hunting the cavemen threw down back in the days.
Or at least, my brain holds it as such.
But before I go on.
There’s a caveat to all of this.
And I must put this forward before we get the wrong impression.
I have a hard time being myself, yes, but this is not an excuse
Being me isn’t an excuse to be a jerk. It’s not an excuse to intentionally hurt other people’s feelings in the name of cowardly authenticity.
It’s not an excuse to not show up for myself and others; to blame, undermine, or abuse.
That definition of “being me” is played out, unwelcome, and embarrassingly pathetic.
It lowers the bar for myself.
It allows me to hide behind my unhealed wounds. It seals my fate and lets me off the hook.
It decelerates my pace towards true self-actualization and accelerates my pace towards enduring self-flagellation.
Now let’s get back to the importance of being me.
You know, the true person beneath all of the hurt and pain.
The one that just wants to come out and be accepted for who I am, what I’m about, and how I show love. You know, the good stuff.
I feel like I can’t be myself around anyone
I have a hard time being myself when I am rejected because apparently, my jokes are unanimously corny.
I am laughed at because I’m still rocking’ that ‘90’s hairdo that wasn’t worth rocking even back in the ’90s.
I am ignored because my monotonous voice is kind of annoying and it makes people think that I don’t care.
I am humiliated because I’m the only one who needed more time to process those super easy questions.
I am dumped because I think quality time is more important than expensive gifts, so I nag instead of saying “thank you.”
I am fired because I spoke up one too many times against the boss during an important meeting, despite several side-eyes from co-workers in an attempt to save me from myself.
I am canceled because I shared a controversial opinion on the wrong platform and now no one wants to even hear my apology.
I can lose my friends, my loved ones, my career, my dignity, my pride, my…everything. Simply by daring to be me.
Signs you’re not being yourself
I have a hard time being myself, yes, but am I struggling with how much I stand to lose?
Or am I struggling with what I have already lost? Is it the fact that I may have already lost myself? Or the fact that I may have never known or liked myself in the first place?
So here’s some not so good news.
Covers head with blanket.
Based on research, which must have been done by some very not nice people (I so wish I was making this up.)
- 85%-90% of people lack self-awareness, (Research by Tasha Eurich, author of Insight)
- 85% of people have low self-esteem, (Research by Dr. Joe Rubino, The Self Esteem Book)
- 61% of Americans are struggling with loneliness, (Research by Cigna, 2020)
So let me get this straight. Most of us don’t know ourselves or like ourselves? And when these selves that we don’t know too well or like that much dare to come out, they get humiliated, rejected and discarded — like a pair of dirty old shoes that have been worn every day for five years straight?
Wow. No wonder this stuff is so scary.
But the real scary part that no-one likes to hear is what I already know.
And here it is . . . It doesn’t matter how scary it is. It must be done. It’s life or death.
How to get back to being yourself
Because I know that if I am not being myself, I am not really living. So in some ways, I am already facing a fate akin to death. (OK — this may be a little bit dramatic, but that doesn’t make it entirely false.)
And I know. Even if I’m still technically “finding myself”, it doesn’t matter. Whichever version of myself (with a few caveats — see “don’t be a jerk” paragraph above) that I identify with the most at a particular time, is as deserving of compassion and acceptance as the other updated version that I’m polishing, in the hopes of one day emerging and taking over the world.
So I’ll say once more that which I’ve heard a thousand times, with the hope that this time it really sticks. Life is way too short to spend it being someone else. Anybody else. And that’s true, even on my crappiest days.
Because my fingerprint and my footprint are both unique to me for a reason. Because no one will ever be able to have an impact on the world and those close to me— the way that I can, and will, no matter how annoying I can be sometimes.
“You were born to stand out, stop trying to fit in.”― Roy T. Bennett
But I already know that. And it doesn’t make it easier. It doesn’t take away the fear, the terror, the anxiety.
It doesn’t mean that my response to anticipated rejection changes. Or that I suddenly and magically become that butterfly, basking in the beauty of its oh so adorable and always accepted wings.
It means that I take baby steps forward; I peek my head out. I check to see if it’s safe out there. And then I either move forward, or I retreat. And if it’s safe out there, I may take four steps forward, but then retreat and take a few steps back at the sign of danger.
And hopefully, along the way, I am remembering that as long as I am taking more steps forward, than backwards, I am on the right track.
Progress, not perfection is always a more worthy celebration.
I lose myself around others
There was a time in my early thirties when I have a hard time being myself professionally. I was in a very public-facing leadership role, struggling to find my voice as an extreme introvert in a land of extroverts.
I was accused of being stand-offish, unwelcoming, and unapproachable. Multiple surveys showed dismal approval rates on my ability to build strong relationships with staff and family members.
I felt rejected, inadequate, and defeated.
In this new, high-stakes context, I was struggling with how to be me.
