“Finding yourself is not really how it works. You aren’t a ten-dollar bill in last winter’s coat pocket. You are also not lost. Your true self is right there, buried under cultural conditioning, other people’s opinions, and inaccurate conclusions you drew as a kid that became your beliefs about who you are. Finding yourself is actually returning to yourself. An unlearning, an excavation, a remembering who you were before the world got its hands on you.” ~Anonymous
I love this quote. It succinctly captures the problem with being human. We start out as infants, individuals (although we don’t know it yet) with likes, needs, and wants. We aren’t blank slates because we are unique and full of our own potential. As we grow, however, the second sentence above takes over our lives. We learn, through society, our parents, and others with whom we come into contact, to contort ourselves to fit in, please, and survive. With each subsequent outside belief we adopt and internalize as part of our reality, a piece of our individuality shrinks and folds further back inside our deepest depths. If we’re lucky we’re able, through the nurturing attention and love of important people, to remain somewhat true to who we are. If we’re told, however, that we are wrong or unworthy, those pieces we hid deep inside ourselves as a means of surviving stay hidden for a long time. Perhaps our entire lives. That is the real shame. Think of all the human potential that is tucked into our deepest recesses because we fear it is odd, off-putting, or unacceptable.
Reflect for a moment on the people you know. How many of them do you feel are living their unbridled individuality without hesitation or restraint? Certainly, some of us are doing a better job of it than others. I know several people who are 100% disconnected from who they are. They’ve robed themselves in the defenses of their politics, religion, biases, assumptions, and fears. I lived this way for a long time too. I had no choice. I was so influenced by the narratives I was sold. And, honestly, when you are bullied as a child to believe you are only worthy of love and attention if you behave a specific way and color within the lines, that becomes your standard method of operation. Stay within the prescribed track if you want to be acceptable.
So then, the trick to living an authentic life is found in the last sentence of the quote above. We have to stop long enough to question our beliefs. We have to sift through the stories, look at them objectively, and determine how they became ours. Was it part of our original makeup or was it something we put on because someone told us to? I have been doing some of these investigations in my own life, making lists of beliefs I hold about myself and dissecting them to find their origin. Once I can trace them back to someone (or something) else, I can then ask if that belief is serving me or if it is restraining me. This is the deconstruction before the reconstruction.
I spent most of my life working to be smaller than I am, to fit into the too-tight molds others constructed for me. Lately, though, I’ve been feeling rather cramped. My inner potential, the person I was before the world got its hands on me and dimmed my shine, is begging to stretch.
I have taken to thinking of my current situation as a bit of a genie-in-a-lamp narrative. There is something inside the lamp. I know it, although I haven’t seen the totality of its contents. I am using a soft polishing cloth to return the lamp to its former shine. The more I rub the surface, the more I realize how brilliant what lies beneath must be. Eventually, with my repeated effort, I will unleash the contents obscured within. Then and only then can I be my true self…at least most of the time.