The photograph is an old one. It shows a woman in her 20’s, excited, laughing, eager. Looking at it today, I do not focus on the fact that my face was thinner or my hair less gray. I look at this photographic representation of myself and I realize that “to thine own self be true” is a statement in my rearview mirror, a statement that I have chosen to leave by the wayside.
It is the sensation, the energy of the photo that holds me. The frightening thing is that I feel as if I am looking at a photo on a “Lost” poster: the woman in that photo has been lost – by ME!
Have you been there?
The dreaded “I was…”
I look at that photo and I harshly ask myself: when is the last time that I laughed with such abandon? In the photo, I was laughing because I was making a complete fool of myself – attempting to play Frisbee in my wedding dress and high heels. It was hilariously illogical and I was having a blast!
There it is. That past tense. I was excited, engaged in my life (and if there is a picture of you, that could go on a “lost” flyer, fill in the blank for yourself).
How do we lose the best part of ourselves? Why do we allow the best part of us to be lost? And more importantly, how do we go about finding our true, content, self again?
How do we lose the best part of ourselves?
As much as society states that it values individuality, most societal norms expect conformity. Think of children who are allowed to be free so that they can learn and experience and yet at a certain age, they are educated more and more on how to fit in, melt into what is average and expected, and less and less on how to be their own unique selves.
How does society define success? Glamour, notoriety, wealth, having it all – and looking good while doing it. Meeting that expected output pushes individuals to focus on what they are doing (is it along the expected trajectory of their peers, their generation, their neighbors, their income level?). Meeting expectations also pushes the focus on how we are doing things: are we using the popular tools or fads of the moment?
Asking ourselves what to do and how to do it causes us to chip off little parts of ourselves here and there. Usually, those little chipped off parts are the part of you that stood up tall and asked “What in the world are you doing? You don’t even like ice cream?” (Sorry, I had to throw in some language from the “Joy Luck Club” movie.) The chipped off parts are moments when compromises where made, and in that moment loosing part of yourself didn’t seem like a bad idea. I mean, it was just a tiny little part of you – how much could it hurt?
In looking back at that photo of me laughing, I realize that it hurt – and cost – more than I realized. Hindsight is a wonderful thing: as I stand today, I can see the full, million-dollar value of what I willingly sold off for pennies.
Why do we allow the best part of us to be lost?
As I look at my really bad investment choice, and also really bad ROI, I ask myself one more question: Why did I allow this loss to happen?
1. I lost “to thine own self be true” because I didn’t ask why
I admit that very often I handed over the “keys,” the parts of myself that I really liked, without thinking about it twice. I enjoyed doing illogical things, letting myself make mistakes, wearing fun clothes that didn’t quite match the occasion. Heck, I enjoyed laughing out loud! And yet people kept shaking their heads when I did illogical things, because they didn’t get it, it didn’t fit their pattern or expectation. I kept hearing people say to me “You’re wearing THAT?” and hearing the confusion and judgement in their voices. I would laugh out loud and people would look at me funny.
So I started losing those elements of myself, not because I wasn’t happy with them, but because others weren’t. And I never bothered to ask why their approval was more important, and more valuable, than my individuality.
Little kids have no trouble asking why. I truly believe it is not meant to annoy, but rather to garner the value, the true essential reason or meaning for something.
Kid: “Daddy, why do you kiss mommy?”
Dad: “Cause I love her.”
Kid: “Why do you love her?”
Kid: “Because why?”
Dad: “I just do”
Kid: “Yes, daddy, but why do you love mommy?”
Daddy: “I love mommy because she’s smart, beautiful, an adventurous camper, an erratic driver (fill in the blank)”
Kid: “Daddy, why do you love that mommy is smart, an erratic driver (fill in the blank)?”
(You can see where this is going, right?)
The takeaway is that like little kids, not only should we never lose our curiosity, but crucially we should NEVER, EVER, hand anything over before asking why. A simple example would be a sales clerk that you’ve never met before asking for your phone number before the sale transaction even begins. Shouldn’t you ask why they need it so that you can purchase that Kloondike bar you’ve been craving all day?
