Being real means being who you are rather than trying to be who you are not for the sake of pleasing someone else. It is being comfortable enough in your own skin that you don’t have to play games, pretend, manage an image, etc. You can be you, warts and all.One aspect of reality is that “I am who I am.” (I think Popeye the Sailor Man first coined a similar phrase.) I’m 5’9, weigh 155 lbs and am going bald. I would have loved to be 6’5, weighed 210 and played quarterback in the NFL. That’s not me. I honor myself when I allow me to be who I am.
Ditto for other realities that define who you are. How often have you compared yourself against someone else, someone who you (or your social group) defined as popular, cool or successful in some way? Maybe you compete by trying to be better or as good as them. On the other hand, maybe you give up and feel inferior. (Teenagers are very susceptible to this dynamic. It can be a very competitive, even harsh and judgmental world they live in, working so hard to measure up, so many so often feeling they fall short. They do all kinds of crazy things to fit in or feel acceptable to some reference group, if not healthy then unhealthy.)
Using others as positive role models can be helpful. However, continually measuring yourself against others doesn’t work. You’ll always find people better than you on any given dimension, so it is hard to ever feel good enough. And if you don’t feel good enough, it is easy to put on an act or façade. You pretend to be more than you are, thinking that if you get people to buy the image you’ll feel okay.
It is much healthier is to accept that it is okay to be who you are, to give up pretense. Being real is choosing to be comfortable enough with yourself that you happily let others see you blossom and flower without trying to change the color of the petals. This statement is not, by the way, an excuse for mediocre living. It is, rather, an acknowledgment of a truth about happiness and personal effectiveness.
Consider for a moment the natural state of being by thinking about characteristics of little children. They are real, honest, spontaneous, curious, energetic and forgiving. They live from who they are rather than who they’re supposed to be (until we finish socializing them). A child doesn’t ask, “How shall I be when I get out on the playground?” He/she just goes out and does what comes naturally.
As an adult, on the other hand, you are much more likely to be self-conscious about how well you are doing. You have experienced being criticized, compared with others, and so learn to stifle your natural self and, instead, put on an image, wear masks or play games, fearing you’ll be found wanting. By maintaining images, you keep up the self-delusion that you can control the degree of acceptance and approval you experience from others. But pleasing and pretending are actually hard work.
Pretending is not only hard work, it is self-defeating. Ironically, you experience the very rejection that you are trying so hard to avoid. You are, in effect, rejecting yourself (ultimately the only rejection that matters) and living in constant fear of being found out, rejected by others. You feel like an imposter and must continually be on guard.
Being real is seeing your image for what it is – protection. It is a relief to be real, to realize you can end a lot of conflict and stress in your life by trading your desire to look good for the much better choice to feel good, to be who you are, to be authentic.
Although a relief, there is also a price tag that comes from being real. It requires that you face your fear of rejection. It takes self-knowledge and a willingness to be responsible for yourself, emotionally. In some cases, living this way takes great integrity and courage. And yet as you do so, you also grow immensely in self-respect and peace of mind.
So think about the following questions:
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