There are thousands of articles and inspirational quotes about “living your truth” or encouraging you to just “be yourself”. If only it were that easy! Achieving these things is tough - trust me, I’ve been there. I still have days when I find that being true to myself is really painful (the memes don’t mention the shitty bits!). But I think the hardest part is defining your truth in the first place.
Here’s my take on why you might not be living your truth.
1. You don’t know who you really are
To live your truth, you have to know your true self, which is easier said than done. As we grow up, family systems, cultural norms and marketing messages all teach us how we should be. Complete this sentence:
"To be happy and worthy as a person I must…"
Typically, people say things like:
… work hard
… have a great job
… live in a big house
… not feel sorry for myself
… do as I’m told
… constantly push myself.
We rarely question these messages that we absorbed from such a young age. Some of them don’t even have words - they are ‘hard wired’ and we experience them as universal truths (see my blog on the stories we tell ourselves). As we become adults, the messages get driven home by employers, governments and corporations.
When we were babies, we didn’t care what others thought about us - we existed as our true selves. Then we grow up. We observe what is and isn’t acceptable to those around us and present ourselves accordingly. In doing so, we deny our true selves from being seen. This has its benefits – we’re social creatures and to be accepted by others and form communities, we must abide by the rules of those communities. This prevents us from becoming social outcasts – most people’s worst nightmare. In fact, 1000 years ago that would mean almost certain death.
Yet this also holds us back. Because if you listen exclusively to those thoughts and live your life through other people’s expectations of you (and remember these are often only perceived, not explicit), you become incapable of defining who you are, versus who you think you should be.
2. Being authentic means being vulnerable
We all have façades that place a ‘buffer zone’ between our true self, and the self we think will be acceptable to others. As humans we crave validation. Social media is the perfect example of this - most people represent themselves in a way they feel will be validated by others. The more likes, the worthier you are, right? The same goes in real life. We craft ourselves to meet the perceived expectations of others and get 'real-life likes'.
If this crafted version of you suffers any kind of rejection, no problem - it’s not the true you being rejected. Well done - you performed the ultimate trick! Compare that to putting something out there that is your truth - be it an opinion, a photo that hasn’t been filtered, or an idea you have – any rejection of those things is going to cut deep. You don’t have the buffer zone of your façade and in your mind, this rejection of your truth is a rejection of the real you.
Being authentic means being vulnerable. And whilst you may think you’ve been really crafty tricking yourself in this way, guess who knows it’s just a trick? You of course (and possibly others – we’re well-equipped to spot façades a mile off). When your façade is rejected it can be a relief that you had that trick up your sleeve. But the trick carries a hefty price tag –when your façade is validated, you also know it’s not the real you being validated. Ah.
3. Living your truth is hard work… at first.
So living your truth is hard work. It means offering yourself up for rejection, which you will certainly have to deal with. Not all 7 billion people on this planet will like who you are or what you have to offer. It also means making tough decisions. When you define who you are and what you stand for, you may find the people you choose to associate with changes. Relationships may end. You may have to turn down tempting opportunities as you realise they aren’t compatible with your values.
So what’s the upside? Well, for a start you don’t need to waste energy seeking the validation of 7 billion people! With some support, you can validate yourself. But perhaps something more nourishing is that when you live your truth, as well as the rejection you will also experience acceptance. Only this time, it’s true acceptance of the real you. And that feeling, I can assure you, is absolutely worth the struggle. Because truthfully, that’s what you’ve been searching for all along.