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.