"Sometimes I pretend to be normal but it gets boring, so I go back to being me."
This is the third article in our series on "Essential Values for Living Transformation." Previous articles can be found here and here. This week our discussion centers around the core value of authenticity.
I saw the above quote on a friend's Facebook page recently and, in a Carrie Bradshaw kind of moment, I couldn't help but wonder, why is it so difficult to accept ourselves just as we are, warts and all? Why is it so rare to meet someone who is real, as in, what you see is what you get?
Granted, the "warts" part of this discussion is where it starts to get a bit tricky. But maybe there's more to those warts than we've been led to believe and if we look deeper, perhaps we'll discover some valuable "juice" contained therein for the journey of living transformation.
I often ask people who attend the seminars I lead: "How many of you have grown up thinking or feeling that there is something wrong or slightly 'off' about you?" It's like you're in the game of life and you're out on the playing field, but you have a feeling that everyone is looking at you kind of funny. Maybe you've got the ball but you're running in the wrong direction, or you're wearing your uniform backwards. It feels like there's just a little something missing and you can't quite figure out what it is. Almost unanimously, people nod their heads and indicate, "Yup, that's me alright."
What is this all about? Where do we come up with this notion that who we are is not all right, that we're not OK as we are, that we're somehow deficient in one or more of the ingredients that constitutes a "normal" human being and that we have to make up for it by pretending to be someone we're not?
Roll up your sleeves, campers. Or as MSNBC's Ed Shultz would say, "let's get to work." We've got some digging to do.
It seems that most people, consciously or unconsciously, spend much of their lives trying to be a fictionalized version of themselves. We want to be the person we think will be loved, accepted, approved of by (fill in the blank): our parents, teachers, friends, employers, significant others, and just about everybody else. We give a hoot what others think of us, yes? Yes!
Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that it's bad or wrong to care what others think of us. It's definitely not OK to be a jerk. But... this is a slippery slope that gets tricky to traverse because when we take on this behavior as a way to gain approval and be liked, we end up losing ourselves in the process. And that's a pretty high price to pay for a reward that is based on a false premise to begin with.
Wanting to please others and losing ourselves in the process is a pretty universal phenomenon. Even if you were raised by wolves, the mama wolf has expectations for her pups. Even if you were raised in an orphanage or by people who weren't your biological parents, there were rules and expectations, and in order to survive you learned that when you please the people around you that have the vote, i.e., the ones with the power and authority, and then later all the other major players in your life, they're happy. And when they're happy, they treat you kindly. And when you're treated kindly, this makes you happy, and all is well. And for a while, it is. Or so it seems.
But back to those warts. You see, there's no room at the inn where the warts are concerned. When it comes to fitting in, when it comes to looking good and being liked, and gaining approval and acceptance from "out there," you'd better put a dress on those warts. You'd better put on some make up, wear a big shirt and hope nobody notices because those warts, should people see them, will surely be your downfall. Or so you think.
Then we walk around dreading the moment when the warts make their appearance, as they surely will. I mean, come on! If you were a wart, wouldn't you want a little fresh air once in a while? I can only keep mine under wraps for so long before they stage a prison break and all hell breaks loose. It isn't difficult to see how this becomes the ideal conditions for being inauthentic. If authenticity includes the warts, who wants to be that?
Here's another question I ask people: "How many of you think you're supposed to be perfect?" All hands go up! I understand the desire to be perfect if you think being perfect is what is required of you in order to be loved. But I'm here to blow up another false idea of what it means to be enlightened and this idea of being perfect is one of them.
The Problem With Being Perfect
Back to the Facebook quote at the beginning of this article. "Sometimes I pretend to be normal, but it gets boring so I go back to being me."
The problem with being perfect is that you can never get there, for starters. There is no place called "perfect" where everything is exactly as it should be. Maybe there is in mathematics, which is definitely not my area, but when it comes to human beings, we are messy creatures living messy lives. Let's face it, life itself is pretty damned messy!
If you've ever been around anyone who is doing the "I'm trying to be perfect" gig, you know how boring and futile this can be. Who comes to mind for me is Mrs. Gingrich, Newt's wife, Calista. I'm sure if you got to know her, she's a very nice person. I saw her on TV the other night and she actually smiled what looked to be a genuine smile. For a tiny moment, I caught a glimpse of the woman behind the painted face, with the perfectly coiffed hair and the politically correct pearls perfectly placed at the neckline of the perfect designer suit. I'm sure there's a real person in there somewhere. But she is deeply buried under the costume of the perfection game.
Playing the perfection game is like being in prison. We hold ourselves hostage to a false idea of who we should be based on someone else's standards. I don't know, maybe it's because I'm getting older, but damn! Life is too short to live it inside this prison. Let me out!
So what about those warts? I love this Rilke quote:
"Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love."
-- Rainer Maria Rilke
The warts? They're simply the dragons within you that are waiting for you to embrace them, and in that embrace will transform into qualities of character that shine like gold. They're the buried treasure that need some work. But the work is not to reject. The work is to accept the very things you judge the most about yourself. So here's your homework:
1. Make a list of the qualities about yourself you have always wanted to change. (Things like lacking confidence, no courage, dishonest, fearful, lazy, bossy, righteous, etc.) These are the warts.
2. Now look at each quality and flip it on its head. Turn it upside down and inside out and see what "pearl" it contains. Trust me, it's there so keep looking. Example: Lacking confidence, shy becomes compassionate and understanding when it transforms. Lazy transformed becomes the ability to unplug and recharge.
3. Now love it like it is! Love that part of you that you've cast out into the cold. Pick it up and give it a hug. That lazy bones part of you is simply the seed of your ability to know when it's time for balance. That bossy pants part of you, hey! You can be a good leader when you learn how to effectively channel all that bossy energy in a productive direction. Ask me how I know!
4. Celebrate the warts! How about we all lighten up and celebrate those warts as our leading edge of growth and potential? Life is messy and in the end, we're all going to die anyway, so why not rock out while we're here and dance with those warts?
After all, there is only one of you. You, warts and all, are a one-of-a-kind event in the universe. The universe needs you to be you. Everyone else is taken. So why not? What have you got to lose except all the false ideas you ever subscribed to that only make you boring and inauthentic? That's not who you are anyway.
The Popeye School of Philosophy
I really am too old to care much about those warts anymore. Or as one of my childhood favorite cartoon characters, Popeye, would say "I yam what I yam." I have a rather significant birthday approaching in a couple of weeks. Don't ask, it's a decade one and if you've been following me, you'll know that last year I was in the high 6s. That's all I'm going to say about that. And yes, thank you, the cataract surgery went well, and I'm seeing better than I did as the 5-year-old in the photo, which is my new avatar on this page. So if getting old means seeing more clearly, sign me up.
What's your take on this topic? What prices have you paid for not loving your warts? We have barely scratched the surface on this one. We might need to linger here an extra week. Let's have a discussion and see where it takes us.
Blessings on the path.
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