When I was 12 and in the grip of puberty, I remember wailing to my Mum (note the recurring theme) about the fear of starting out in secondary school. I had been in a tiny primary school with only about 10 children in my class and I was moving to a massive comprehensive. My closest school friends were going to different schools and I was freaking out about making new friends. My mother responded in what I now realise was the tone you use as a parent when your kid is irritating you but you know you have to be kind because they are only a kid.
‘Just be yourself,’ she said, with a smile that I’m sure was forced.
To which I wailed, ‘But I don’t know who I ammmmmmm!’
While to the outside world, I came across as an extroverted and confident child, inside I was a squirming, uncomfortable, insecure bag of nerves. I had invested so heavily throughout my childhood in being who other people needed me to be, that I had no clue who I really was. And I will let you in on a little secret, I’m still trying to figure it out 30 years on.
It’s a rare thing to meet someone comfortable in their own skin, authentic and true, the same person on and off the page or screen. I recently had the great pleasure of meeting a writer I had long admired and struck up a friendship with online. She’s not exactly a celebrity but in certain circles she’s well known and has her fair share of fans. I’ve met a few famous people in my line of work and you can always tell when they have their ‘game face’ on. You can almost see them switch on their public persona. But this writer was different. She writes personal journey stuff, shares certain family things on social media, so in many ways you can feel as if you know her but I wasn’t dumb enough to think I really did know her. I expected our chat over coffee and a walk to maybe feel a little awkward, like I was interviewing her or something, as if she might hold herself at a slight distance.
Instead, I discovered that the person whose words I’d been reading for the guts of a decade was exactly the same person that I was talking to in the flesh. There was no pretence, no persona, no falseness whatsoever. She was herself, guileless, gentle, interested and kind. It was a rare and precious thing and I will treasure those few hours I had with her.
You can only be yourself when you know who you are and most of us spend so much time constructing a persona that will be pleasing to the outside world that we have no clue who we really are. Or maybe it’s just me!
My persona has always been that of The Nice Girl. I was the elder of two girls, the sensible one, the one who never rocked the boat, the one who did as she was told. I followed the rules, I stayed inside the lines, I reenforced the borders and I judged the hell out of anyone who did the opposite, I just did it with a smile so sweet no one guessed. I judged them but I also secretly kind of admired them. I envied them their freedom to do as they wished. I supposed that the sky would collapse on my head if I put a foot wrong. Even at the height of my fame, I never fell foul of the tabloids. I did once get chased by the paparazzi but that was only because I didn’t want my photo taken and they only chased me because they thought I had something to hide. Once they realised I was just being a scaredy cat, they lost interest.
The Nice Girl may have looked good on the outside but She was not my True Self. My True Self was not allowed to surface, She was suppressed to such an extent that She could only emerge in negative and destructive ways; She drank too much, She smoked (for 20 years She smoked while pretending she didn’t), She shouted at her husband and children, She was jealous and resentful, She sabotaged herSelf, She pretended She was fine, She frequently thought about harming herSelf.
How can you be yourself, how can you be your True Self when you are terrified that She will never be loved or accepted? Far better to be superficially nice but safely hidden than to be vulnerable, real and risk rejection. But here’s the thing with authenticity and vulnerability – they deeply connect people and help us all to feel less alone in the world. Not everyone is going to like it, it will make some people feel deeply uncomfortable but that’s their problem, not yours. And wouldn’t it be awesome to connect deeply with people who see You and love You and not worry about those who don’t.
My True Self is a rare White Tiger. She’s beautiful, soft and strong. She’s fierce and independent. She’s nurturing and gentle with those in her care but if she feels danger approaching you’d better beware because she is not to be underestimated. She’s a bit of loner. She’s tried living in packs but it never really works so she’s learnt to be content not to be part of the gang. She’s not a domestic cat! She’s wild and when she’s attempted to live the tamed life, she gets sick. She needs solitude, water, open spaces, forest walks and to systematically reject all the things the Nice Girl wants to do to maintain the status quo.
There’s such liberation in just writing this down. There’s freedom in recognising who you really are and then committing to living out of that place knowing that the True Self has its origin in the Divine and can therefore never be cut off from love. That’s the place that creativity comes from as well and so when we’re aligned with our True Selves, secure in our belovedness, we can do the creative dance with confidence and peace.
How much beautiful work could you share with the world if you knew who you were and could live from that place? How much more needed are real people in all their glorious, odd complexity, unwilling to live the nice life but committed to the True life that knows that abundance is everywhere?
Find out who you truly are, then breathe, show up and be yourself.
White Tiger by Inoichiro Sekiguchi
This is part of a series on creativity inspired by my conversation with Noni Stapleton and the whole series will be released as an ebook exclusively to my mailing list at the end. Tune in on Friday to my Facebook page Strut and Bellow with Melanie Clark Pullen when I will be releasing the conversation I had with folk musician Angela Josephine whose new album Daylight will be released next week. We recorded the conversation back in October but it is particularly pertinent to this week’s blog post. You can preorder her beautiful new work here.