I would only roll my eyes when someone told me “Be Yourself.” What did that mean? How could I be myself when I didn’t know who I was? How could I be myself when I didn’t even like me? As a preteen, I resented everyone who spouted that line at me. Being myself was painful. Mom and dad were splitting up. I wasn’t kind to my little sister and I didn’t know why. I wasn’t getting good grades. I wasn’t popular. My teeth were growing faster than the rest of me. I couldn’t keep my long hair clean enough not to look greasy. I was lonely. I was needy. I was not much fun to be around. In short, being myself was no picnic! In fact I’d rather be anyone else but me! It wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I learned that “Who I am” is a choice every minute of every day!
Trying on characteristic attributes, smiling more often, being helpful, listening harder, paying attention or staying angry, being judgmental and critical, oversleeping and being lazy were like trying on pieces of clothing. I was comfortable in beat up jeans and ratty old t shirts because dressing down was my norm. Wearing my wounds on my sleeve, so to speak, was also my norm. Dressing up and looking nice on the other hand was so foreign to me that at special events that required better, cleaner clothing I was uncomfortable. Nothing seemed to fit me right and I certainly didn’t “fit” in! But everything I was used to wearing, from my grungies to my distain were only habits borne out of choice! I chose to look like a rag-a-muffin. I chose to be unhappy. Those choices were not always on a conscious level obviously, but they were choices nonetheless. I had had lots of practice!
Practice makes prefect! When I learned that I had been choosing my way of life all my life I was shocked, bewildered and pissed off! I was who I was and how I was because of the divorce, society, TV, school, friends, boyfriends…I had a litany of people and events to blame it on. As I practiced, however, doing it differently, new habits formed. As I observed how kindness begot kindness and how anger begot anger I began to make different choices. As I chose to be a better person, a better person I became! I learned that anger is a valuable emotion that I can express by singing loudly or journaling or moving my body in any physical activity. There are many ways in which to “let it out” without hurting anyone, including me. It just takes a little practice cultivating new habits!
So the next time you hear someone say “Just be yourself,” smile, take a breath and remember that “who you are” is always a choice. It’s always your choice and you can always make another choice!