It takes courage to grow up and turn out to be who you really are. – E. E. Cummings
One of the ways we can exercise our independence is by being true to ourselves. In a world where we are constantly bombarded by what we ‘should’ be, being truly authentic can feel like swimming upstream. It’s so much easier to just relax and let the current direct your path through life.
So how can you know if you are being true to yourself?
1- You know who you are
This one sounds easy, but how many of us go with the flow to avoid conflict? Maybe it’s small things like where to eat out, what radio station to listen to in the car, or what movie to see. Or maybe it’s larger things like how to spend our weekends, what neighborhood or state to live in, or what career to choose.
It’s really easy to get lost in the busyness of life, and forget to take time to check in with ourselves. Make time with yourself a priority- even if it’s just a few minutes a day. Taking a walk in nature, spending a few minutes meditating or journaling, relaxing with a cup of tea or a glass of wine. Reconnect with yourself and pay attention to how you’re feeling.
I have young kids, so despite my best intentions, some days all I can squeeze in is the time I have alone in the car after I drop them off somewhere. So I’ll turn off the radio, take a few moments to express gratitude, and then really just pay attention to how I’m feeling. Once I started doing this regularly, it was amazing to me how often a feeling stressed is my baseline. That signals to me that I need to slow down a bit, and take a few things off of our schedule. Which leads to the next point…
2- You know how -and when- to say no
By knowing who you are, you are more easily able to identify and recognize your needs. What restores you? What depletes you? What energizes you? When you know what your needs are, you are better able to honor them and say no to things that conflict with them. Having the self awareness to know what you need to feel healthy and balanced, helps you prioritize those things, even if this means saying no to other people and commitments.
You also know it’s ok if your needs don’t look like anyone else’s. You don’t compare yourself to your friend or family member that can skip meals, work late and get up early, or cram their schedule with social engagements. You do what’s right for you and take good care of yourself- because you recognize you’re the only one who can.
Obviously there will be times where you need to make sacrifices, but you understand it’s not selfish to honor your needs and make them a priority. Just like how on an airplane they tell you to put your oxygen mask on first before helping other people, you know that you’re in a better place to help meet other people’s needs when your own needs are met first.
Learning how to say a respectful no in the kindest way possible is one of the most empowering choices we can make for ourselves.
3- You don’t base your self worth on how others perceive you
It feels good to be liked. Let’s be honest, validation feels much better than disapproval. But, is it better to be disliked for being your genuine self, or liked for who you are not? It’s healthier to get to the point where you’re okay with knowing that some people will like you, and some people won’t.
Being different is a gift! We each have unique abilities and talents, and when we are fully expressing and operating in what our individual strengths are, we are enriching the world in ways that only we can.
When our self-worth is based on the opinions of other people, fear of rejection can lead us to say yes to people and commitments that we want to say no to. But in the end, the longest relationship you will have in life is with yourself. Are you putting the same amount of time and effort into making sure that relationship is healthy as you do with your other relationships? By surrounding yourself with people that appreciate and celebrate you for who you truly are, it’s easier to not sweat the rest.
4- You know it’s ok to change your mind, and make mistakes
You recognize that no one is perfect, we are all human, and we all make mistakes. More than that, you welcome mistakes as opportunities for growth. Edison went through over 6,000 materials (including various types of metals and beard hair) for filaments before he found the one that made the light bulb work. Scientists and inventors know that every ‘failure’ eliminates a hypothesis and brings them one step closer to proving their theory or designing their working prototype.
We’ve all made choices that we later realize weren’t right for us. A college major, a relationship, a job choice, heck, even that item in your closet that you bought because it was a great deal on clearance, but you’ve never actually worn. Let it go! Allowing yourself to change your mind without embarrassment, criticism, or fear of judgement will let you make course corrections more quickly and easily when the need arises.
It’s better to admit the mistake, learn from it, grow from it, and move on, than to continue on a path that isn’t right for you.