Express Yourself

May 12, 2009

How honest are you?  While most of us aren’t bald-faced liars who go around deceiving people consciously, if we’re honest with ourselves about it, we often don’t fully speak our truth or express all of our emotions.  We’ve been trained and have in turn trained ourselves to be “appropriate” and to say and do the “right” thing so we can get what we want and look as good as possible in most situations.

For me, being a “nice guy,” a “people pleaser,” and wanting others to be impressed with me often poses a challenge when what I want to say or express doesn’t seem to fit into the “likeable” category.  Most of the people I know and work with have some “story” about themselves they want others to believe and therefore only feel comfortable sharing thoughts, ideas, and feelings that match up with this story or the public “identity” that they put forth.

However, what if, even with whatever fear or resistance we each have – we were able to fully, passionately, and honestly express ourselves?

One way we can do this, which I talk about in Chapter Five of Be Yourself, Everyone Else is Already Taken (Principle 3 – Express Yourself), is to lower our “waterline.”  This idea is based on the metaphor of an iceberg, with just the tip of it popping up above the surface, and the rest of the iceberg (who we really are) down below the waterline.

The exercise that I share in the book and often do in my workshops, which I originally learned from my friends and mentors Rich and Yvonne Dutra-St. John, is called “if you really knew me.”  Each person in the group has a minute or two to complete the phrase, “if you really knew me, you’d know…” and then share some things about themselves in an honest, transparent, and vulnerable way.  It takes courage, safety, and trust to do this.  As I’ve seen time and time again, this exercise can have a profound impact on everyone involved.

Even though I’m feeling nervous as I write this and I worry that this is overly personal or possibly inappropriate for me to write in an “advice article” like this, I will share with you some things you’d know about me if we were sitting in a circle, doing this powerful exercise together.

If you really knew me, you’d know that I spend a lot of time and energy worrying about my physical appearance – obsessing about certain aspects of how I look (my hair, my skin, my eyes, my teeth, my weight, and more) and worrying that I don’t look good enough, that people can see me aging, losing my hair, and not taking care of myself – and that they’ll judge me or won’t like me because of it.

If you really, really knew me you’d know that I can’t seem to figure out how to stay on top of my life, my work, my finances, and all of my many personal and professional responsibilities in a way that feels balanced, workable, or peaceful.  Much of the time I feel like I am drowning, messing things up, and simply “pretending” to be happy and grateful.

If you really, really, really knew me you’d know that I believe my work, my message, and the gifts that I have are incredibly powerful, important, and meaningful.  I’m sometimes blown away by the impact I have on others.  I want to have an even deeper and bigger impact on people and the world, but my ego seems to think that I’m not doing enough, not being appreciated in the way I deserve, or that I better hurry up and “make it” before people really find out how full of it I am.

Wow…I can’t really believe I just shared all of that.  And, it feels both scary and liberating to have done so.  When we’re willing to own and express our truth, we can free ourselves from needless worry, hiding, and denial.  This allows us to be ourselves, live our lives with passion, and go for what we truly want in life.

Real authenticity is not some set of rules or a self-righteous definition about how people “should” be in life…it is the willingness and courage to be real, true, transparent, and vulnerable in the moment-by-moment, day-by-day experience of being in relationship with others and living this magical, mysterious, wonderful, crazy, exciting thing we call life.

Authenticity Challenge: What You Can Do

Think about some important things you have not been willing to say or some intense feelings you have not been willing to express recently.  Make a commitment to yourself, even if you’re feeling scared or uncomfortable about it, to express yourself honestly about these important things.  Write them down, call a friend of family member, or talk to someone you fully trust.  What would they know about you if they really knew how you were feeling right now?  Reach out in a bold, vulnerable, and honest way and see what happens when you express yourself like this.  It can be magical and one of the most liberating experiences in life!  Have fun…

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  1. I want to thank you, Mike, for your ezine. I saw you at a conference in Portland, OR about a year ago and have been reading your articles since then. It was refreshing to have such an inspiring person standing in front of us, sharing appreciation and how we can all get better at this skill in life.
    I am very thankful that you put yourself out there in this latest article and can relate to all your “knew me” paragraphs, but the last one about having gifts that inspire others and how powerful it really is. I am working on my own message and gifts in life and have those feelings overwhelm me, having an impact on people, healing others who might not realize they have it in themselves and just needs someone to acknowledge it in order to jump start their success.
    Thanks for being a catalyst in opening my eyes to all the things I appreciate in my life! Hope to see you back in Portland soon!

  2. Hi Mike,

    I just wanted to say that it was amazing the way you shared in this article. I know that took a lot of courage and I think you should know how much I think it helped people (including me). I know I often get in this mindset that a lot of people I know are perfect, or have it all together. I feel like I am the one that is a mess. If people really knew me, they would know that I am extremely insecure about a lot of things (appearance, intelligence, personality). It was so nice to hear the way you think about things and it really gave me some perspective. Again, thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  3. Mike,

    Thank you for sharing such personal information in the “knew me” section of your last ezine. It is nice to know we all struggle with the same issues when it comes to being authentic. I am really enjoying the book. Thank you for all that you do, the world needs more people like you!

  4. Although I am intelligent and curious, I am also very insecure at times, and can’t meet guys. I have had many chances but have been divorced for 10 years with no success. I find that my insecurities overwhelm me, but also find that people are not really that interested, so I generally behave as though they are not there. I am 58 years old and lose sleep over the long-term prospects.

  5. Hi Mike,
    I know you sent the ezine with this post about 3 months ago, but I just read it now. I love your ezine’s 🙂 I even take notes into the notebook I carry around with me, so I could go through some of the tips and ideas you have written 🙂
    About your honesty and self exposure – I’d like to say that in me it brought up compassion. I think, if I wouldn’t know about your worries, then perhaps well… I suppose that if you meet someone, and are worried about your appearance and what other people think etc, then maybe by being so worried you will cause others to judge you by your appearance (you just attract it). But now that you have said that you are worried about your appearance etc., I feel like “oh, poor you, don’t worry, looks don’t matter so much…”
    I think that being honest can make people feel for you and be compassionate instead of being judgmental. We tend to think that everybody expect perfection from us, and we probably expect the same from us, but I think that if we wouldn’t build a brick wall around us, to show out that we are something that we are not, then people would have a chance to start understanding us.
    I think that if one plays a tough guy and is actually totally scared inside, then one takes by himself away the chance for others understanding and compassion.
    We tend to think that we have to make a lot by ourselves in our lives, but during last months I’ve seen again and again how important it is to communicate, to just talk about our needs and wishes and desires. Because often someone in the room just knows the very good (or even best) answer to someone’s question or desire – if one didn’t ask, the other wouldn’t know to give the answer.

    So I am really grateful for having brought up the subject of honesty and authenticity, and for being a part of my life through this e-zine, and with that bringing up this subject in my life 🙂

    Thank you!

    I’m right now in my life at the place where I’m working somewhat on trying to find myself again and also my purpose, and I think authenticity and honesty (especially towards myself) are very good viewpoints for looking into myself 🙂

  6. I just felt like – oh that became a long post. And then I scrolled up and read the title of your article: “Express yourself”. And felt like – oh, that’s ok then, a long expression should fit here 🙂

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