Just be yourself

When I was growing up my mother often said to me: just be yourself.

But did she really mean it? And why, after so many years, is it still so damn hard to do?

be yourself rocks in the sand

I have zero doubts my parents loved me. Yet sometimes their love felt conditional.

Just be yourself (as long as it’s the version we like).

In other words not the self that’s too whiny, too sensitive or too needy. And definitely not the one that gets angry. Good girls – nice girls – don’t get angry.

WE can be angry (and trust me they often were, at least with each other). But YOU certainly can’t be. That was the unspoken rule in our house. Because as soon as I showed up as my real, less-than-perfect self, with any sort of emotional need they couldn’t meet – I was criticized, teased or punished.

Please know that I’m not blaming my parents in any way. It was all they knew how to do. They grew up in the “children should be seen and not heard” eraIn my heart of hearts I know they did their very best with the tools they’d been given.

However it’s no big surprise I turned out to be a people-pleaser.

Especially as the youngest child of four. I was, after all, a very quick study. I watched my three older siblings closely. Whenever they got into trouble for something, I would tell myself: I’ll never do that. And so I didn’t.

Instead I chose the straight and narrow path. The very straight and narrow path. And became somewhat of a golden child.

In high school I was well-liked by other students and my teachers. I made the honour roll. Joined teams and committees. And never skipped a class. I didn’t dare step outside of the box.

No smoking, no drinking, no drugs. And certainly no boys. I had a standard to uphold after all. I was the good girl.

I aimed to please.

After entering University on a scholarship, I took a break to become a fashion model. And (gulp) beauty queen. I walked runways, posed for magazine and newspaper ads, and did TV commercials. I won three titles in one year: Miss North Shore, Miss Congeniality, and Miss Fresh Face. As well as a trip to New York City to meet the iconic Eileen Ford, owner of the Ford Modeling Agency.

It was exciting and utterly terrifying all at once. Inside I wondered: am I special enough? Am I worthy? Am I lovable?

Lord knows I strived to be all of those.

Eventually I finished school. Got a real job. Got married and had a child. I spent years trying to prove I was good enough. Responsible enough. To be what I thought others wanted me to be.

It was exhausting.

Somewhere in there was the real me.

But where was she? Who was she? And what did she really want?

It took a divorce and single parenthood at the age of 41 to fully wake me out of my people-pleasing stupor. I had focused so much on everyone else’s needs (including my ex’s) that I’d lost touch with my own.

I felt broken.

Over the next several years I gradually put my life and myself back together. And tried to figure out who I really was.

I found a great therapist who helped me start to peel off my people-pleasing mask.

And encouraged me to go back to school to become a Certified Life Coach. It was there that I finally found my “tribe” – a group of like-minded individuals who made me feel safe. Like I’d finally come home.

While training to become a Life Coach I was challenged over and over again to peel off even more layers of my false self. To finally get in touch with my true essence. The me I’d always been. But had just forgotten. 

It was incredibly freeing. The real me stepped up and out.

And for the first time I felt truly alive.

I learned to set boundaries. And say no without guilt.

I learned to check in with my heart. To trust my intuition. Trust myself. To be myself.

be yourself sign of authenticityBut even after all I’ve learned, I still struggle at times.

And I still get lost.

I can feel the pull to the dark side. The one where I try to please others instead of myself. Where I try to be the person I think others want me to be.

If I sense someone dislikes or disapproves of me, or an opinion I hold, I suddenly find myself shrinking back. Not wanting to show my true, authentic self. For fear of being judged or ridiculed.

Or worse. Of not being liked.

And it royally pisses me off.

My inner critic yells: haven’t you learned anything yet? Why can’t you stand up? Be seen and heard for who you really are?

Why can’t you just be yourself? Like your mother always suggested?

And then I take a deep breath (or two) and tell my inner critics to go take a hike.

Because sure, sometimes I still struggle to be myself. I probably always will a little bit. And that’s OK. That’s part of me. Part of my uber-sensitive, vulnerable, imperfect self.

