Being yourself and doing what you love, or rather doing what you are is one of the central ideas of My Zen Path and I have written quite a few articles around this idea. Yet, I think it is often misinterpreted. When I came across this term Interiority Complex (Yes, it’s a ‘t’ and not an ‘f’) by Caroline McHugh, I was quite intrigued by her talk and I couldn’t agree more about how liberating it is to be yourself as she puts it here –
When you figure out how to be yourself it’s an incredibly liberating, untragic way to go through life. You don’t develop an identity that’s predicated on being a patchwork personality. You’re not a composite, an amalgam, of all your experiences and influences. You’re not just somebody’s boss, or somebody’s mom, or anybody’s anything. You’re yourself.
~ Caroline McHugh
Caroline McHugh is founder and CEO of IDOLOGY, a movement dedicated to helping individuals and organizations be fully deployed, original versions of themselves; not pale imitations of each other. IDOLOGY is a term coined by her for putting your self to work. Keynote speaker, teacher, coach and author of Never Not a Lovely Moon, McHugh delivers keynotes and masterclasses at dozens of Fortune 500 companies, on the ‘art of being yourself’. In this TEDx talk, she blends her insights with sharp questions and building her philosophy quite well.
On being yourself, she asks an important question –
If you could be the woman (person) of your dreams, who would you be?
And that’s quite an important question to ask yourself. McHugh proposes a model that I have depicted in the image below. It consists of three concentric circles, and the middle one is where you work on yourself – being a better version of yourself, and how that affects the outermost circle – What others think about you.
McHugh explains perceptions as well as transformations through these circles quite well in her talk, she especially how ‘what you’d like others to think about you’ is not about manipulation, but it is about becoming more authentic self and expressing it more clearly. It’s worth listening in her own words.
Her talk about ego as an equilibrium between self-congratulation and self-castigation is quite profound. It is spiritual, philosophical as well as practical – not easy being or staying there as such, but it is sort of an asymptote between the two extremes: self-admiration and self-deprecation. This is how she elaborates this with the sky analogy.
(Talking about ego as an equilibrium between two extremes: self-congratulation and self-castigation) That’s what I would call equanimity, or equilibrium, and it’s the kind of state of mind that cannot be perfumed in any way by anything that happens outside you. This kind of confidence that comes from there is like the confidence of the sky. Right now it’s dark outside, but you know if you went up in a plane, even in the stormiest of days, the sky’s brilliant blue underneath. When you look at the sky, and it’s made a rainbow, and it’s absolutely gorgeous, there’s no question that the sky’s up there going, –
“Ha, did you see my rainbow?”
Or when it’s a terrible, bleak, you know, gray, gloomy day, that the sky’s going to apologize. No, the sky just is, because the sky sees the impermanence of the clouds, and the impermanence of the rainbows, and you have to develop an inner state of mind that’s as impervious to all the good shit and bad shit that happens to you as the sky is to the weather.
~ Caroline McHugh
This is like knowing fully well what is the essence of self – reaching that stage when outside perceptions don’t matter much, you know yourself too well to get affected by them. This reminds me of similar lines from 17th century Marathi poet-saint Tukaram –
सत्य असत्याशी मन केले ग्वाही, मानियेले नाही बहुमता|
Roughly translated, it means – My mind is witness to the truth that I see, and it doesn’t care about the opinion of the majority.
Do watch this gifted lady’s TEDx talk –
Being yourself in the real world
The most crucial question that most of us struggle with is – how to do this in the real world, in our day-to-day life? There is no secret formula for this – being authentic self is the shortest possible answer. There are numerous articles about being authentic – this simple psychological approach is one that I find useful. However, what I really recommend is this wonderful illustrative article – How to be yourself from WikiHow. This article is a bit longish, but it is definitely worth going through.
The most primary and critical step in being yourself is knowing yourself – this can never be overrated. It requires significant time to explore and reflect through your own behaviour, inputs from your near & dear ones and what brings you alive, and it is also an iterative process as we peel layers of perceptions, misinterpretations to go to the core of our selves – the essence of self. It is also an excruciating process that needs some patience and commitment to the process – I’d also highly recommend that you discuss your process and your findings with a mentor or coach. That is immensely powerful – you’d remember some of those deep conversations for the rest of your life.
The article How to be yourself that I have linked from WikiHow describes following steps –
- Discovering yourself – This includes knowing & defining yourself, resolving conflicting values, not dwelling on the past and focusing on your strengths.
- Dealing with others – This includes being open & honest, avoiding comparison, not worrying about people’s perceptions, not being a people-pleaser and surrounding with people who give you positive vibes. One important aspect of dealing with others is learning how to differentiate between intimidating, sarcastic, or conniving comments and well-intended constructive criticism.
- Developing your true self – It involves treating yourself as your best friend, developing and expressing your individuality, not being unfair to yourself, following your own style and accepting that sometimes you might still be misunderstood.
- Standing Tall, being who you are – This involves standing up for yourself and standing up for others, including those who you stood up to
I’d highly recommend that you read the original WikiHow article – How to be yourself , it is worth trying some those suggestions in real life.