Just Be You

October 12, 2009

I had a conversation with a dear friend of mine recently that had a profound impact on me. She had just come home from a two week trip to Israel, where she stayed on the same kibbutz she’d visited many times throughout her life. When I asked her how her trip was, she said, “Mike, it’s a magical place where I truly feel like I can be myself.”

“Why is that?” I asked. She said, “The people there don’t care what I do, about the big clients I work with, or so many of the other things we care so much about here. My only currency when I’m there is who I am.”

As she and I talked further and then got off the phone, it really hit me how much of my time and energy I spend and waste trying to accumulate “currency” in the form of money, accomplishments, appearances, status, connections, and other external things – all in an attempt to have people like and respect me, gain access to the things I think are important, and to somehow erroneously think that by doing all of this, someday I’ll “make it,” (whatever the heck that means anyway). Can you relate?

What if we lived more of our lives focused on who we are, and not so much on what we do, what we’ve accomplished, what we look like, who we know, what we’re striving for, and more? What if, as my friend realized in Israel, the most important thing in life is actually who we are?

Who would we be without our accomplishments (or failures), our degrees (or lack thereof), our bank accounts, our experiences, our titles, our homes, our statuses, and more? As simple of a concept as this is for us to think about and discuss, at least on the surface, it’s actually quite difficult for most of us, myself included, to genuinely separate who we are from what we do (or have done or not done) on a regular basis in our lives.

The deeper question for us to ponder here is really one of the big philosophical questions of life, “What makes me a valuable person?” While this is something we have all thought about to some degree, most of us don’t really engage in this question in an authentic way or on a regular basis. And, when we do, we often think that if we just got more done, lost some weight, made more money, took a vacation, accomplished a goal, had more meaningful work, made it to retirement, or whatever, then we’d be “happier” or feel more “valuable.” Sadly, as we’ve all experienced, this is not usually the case.

What if we could expand our capacity for appreciating ourselves in a genuine way, and have it have nothing to do with anything external? What if just being ourselves, the way we are right now was good enough? Think of the freedom and peace we could experience in our lives (and have at times) by just being who we are – not trying to be what we think we’re supposed to be, in order to get the things we think we’re supposed to want.

Being ourselves fully, takes courage, commitment, and faith. It’s a process of letting go of many false beliefs we’ve been taught and trained to reinforce (that we have to look good, be smart, know the right people, say the right things, have the proper experience, etc. in order to be happy and successful in life). Being ourselves can be scary and counter intuitive, difficult and even off putting, and, at times, lonely.

However, being our authentic self is liberating, exciting, and fulfilling. When we have the courage just being who we are, without apology or pretence, so much of our suffering, stress, and worry in life simply goes away.

Here are a few things to consider and practice as you deepen your awareness of and capacity for being who you truly are:

– Tell the truth to yourself. Think about and own how much of your self-worth is based on what you do, how you look, who you know, what you’ve accomplished, etc. (i.e. the external stuff)? The more we let go of being defined by the external, the more freedom, peace, and power we can experience.

– Appreciate who you are. What do you appreciate about yourself that has nothing to do with anything external? In other words, what personal qualities (of being, not doing) do you value about yourself? The more we’re able to tap into what we appreciate about who we are (not what we do), the more capacity we have for real confidence, peace, and self love.

– Practice just being you. As silly as it may sound, we all need to “practice” being ourselves. We have a great deal of experience being phony or being how we think we’re supposed to be, it actually takes conscious practice for us to be able to just show up and be who we are. We can practice alone, with people we know, and with total strangers. This is all about awareness – paying attention to how we feel, what we’re thinking, what we say, and how we show up. It’s not about getting it right or doing anything specific, it’s about letting go of our erroneous notions of how we think we’re supposed to be, and just allowing ourselves to be who and how we are in the moment.

Have fun with this, talk to others about it, and have a lot of compassion with yourself as you practice – this is big stuff for most of us. And, when we remember that it truly is who we are, not what we do, that gives us real value in life – we are liberated and empowered to be ourselves, which is what we all want anyway.

Where in your life can you (or do you) practice just being who you are?  Share your thoughts and ideas below.

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  1. Dear Mike,
    I really loved this newsletter post and also listening to you speak for the first time in Mountain View last week; it was a wonderful, inspiring experience for me; what you say resonates deeply with me, especially after 35 years in academia, much of it focusing on trying to “be successful” (as seen by my imaginary “other” in my head)–an unconscious effort to make my mother (now deceased) happy, for she was preoccuppied with her kids becoming successful (defined in materialistic terms).

