How often do we sell out to image, or people’s opinions, or our own imagined fear of what response we might receive if we were to simply be ourselves?
A while back I posted a comment on Facebook about someone I saw on the street who had a pretty extreme appearance due to, among other things, some pretty dramatic gauges in his ear lobes. I said that it’s great to express your individuality, but some modes of expression doomed one to an employment history wearing paper hats and asking “do you want fries with that?” My comment was partly in jest, but a friend commented that one could also move to a city like San Francisco where what really matters are your skills, not your appearance.
To be honest I was, and am, ambivalent about that response. In an ideal world, I agree that no aspect of a person’s appearance would have a negative impact on any aspect or anyone’s life. At the same time, I have to be realistic and say that it does matter in many if not most corners of today’s world and so people need to make informed decisions about permanent changes to their appearance. On the third hand, I believe we do pay a price when we pretend to be someone other than ourselves. How much income is worth sacrificing our spirit?
I wonder, too, how much of what is often attributed to midlife crisis is really just someone who is no longer willing to sacrifice their identity on the altar of approval. How many victims of corporate down sizing have found themselves much happier doing something they love for significantly less money? That’s a “choice” that is somewhat forced upon people, of course – they lose their job involuntarily rather than recognize they aren’t happy with what they are doing and making a change. Imagine the courage required to just walk away voluntarily to pursue something you love!
Over the last couple decades I have come to understand that I have a great deal of creativity, something I never believed I had. It first started to show itself in writing, then in public speaking, and later in creating mental images and teaching techniques that are out of the box. I discovered a voice within me that wouldn’t be silenced, but the struggle has been those old tapes, those years of indoctrination that taught me that other’s opinions mattered more than mine. Nonsense.
The first step is to love ourself enough and develop enough self-confidence that we recognize everyone has an opinion. That means that opinions are quite common rather than rare things of value. As I started moving fully into my own authentic identity I have learned that everyone is entitled to their opinion, but the only opinion that is going to deeply impact my happiness is my own. It takes some life experience to develop that confidence, but if feels awfully good once we develop it! There is never any reason to deny ourselves.