If you had a heart-to-heart with me a few years ago and asked me how you should live your best life, I would tell you to create a shell of yourself and let no one in. Create a shell of who you are as a person – a facade – that remains consistent and unaffected by the fluctuations in your life. A shell that is polite and professional, a shell that can be a happy, beaming face, no matter how you were feeling.
I’d tell you to hide your emotions behind this shell; that if you felt like you were crumbling inside, that’s all good – just hide behind the shell and don’t let anyone see it. I’d convince you that this was the best way to create a professional career too – the best way to appeal to different types of people because your emotions wouldn’t be fluctuating or inconsistent and your professionalism could shine. People would only see what they needed to see; to know the version of you that you wanted them to know. I’d tell you that being your genuine self could be detrimental because you never know how people will react to you.
Younger me was wrong – so very, very wrong.
Above all else, creating a professional facade is inauthentic and can make you work in a way and talk in a way and behave in a way that is completely unnatural and foreign to you. This means that when you are successful, it’s a success that is created and driven by someone who isn’t quite you. To me, this is one of the greatest ways to undermine yourself and your own happiness. No one wants that.
As I’m sure you can tell from my posts, I am a strong-willed, determined, opinionated woman. I don’t think I’m rude, but I do stay true to my opinion and my word. I can be highly analytical and highly emotional, a combination that can be very persistent and – I am told – intimidating. I can also be very casual and relaxed in highly tense and professional scenarios. I can be quick to intervene when I sense or see an injustice and I will call out people’s bad behaviour.
I had been trained by people to mute all of these tendencies; or at least, to make them a little bit quieter so that I would have an “easier” personality to deal with. And for a while, I did.
I tried to make sure that the version of me that the world saw was mostly measured and mostly moderate in all ways – I wasn’t too loud or too opinionated or too funny or too quiet or too forward. I took the middle of the road. But it wasn’t sustainable. When I wasn’t think, I reverted to being me. Slipped up and made a joke when I ‘normally’ wouldn’t. I would find myself more likely to cry when I was annoyed or unhappy about something because I was bottling feelings and responses – so I was always far too close to the edge.
It meant that my responses to things – whether happy or not – were never truly genuine. I’ve learned that the person I am can’t be masked; that I don’t want that person to be hidden behind a facade.
In the last couple of years I’ve tried something new. I’ve tried to just be myself.
And it has been glorious. I haven’t tried to moderate myself. I’ve been surprised to discover that I’m a pretty sensible person most of the time. I don’t need to try and force being appropriate when the situation calls for it. However; I have also found that living in my genuine skin has been therapeutic beyond measure. It has allowed me to feel liberated and comfortable, to grow accustomed to myself and most importantly, to learn more about my strengths and weaknesses.
And sure; I don’t always get it right. In fact, sometimes I mess up majorly. But I mess up majorly. I get to learn from my mistakes and I get to grow into a better person.
I have found that in being myself, I am able to surround myself with people who genuinely appreciate me. It means I have worked in jobs where I can run projects the way I think they should be run and grow into more senior positions. I have friendships that are more meaningful where I am treated how I would like to be treated because people know what to expect.
I think we need to learn to figure out who we are as people and to learn to appreciate our differences. It’s important not only for ourselves, but for ensuring that we make the contributes to society that we can using our own unique strengths.
Try it sometime. It can be challenging to become reacquainted with who you are as a person, but you’ll ultimately revel in the freedom of taking off those layers and owning your authenticity.
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