The One Life
Early on in life, we tend to become aware of the dichotomy
of our public and personal selves. We realize that who we are in our homes,
amid our families, is not always the same self we bring to school or to a
friend’s house. We become self-conscious when we realize that we may think or
feel or do things differently from others, and as a result, we may choose to hide
our differences. It’s easier to be like everyone else and fit in. In our very
public always-on world, being different opens us up to criticisms we may not be
ready for. And when we are young – elementary school through high school –
fitting in is often the key to survival. One wrong comment, outfit, or choice
can result in isolation for a child or adolescent.
The need to fit in takes on different shapes and sizes when we
venture into the world of work. Cultural alignment is critical in the work
place. No one wants to be the odd person out – especially when our livelihood
It’s often not until we grow older, develop self-awareness,
and perhaps have the love and support of those who believe in us, that we begin
to accept and value differences amongst ourselves and others. But even when we
begin to know ourselves, it’s still hard work to expose our true selves
publicly. The stakes are high when we are vulnerable: rejection is real. On the other hand, if we keep up a facade,
there are repercussions: pretending is self-destructive and may lead to
feelings of unease and distress.
Why is it so hard to be ourselves?
We spend a whole lifetime in our own skin, so why is so hard
to be ourselves? Why is it often easier to be our friends, our parents, the
people we aspire to? It takes a brave soul to get comfortable within one’s own
skin and expose oneself. While many of us realize over time that we take
ourselves wherever we go, what holds true is that we don’t get to be ourselves
wherever we go. We are rushed, silenced, degraded, inflated, and left to figure
out who and what to be across a myriad of situations. This is perhaps our
lifelong struggle – to live the one life, in which our outward selves align
with our inward selves.
For most people, it is scary to stand alone. We seek groups
to be part of, and ways to identify as part of the bigger whole, because if we
are not like others, we tend to feel off and odd. And even when we are long out
of our homes and have evolved and grown into adults, our families often
remember our past selves, and conveniently categorize us into the versions of
ourselves that we may have left behind.
The truth is that the aspects of ourselves that are
different are what make us interesting. They are what make each one of us, us,
although that is often hard to acknowledge.
How do we get started on our authentic journey?
It takes constant self-reflection, an openness to hearing
how others perceive us, patience, and a willingness to step away from labels.
It’s easy to categorize ourselves: I’m a
lawyer, or a doctor, or a vegan, or an athlete. But we are more than any one
label. In the poet Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” he proclaims, “I am large,
I contain multitudes.” Each one of us contains multitudes: we are friends,
parents, children, partners, bosses, employees. Some days we are our best
selves, eager and engaged, and other days we drag and feel isolated. Language also
plays a key role in the stories we tell ourselves, the people we become, and
the selves we introduce to the world with each new day. But in the end, it’s
our actions, not our words, that paint the true picture of who and what we are.
Perhaps living the one life happens over time, and our
experiences early on at school, with family, at work, pave the way to
discovering and claiming our authentic selves. Perhaps we get so tired of the
tangle of our different selves, that we merge them into one imperfect, amazing,
kind hearted, courageous soul. Perhaps the expectations of others and the
labels we conveniently cling to fade when we realize all we have is time and
truth, and that in the end, we are all just people on our own distinct journeys
that happen to intersect with others on their journeys.
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