One of the most creative and adventurous journeys any of us can undertake, is to learn who we really are and live a life, which is true to our authentic self. I see this as a very high form of art: The art of being yourself.
The journey begins, when we embrace the mindset that says the need to conform is spurious and that it fails to serve us or even those around us. If this mindset sounds familiar, there’s a very good reason for the same. It is because you will have seen it mentioned time and again, whenever you have studied the life or work of any great artist, visionary or thought leader. The thing is some people are different while others just try to be that.
Truly original thinkers, those society regards as being uniquely different, live their lives very differently from the general population. A key difference; is that they have learned to value their uniqueness, rather than hide it and conform. They are not essentially trying to be different; they are trying to be their authentic self!
Interestingly, many people do love the idea of being an original, but they can do it, by copying what others do. They do want to stand out, to be seen as different, but they look outside for originality instead of looking within themselves. They only copy, when they should be stealing like an artist!
A common example of this can be seen, when we look at some of the dedicated fans of music genres. Millions of people dress in a way they believe to be ‘shocking’ and original, by copying the dress code of their music tribe. Rather than embrace their authentic self, they simply follow their tribe!
People are the same
We were all born to be different. To live a truly unique life, we need to embrace what makes us different, rather than disguise it. Our challenge is that conforming is easy. Think about it, fitting in is simple and requires zero courage. Filling your mind with mass media messages, can be done without a conscious thought. Following the flock requires very little thought or effort. This is exactly why so many people choose to keep their heads down and just fit in.
Those of us committed to a life of discovery and self-growth know that our path is more challenging. However, it leads to a far more rewarding and exciting life journey, than the majority of people can even dream of. Humility is not thinking less of yourself; humility is thinking about yourself less.
If you could be the person of your dreams, who would you be?
That is quite an important question to ask yourself. What you’d like others to think about you is not about manipulation, but it is about becoming a more authentic self and expressing it more clearly. 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.
That’s what is called 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?’
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 an authentic self is the shortest possible answer.
The most primary and critical step in being yourself is about knowing yourself; this can never be overrated. It requires significant time to explore and reflect through your own behaviour, inputs from your near and 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. Discovering yourself, and this includes knowing and 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, and being who you are. This involves standing up for yourself and standing up for others, including those who you stood up to.
The most important part of self-discovery is learning how to be genuine, to slow down and appreciate the things that make you who you are. It is important to take a well-deserved break from criticism, especially when you find yourself feeling self-conscious the majority of the time. When negative thoughts start to feel like mosquito bites you’ve scratched over and over to no avail, that is the time to let go of what you cannot change at that moment. Start to realise, who you are should coincide with whom you want to be. To be your purest self, not tainted by circumstances and reactions, focus solely on passion and appreciation. Think the thoughts you want to have and do the things you want to do. It isn’t easy, but it’s worth it. And for me, it means liberating myself from myself.
And although people aren’t always able to put self-criticism on hold, most of us could greatly benefit from the opportunity to put aside some thoughts that don’t require our immediate attention. Obsessing about the past or the future, for instance, is something you don’t need to focus on in this particular moment. You should try to change what no longer serves you. If you embarrassed yourself six months ago, and you still spend time wishing you could go back and change it, but you can’t, and it is time to let it go.
So try not to focus on getting a great picture at an event. Have a conversation with someone where you don’t hold back anything. Go out and don’t check your phone for a while. Try just to have fun, in spite of your insecurities. You should be adamant to protect yourself. You can never fail trying to be yourself. This is a passionate plea to anyone suffering from the pain that comes from rushing toward the instant gratification of approval and external validation. Let go of the raindrops that slide off the glass, they are the tears of an unsatisfied soul.
Life is your window, shine your light out.
Trishna Patnaik is an art therapist and healer. She works with clients on a one-to-one basis in Mumbai.