    In any case, I think your beloved father Eddie must be looking down with a big smile on his face–a bigger smile than he might have had when you struct out the side pitching for Stanford. I know he wanted nothing more than for you to be happy, and to live your life doing what you believe in and what makes you passionate is one of the sources of happiness, along with loving relationships, and as you suggest here, a deeply grounded sense of one’s self worth that does not come from external things but from something deeply internal. That something internal is my own sense of being connected to a spiritual source and being connected to everyone else in the same deeply spiritual way.

    Here are a couple of my favorite lines:

    1) From Jack Kornfield and A Path with Heart: Beware of climbing the ladder; it might be against the wrong wall.”

    2) From Indar to Salim (two characters in V.S. Naipaul’s A BEND IN THE RIVER–wonderful book about east Africa): “We create ourselves according to the ideas we have of our possibilities.”

    I believe we are placed here on this planet for two reasons: a) to serve others and to grow (in creativity, wisdom, compassion, etc.); you are helping people fulfull these purposes and in the process achieve what Aristotle viewed as our essential end in life–“happiness” –defined not as pleasure or going for the gusto, but as a deep sense of well being.

    Onwards with your work. And my personal best to your family with special “hellos” to your mom Lois, and your sister Lori.

    Wishing you the best,

    Michael Katz (now joyfully retired)

  2. I’m able to practice just being as I am when I spend time alone with myself, In that time I am able to self reflect, realize my likes and dislikes, the things or people that I’m comfortable with and why? One thing that I see about myself is that i’ts wasted energy putting on a facade to please others all the time and in the end your energy is depleated and you’re upset with yourself for not just being true to yourself. I think when we behave in this manner we not only hurt ourselve’s but block blessings that would otherwise come to you or come through you to others and vise versa, so in the mean time I’m choosing to practice being myself reguardless of whether I’m received well.

  3. Dear Mike,

    I just read your wonderful essay on Oprah’s website. My wife Marcia, to whom I have been happily married for 40 years, watches Oprah’s show religiously, taping it every day and sometimes making me watch it when she thinks I will profit from it. To be asked to be on Oprah’s website is a “feather in your cap.”

    But as you point out, life’s true riches are not about accumulating feathers but finding one’s spiritual center and being able to share the love one has for oneself with others, and as you do–inspire them to be themselves, authentically and courageously. As one whose career was “teaching teachers” (primarily secondary teachers), I often told my prospective teachers something they probably knew intuitively–namely, that no matter what subject they taught, they always taught who they were. Kids see through phoniness in special ways; that’s why Holden Caulfield has a special place in our literary imagination and Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger continues to sell millions of copies. When I reread this book two years ago for a talk I was giving, I noticed something more clearly than I had noticed before–something that Holden’s beloved sister Phoebe points out to him after he has flunked out of his fourth prep school and is on the verge of a nervous breakdown—that Holden likes virtually nothing but especially does not like himself. Unfortunately Holden cannot really face that painful truth–the truth shared by a vast majority of people in our society (my view). Your work–perhaps your life’s purpose–is to restore people’s faith in who they are–deep down–where it really matters. It is important work and I am confident you are doing it with the genuine passion that comes through in your articles and talks.

    With every good wish.

    Michael Katz 🙂

  4. Dear Mike – after first hearing you on Its All About You and reading your blog, the words “Be Yourself, Everyone Else is Taken” are sinking deeply into my soul and today it translated into action. I write a lot about God – my poetry mentions God in just about every poem; my blog talks about my relationship with God – you get the idea. Well, I wrote for my trainer’s newsletter. She is a dear friend and helped me to attain my goal of running the 2009 Boston Marathon. She asked me to clarify what I meant by God in one of the articles I wrote for her newsletter because she was concerned her clients would be put off because I used the word God. So I dug deep and ‘clarified’ for the readers my experience of God. Today I received an email from someone asking if I would contribute a poem for a project he was working on. I sent him one of my poems and he asked me if I had a poem that did not mention God because while he understood what I ‘meant’, the people he was writing for might not. He then asked if instead of a poem I would write about my story. I declined saying that I cannot edit God out of my story or my poetry and wished him well on the project. In the past, as I did with my trainer, rather than being true to who I am and saying, if you would prefer to not share this with your readers because you are concerned about their reaction, then it is fine with me but this is who I am and what I am about, I in a sense apologized and put in an almost disclaimer about my relationship with God. Today I had an epiphany – this is who I am – no more disclaimers or explanations or feeling a need to defend my beliefs – as the song in La Cage Aux Folles says, “I am who I am” and I am a child of God. As the Rabbi Hillel once said If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?
    Thank you Mike!

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