And I’m learning to like that part. To actually embrace that part. It makes me human.

It makes me…ME.

(Now it’s your turn. Can you think of an example from your own life when you were able to just be yourself? If so, I’d love to hear from you in the comment section below.) 

Step into your "enough-ness"

Recently I heard a woman on the radio use the phrase: step into your enough-ness. It stopped me in my tracks. 

Wow.

Step into your enough-ness.

OK, I get it. What a great reminder for a woman like me, a recovering perfectionist.

And what a terrific book or workshop title. I wrote it down in my journal of great ideas, as I have done so many times before, and then promptly forgot about it.

Fast forward to today. I was out walking on the seawall, all alone in the rain. It was just me and my thoughts. And my growing anxiety about writing my very first blog.

What should I write about? 

What speaks to me? Comes from my heart? What would resonate with other women?

As my anxiety grew, my thoughts suddenly turned to the word ‘perfectionism’ and how it keeps showing up in my life. 

How my desire to do things perfectly (or to not be seen as imperfect) holds me back.

And how I use my fear of imperfection as a way to procrastinate. To not do the very thing I wish I could do: find my voice. Imperfect though it may be.

How hard I’ve had to work at believing in my core that I am good enough. That I can step into my own enough-ness.

I could certainly write about that.

Truth be told, I have wanted to write a blog for years.

But every time I took a step towards it my inner critics would rise up. And they were very, very convincing.

They would say cruel things like: “You’re not a writer. You have nothing of value to say. Who the heck is going to listen to you?”

And the kicker: “Who do you think you are?”

Ouch.

I thought about all the ways I had blown my blog off.

All the excuses I’d made for not expressing my voice. For not shining my own unique light out into the world.

I thought about all the people I’d believed in, cheer-leaded and coached to follow their own dreams. To not give up. To speak their own truth.

But when push came to shove, I had not been able to do the same for me.

My inner critics had always won. So instead of expressing my voice, I would go underground again. I’d tell myself it was OK. It wasn’t my time yet. Maybe it never would be.

So here I was, back at the starting gate. Back to the blog.

My inner light was craving to be set free, and my inner voice unleashed.

A few weeks ago I had committed to writing this blog on a whim. I promised a dear friend (who’s also my coach) that I would post it by the end of this week. I was excited at the thought of it, and knew I could do it – would do it – this time.

There would be no more excuses.

But suddenly with my deadline looming, I was procrastinating all over again. Same old, same old. I was ready to shove my voice down once more.

I felt sick.

How could I let my coach down? How could I tell her I was throwing in the towel? But even worse, how could I let myself down? Again?!

Before my inner critics won their battle, something else happened. Out on that seawall, today in the rain. Something magical. Something that changed everything for me. And gave me the courage to write.

Up, out of the calm waters, popped a seal. My totem animal. Spirit guide. Inner coach.

I’ve had an affinity with seals my whole life. I see them all the time. And every time I do, I believe they have a message for me.

totem seal representing good enough

So today, in the soft rain, I closed my eyes and asked this seal, this spirit guide of mine, what message it had for me.

Within seconds my answer came: don’t give up.

Keep moving forward, one step at a time. 

My heart lifted. And I realized that I was not going to buy into my procrastination this time. I was not going to listen to my fear. Nor let my inner critics win.

I was going to write my first blog, once and for all, damn it.

So here I am. My first blog is almost done. And like the seal rising above the surface of the ocean, I’m ready to let my spirit free.

I’ve found my voice. And I won’t let it go underground again.

This is my first big step towards embracing all of me. With all my imperfections. I know I will make mistakes. I have before. And I will again. But as they say: go big or go home.

I’m not ready to go home. I just got here.

And after all these years of fear and procrastination, I have finally found the courage to step into my own enough-ness.

(Now it’s your turn. Can you think of an example from your own life where you’ve felt you were good enough? If so, I’d love to hear from you in the comment section below.)