Since then, I’ve learned that the best thing to do when I have a hard time being myself— is to rise up and figure out the best and fastest way to get back to me.
And here it is again— life is way too short to spend it being someone else.
Yes, that’s one of those I-may-need-to-take-a-picture and-look-at-it-every-day-until-it-really-sinks-in kind of statements. Certifiably legit. Will never fail me.
Here’s how I figured out how to RISE up and be me during that challenging time:
RISE = Reflect, Identify root cause, Seek input, Explain
Reflecting on why I have a hard time being myself
I needed to reflect on why I have a hard time being myself. Because though I’ve in the past been accused of being quiet, never had I been accused of being unfriendly. And though I’ve at times been called direct. I had never been labeled as unapproachable.
Clearly, there was a disconnect between how I viewed myself, how people close to me viewed me — and how I was perceived by people in this new and different environment.
So undoubtedly I wasn’t being myself or coming across as my true self.
I needed to reflect in order to determine:
- Why I wasn’t being or coming across as myself
- What in my environment was creating this issue or challenge
- What patterns I noticed within myself or the environment that would help to identify root issues
Whenever there is dissonance between who I am and how I am showing up in a particular area, reflection becomes important.
Without reflection, I continue to show up in a way that unconsciously causes me to not be true to my intentions.
If my intention was to be supportive — why was I perceived as being rude?
What triggered me in that environment to cause me to show up differently from what I intended? What’s the hurt, fear, or shame that I was trying to hide or cover-up in that moment?
Because usually, when I am less than my best self — there’s some kind of negative emotion languishing beneath the surface.
There is always a reason for the dissonance between how I intend to show up, and how I actually show up.
Uncovering this reason is where I find the buried treasure. This is where self-awareness is cultivated. This is what lies beneath my deep-rooted often unexplored issues with self-acceptance and self-confidence.
Reflection is where the tension between who I am and who I want to be, begins to unravel. Where I give myself the opportunity to ask the not so often asked questions.
Where I open ourselves up to all of the challenges and opportunities that the answers may bring. Where I begin to experience the wonderfully excruciating pain of growth.
In one of my favorite business books, Principles, Life, and Work, Ray Dalio shares his equation for growth.
Pain + Reflection = Progress
It’s not what I struggle with. It not what trips me up and kicks me in the rear that matters. It’s the work that I do to reflect on it and get better from it, that has the biggest difference on my path forward.
The first step on the path of discovering what to do when you can’t be you is to pause and reflect.
Identifying root causes for why I have a hard time being myself
What I uncovered as a result of engaging in ongoing reflection, was that I was experiencing fear and discomfort in my role as an organizational leader.
I was perceived as being unfriendly and unapproachable because I was so focused on getting the technical aspects of the job right, that I wasn’t actually building relationships and getting to know people outside of my immediate team.
The fear of failing technically was negatively impacting my ability to show up relationally.
This was a big job. I had the future of hundreds of kids in my hands. I had hundreds of families that I had made promises to. I couldn’t fail!
And because I was so focused on not failing — I was actually failing.
The self-fulfilling prophecy is often life’s way of forcing me to pay attention; to live with intention.
Ultimately, there’s no way to win when I am not being myself. And even when I win in the short term, I lose in the long term.
Identifying root issues on why i have a hard time being myself requires honesty, courage, and patience.
Honesty to be true to myself when I am coming up with bullsh*t “root issues” that really let me off the hook; that I know in my gut are not true.
Courage to push past the bullsh*t and shake myself when I try to fool myself into believing it.
And patience to continue to dig deep to uncover the true root issue. The one that hits me in the gut; the one that I know is true but wish weren’t true.
The one that I want to push all the way down to a place where no one can ever see it and discover my secrets; my shame.
Whichever one that is, I know that it’s the one. And I celebrate it the way I celebrate meeting my soul mate. Because resolving it brings the mate that my soul has always desperately needed, but never accepted.
I bring it to life. So that now I can work on it. So that now I can spin it and possibly turn it into one of my greatest strengths.
When I have the courage to do the work to uncover why I am not being my true self, my best self, I find the courage to turn challenges into opportunities and weaknesses into strengths.
Seeking input or support as I have a hard time being myself
The research says that most of us don’t know ourselves as much as we think we do. And since I’ve had little evidence to the contrary so far in life, I’m going to choose to believe it.
As a human, I truly have blindspots. And I am oftentimes my biggest one.
For that reason, it makes sense I have a hard time being myself but to also seek out other perspectives and support in dealing with some of the obstacles that prevent me from being my true self.
Once I was clear that fear and uncertainty were preventing me from being myself in this new leadership role, I sought input and support from close friends, colleagues, and trusted leaders in helping me determine how to best move forward. Their feedback was worth the temporary discomfort.
