Have you ever heard the phrase “just be yourself?” I’m positive you have. If not said directly to you, then in a book or on TV, always given as advice on how to overcome shyness or anxiety. How to survive at a party or on a first date. How to make friends the first day of school. How to ace an interview.
But in this talk, Caroline McHugh points out that being yourself is hard work. And nobody is “just” anything. Just implies that it’s so easy, so little, so meager to be yourself, when really it’s the journey of a lifetime to even figure out what that is.
Yourself is hard work. Yourself free of others’ expectations of you, of your own expectations, of how you were raised and the people who surround you, is hard. We need to give a little more grace to the process and a little more honor. Being yourself is the goal in life, and if you can say that you are yourself unabashedly, that’s a cause for celebration.
McHugh also invites us to ask not what our life expectancy is but what do we expect of life. She points out that that is a much more interesting question and one that will help us uncover who we are.
Who we are, in being ourselves, is well represented by an hourglass. At the beginning and the end of our lives, we are the best at being ourselves. Kids run around and play and goof off with very little awareness of themselves or what people think, and we all know the stereotype of the elderly being crotchety and outspoken. What I love is that McHugh says that when you realize you have more summers behind you than in front of you, you become more honest because you just can’t be arsed to care about anybody else’s opinion.
The bit in the middle is more problematic, when we’re squeezed by society’s pressures and have to accommodate and adapt and live up to other people’s expectations.
In the middle of her talk, McHugh dives into her idea of an interiority complex, presented in contrast to the inferiority and superiority complexes. An interiority complex is entirely unrelative to others. It’s a vantage point and orientation where you have no competition. Contrast that with the idea of superior/inferior mindsets that depend on others to exist (superior – I am better than those around me, inferior – I am worse than those around me).
Remember what Jill Scott said about queendom (paraphrase): “Mine can never compare to hers and hers can never compare to mine. We all come with our own strengths.” This is such an important mindset to have, and one we try to teach ourselves and our students and our kids, but again and again we find it so difficult.
When you think about your identity, you’re not your thoughts, you’re not your feelings (because who’s feeling them), you’re not what you do, there’s something underneath it all that is the real you. Growing up, growing old, growing out; it’s all a way to figure out what that person deep inside is.
McHugh mentions the blue sky, which caught my attention because it’s such a prominent idea in my meditation practice. The sky doesn’t’ boast or complain about it’s weather, it knows the impermanence of the storms and the sunsets and the permanence of the blue sky.
I think the advice of this talk can best be summed up in these words; don’t live someone else’s opinion of you. Find it for yourself and be honest. Be you.