I’ve been writing a lot lately about the intersection between our financial success and our capacity and willingness to be ourselves.
There is a connection that occurs between humans that deepens as each is willing to be more and more vulnerable, real, themselves.
I believe that, especially as we get into longer-term relationships with each other—whether that is as provider and client or as employer and employee, this capacity to know and trust deepens and enhances what we are able to create with each other.
And not so coincidentally, I believe that this is what we most want—that we want to fully express our unique selves and find the people who will accept and appreciate and even love us for those selves.
Even the parts of us that we regard as flaws and try to hide.
But I got a question recently that stopped me in my tracks—
This sounds simple. But what does it mean to “just be yourself”? And why does it feel so difficult?
A Simple Answer to a Hard Question
The simple answer to this doesn’t sound very satisfying. You are yourself when you are honest about who you are and what you believe. When you speak as and from your truth.
I confess that there are an awful lot of times when I do not feel fully myself. This feels like a goal, an aspiration, but it can feel like true authenticity is a long way off. I do better when I am writing—there is something about the psychological distance between me and my readers—than I do with one-on-one in real-life interactions.
It can feel really hard to “be myself,” to “own my truth.”
For me, I notice a few things.
First, I really want people to like me and when I say something that they might not agree with, I risk that.
Of course, when I hide something with the goal of them liking me, they are not really liking “me,” they are liking me with some kind of veneer or mask.
Second, I have a lot of history around feeling like my interests are weird, and I learned to hide them. I’ve told the story of how, walking out of the original “Star Wars” with my parents when I was 12, feeling like I had had a life-changing experience, my mom looked at me and said, “Jeff, if you liked that, you’re weird.”
That was the story of my life—if I liked it, it was weird.
For decades I hid that rather than embraced it. And I and my friendships suffered for it.
Third, I was afraid that if I said what I really thought, I might hurt people.
A More Satisfying Direction to Look
I was talking with a coach friend about this—he was really interested in how I might answer the question and I confess I hadn’t given it much thought. But it occurred to me that I might be useful to try to define this.
The first thing that occurred to me is that if I don’t say something because I am afraid of what you might think of me if I do, that is not being myself.
There are some things that I am afraid to say because I am afraid that if I say them you might judge me in some way.
Disclosing some “weird” interest or hobby, for example.
I remember when I started going on retreats I would actively avoid talking about them. When I was on retreat, a lot of the people there were therapists or healers. I didn’t run into many lawyers and consultants and business people.
So I would avoid talking about my work when I was on retreat, and I would avoid talking about my retreats when I was back at work.
But what I discovered when I did begin to talk about those things is that there was a small number of people who appreciated the combination. That the fact that I was interested in both of those things made me more interesting to those people. That I had deeper relationships with these people, and that I would not have without that uncomfortable disclosure.
Years later, embracing those interests made me a more powerful coach, and helped my ideal clients find me.
On the other hand, there are times when I don’t say something just because I don’t want to hurt them. It might or might not be helpful for them to hear it in some way, but the relationship is not such where it can withstand my saying it.
The vast majority of the time, that simply means that it is none of my business. We do not have a relationship where my disclosure is helpful or appropriate and I will not disclose it.
But in other cases, some level of disclosure is helpful and even necessary.
For example, am I protecting a boundary? If so, I need to disclose. I need to declare, for example, if I think the other person did something that violated a boundary for me. Of course I need to do this in an appropriate way and that is a deep and detailed inquiry in and of itself. But “being myself” and “protecting myself” overlap and it’s important to honor that.
In another case, I might be invested in a long-term relationship with this person. Are they my partner, or a key employee? If so, there are things I need to say for the sake of the relationship, or in the case of an employee, for their development and performance, and it would be neglectful for me NOT to say something.
How Being Yourself Creates Psychological Safety
When we disclose something that feels a bit vulnerable, we begin to create some sense of psychological safety. It becomes easier for the person in front of us to disclose something unusual about them. We become closer because of these. We trust each other more. And we are more likely to enter a long term relationship, either person or business.
Being ourselves FEELS dangerous. But it benefits everyone.
Sometimes the first step is to create that safely within ourselves. To admit to ourselves things that we have not admitted. About what we really want, for example, or what we are really good at.
Try it. See if the other person opens up to you. And see what you both can create from that.
Having a Deeper Conversation
I am dedicated to the idea that all you ever need or want to be is YOU.
You with all your gifts. And all the things you instinctively hide, too.
What would that be like? To fully embrace you and THEN create, rather than thinking you have to create to someone FIX yourself?
This is what I write about. For founders, for original thinkers, at all stages of their journey.
The world needs YOU, in all your brilliance and imperfection.
If you are a founder wanting to scale and sell your company, there are three shifts in identity that can help you do so with twice the impact and half the stress. Take a look at this video.
If you want to build a coaching business where you get to be yourself, help amazing people, and replace your corporate income in the process, here’s a video where I share the top three mistakes I see coaches make when trying to build a sustainable business—
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