Answer this: would you be okay with handing over your dignity, your self-esteem, your passion, whatever makes you you, just because you didn’t want to look silly by asking a simple 3-letter word? What I have found is that as soon as I ask “Why?,” people usually can’t answer me, or if they can, their answer sucks, because they sometimes don’t even know why they are asking you to resign yourself to mediocrity. Step up and realize the true (million, billion, trillion dollar) value of YOU – don’t let asking W-H-Y stop you from protecting your most valuable asset.
2. I lost “to thine own self be true” because I allowed others to define my why.
We each have our group that we allow to conform us: family, peers, society, world, you name it. And sometimes the reasons “they” define why some part of our true selves need to be parted with make a lot of sense. TO THEM!
(Aside comment: “They” tells us to eat 3 eggs, no 1, no 6, per day. “They” tells us that sun is not good for us, etc., etc. Have you ever wondered who “they” are? If we can’t even put a face to them, how come we are so willing to let them rule our lives?”)
Individual you: “Why do I have to have long hair?”
Conforming group: “Because women should have long hair.”
Individual you: “But I like my short hair”
Conforming group: “Men don’t like women with short hair. Don’t you want men to like you – that’s why you should have long hair.”
Now, the above example is a bit trivial, but you get the gist. (I actually had a male friend tell me that he thought there should be a law preventing women from having short hair. Thankfully, my father loved me in short hair – because he wanted to see my face – so I could stand strong against that reason. However, I do want men to like me….so there are times where I waiver and I don’t truly ask “why would I want a man who wants long hair on women to like me?”)
I own up to the fact that I allow peer pressure to get me to do things more often than my standing firm in my convictions. I can insert whatever excuse you want here: it takes too much effort, it’s only a little thing, no one will notice, can’t hurt much, I wanna be liked & I don’t want people to think I’m weird. But I’m also at a place in my life where enough is enough. I’m taking accountability for my wavering, and I am apologizing, to myself, for giving up a lot of who I am. Recognizing that, I can stand tall and proud and ready to fight as I go into enemy territory to recoup those chipped off pieces, and take on the crafty task of gluing myself back together, perhaps in a different form and in different shape and in a different hue, but complete and whole and true.
“To thine own self be true” is under attack
Pressure is all around. I’m not denying falling trap to it or even in my weakest times putting the pressure on others. Being your true self is the easiest thing in the world. It’s simple and easy because that is who we are. We don’t have to go out and search for it. We are born with all of the right tools, skills, passions, intellect, body shape and style. Our own unique packaging is pretty wonderful and it’s all included in the deal from the moment we are born.
It’s the keeping up with “To thine own self be true” that gets trickier. Every day, consistently, our own true self is under attack. And while we have no power to stop the attacks (haters will continue being haters), you and I have the power and capability to stop undermining ourselves and giving up the essential, fun, quirky, sweet, compassionate, humorous, sarcastic, edgy parts of who we are.
The road back to “To thine own self be true”…
Looking at that old picture of me was embarrassing, profound, and humbling.
Embarrassing because there was no denying that there was a time in my life where I valued myself very little, where I was suckered into giving up my laughter for a seriousness that has taken a toll of my life (not to mention my face or hair!).
Profound because it reminded me of what was capable and it reaffirmed that I could laugh, that I wasn’t as stone hard as I thought, that I could easily find true joy in my experiences.
Humbling because I realize that it will take work to get that part of myself back. It isn’t my intent to go “backwards” to a better time – seasons and experiences in my life will shape my laughter in a new format now, a new tone and decibel level. What I will work towards is getting back a valuable asset: ME!
My hope, as you read this, is that you too identify the true value of your lost pieces and decide to grab back that joy, that personality trait, that quirk that makes you memorable, and place it front and center for the world to see. It’s gonna take some work, some effort (it took some work and effort to lose it, so it makes perfect sense that it would take some work and effort to get it back). However, I deeply hope that you will join me as we look through the “lost and found” box together.
Are you ready for the next steps?If the answer is yes and you are ready to put in some work and effort (don’t worry – this is “lite” physical work and “medium” mental work. You’ve got this!), check out these exercises to get you started.
Photo Source: https://stocksnap.io/
I love reflecting on purposeful, thought-provoking life experiences and turning them into life purposes. I am a writer dedicated to sharing life-lessons to empower women to attain their best life by turning experiences into passion-driven action.
When I'm not studying life, I'm intentionally living it. I enjoy art (admiring it and creating it), nature, and I'm a beginner sewer in the attempt to sew my own unique clothes.
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