I learned that:
- I am friendlier and more approachable in small groups — when I’m forced to interact
- I don’t usually smile when I’m lost in thought, and since I had become consumed with the technical work, someone who didn’t know me personally could easily get the wrong impression
- I’m more guarded and private naturally, so though I’m friendly and approachable, that wasn’t necessarily the very first impression that people close to me had of me.
My take-aways as a result of this feedback was as follows:
- I was definitely too caught up in the technical aspect of the work and was missing natural opportunities to connect
- Even if I wasn’t caught up in the technical aspect of the work, relationship building for me needed to be intentional (since as an introvert, I’m naturally a bit guarded)
- Though the root issue that I identified was correct, it had a lot more layers than I anticipated.
Ultimately, this step in the process allows me to seek input, feedback, and multiple perspectives that will allow me to fine-tune (or possibly adjust or change) the root cause that I have identified.
It also provides more detailed information to help determine how to best move forward to resolve the issue. I would not have been able to do this on my own. I became a better leader because I sought, received, and acted on the difficult feedback.
And when I choose this path, it will also bring me closer to figuring out how to be myself.
“Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection”– Mark Twain
Explaining how I have a hard time being myself
Armed with a better understanding of self — and the obstacles that were preventing me from being my true self, and best self, I was ready to put some solutions in place.
And since communication solves more problems than practically everything else in the book (at least based on everything written or stated by anyone in the counseling field,) this seemed to be the best course of action.
Thus, in this step, I talk to myself. I talk to others.
The self-explanations allow me to be intentional and to adjust when I’m not being myself.
The other-explanations allow me to explain and help others understand, in instances where being myself creates confusion.
In this step, I explain. Not because I owe explanations, but because I am more centered and clear as a result of these explanations.
And because being grounded in who I am to myself and to others will ultimately, someday make this process automatic. And maybe then the explanations may no longer be necessary.
Maybe then I simply exist as I am. Fully, beautifully eternally.
Until then. I explain.
I explain to myself why I need to set clear intentions about how to establish relationships in this new role.
I explain to myself why it matters, and what I will do when I notice myself hiding behind the technical work; the fear of failure.
I explain to others at work that I value relationships with them.
I explain to them that I’m contemplative by nature, so when they see me wearing that “thinking face” and forgetting to smile, that it’s not personal; that a quick reminder will likely jolt me back into the present.
I explain not because of guilt or any negative emotion. I explain due to a sense of commitment and accountability to myself and others to show up as myself; to show up in a way that’s in alignment with my intentions.
By explaining to myself and others I further ensure that the self that’s showing up in the wrong way for the wrong reasons can stand no chance against the true self that’s determined to emerge, despite all obstacles.
Through this process is am able to RISE. Through this process, I find my voice. Through this process, I discover my true self as a leader. And find that I could be successful, by simply being myself.
And as a result, I encourage you too to RISE.
What do you do when you have a hard time being yourself?
I pay a price for being myself. I pay a price for not being myself. Either way, I pay. The question is — which one am I willing to pay for?
Believe it or not. Agree with it or not. I will pay a price for being me.
Sometimes the price is beauty and bliss. Sometimes it’s chaos and confusion.
Either way — I pay a price.
Paying the price today is harder than ever before. Everywhere, everyone is struggling with being themselves on some level.
Even the rich and famous live in fear and stress, wondering when they will have to pay the price for choosing to be themselves. Worrying about the loss of clout and reputation that cancel culture can chase, and wealth cannot always replace.
And then there’s social media, where the half time show seems like the full game. Where the “best of …” presents as the full series. Where life seems like a fairytale and every day is a good hair day.
What’s the price that I will pay when the image that I portray so strongly deviates from the reality of who I am? When I have portrayed to the world that I have glorified a fictitious self because I am still grappling with how to do the work of embracing my true self?
What do you do when you can’t be you?
RISE up and figure out the best and fastest way to get back to you.
I do the work. I RISE. I remember that this journey is a path to celebrate my own growth. That I am competing only with who I was yesterday, or an hour ago — not with anyone else.
And when I RISE, second by second, minute by minute, I start to see the light at the very far end of the tunnel; the light that I can’t see when I am lying down comfortably.
The light that I only get to see when I dare to rise up; slowly, uncomfortably, in order to do the work to experience my true self.
As often as possible. As willingly as possible. Despite the annoyances, weird looks, anxiety, awkwardness, and all that comes with it.
Because on my deathbed I will not say, “I wish I did a better job pretending to be someone else.” “I wish my social media pictures were more on point.”
I will instead be more proud to say, “despite the challenges that came with it, I spent my life learning how to be me, and intentionally showing up as myself, my best self, as often as possible.”
“And though I made mistakes along the way, I’m damn proud of my courage to do the work.”
Many of us choose to stay down. Some of us decide to RISE.
And in the words of the late, great Maya Angelou,
You may write me down in historyMaya Angelou
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
And you will too. Because that’s what you do when you can’t be you.