“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” — Joseph Campbell
In an episode of Mad Men, an advertising analyst says that “in a nutshell” people are either doing what’s expected of them or what they want. As a coach, whether working with a CEO or an artist, I find this to be the biggest source of internal conflict for most people.
Research on this subject suggests that you need to know yourself before you can be true to yourself. That’s a given. However, observe young kids; they have not spent years digging deep into their psyche to find out who they are — they just are. Little Johnny knows instantly if he wants his friend to play with his toy truck and doesn’t hesitate to voice it.
But it’s not long before Johnny becomes socialized and shaped by the rules of nicety. “It’s not nice to run to the front of the line every day for your snack.” “Let Suzi play with your truck.” “Why are you dressed like that? You look strange.” “Quiet. Stop your laughing now or I will … ,” ad infinitum.
You really do know who you are and you always have. It’s just that somewhere along the way you’ve put more emphasis on caring about what others think of you. That, of course, leads downhill to self-sabotaging behaviors such as people pleasing, fear of rejection and letting others define or make decisions for you. Next you’re lost, stuck in doing what’s expected of you instead of doing what you want.
When he was a 20-year-old college student taking a philosophy class, he began reading a book by Jean-Paul Sartre. The more he read, the more he realized that he didn’t like the book and “was not having any fun.” Next he thought, “I’m never going to read another book in my entire life that I don’t like.”
The next day he dropped the class as he said, “I’m never going to take another class I don’t like.” He didn’t, and he ended up with 120 electives and no college degree.
He left college saying, “I will never do anything the rest of my entire life that I don’t really want to do.” That opened the door for him to follow his heart, his passions — what he truly cares about.
With a résumé that read something like dishwasher, busboy and camp counselor, he co-founded Whole Foods in 1980. Don’t you just love the mavericks of the world? They give us courage to listen to ourselves and follow our true path.
Is a voice from your past making decisions for you? Does it belong to your dad, mom, spouse, boss or friend? The truth is that you can come out from under the influence of others and toss the old outdated scripts.
Choose in this moment who you will listen to. Trust yourself. If you never listen to your inner wisdom, how will you ever live your purpose, your passion?
Don’t whine, “But what if mom was right?” or “How dare I disobey my father?” Throw guilt out the window along with your boss or whoever else thinks they know what is best for you. Too dramatic? Try ulcers, high blood pressure and depression for high drama.
Honor your true self. To be who you are and express it in the world is the most courageous and kindest act you can do for yourself and others. Don’t be afraid that the real you is too strange, non-conventional or unique for the planet. Free yourself. I once asked my 92-year-old mom if I’d ever fit in. She replied, “Are you supposed to?”
Have a safe and Happy Fourth of July. I hope you will be celebrating your newfound personal freedom.
— Susan Ann Darley is a creativity coach and business writer. Click here for more information, or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 805.845.3036. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.