Whilst the ability to *fit in* with one’s, peer group, community, social environment might be considered a strength, I feel it’s a double-edged sword when *fitting in* tips over in to *not being your true self* most of the time!
I’ve been a master of camouflage for most of my life, playing the good student at school, playing the good daughter at home, playing the role of corporate stooge at work. After days, months, years spent blending in with my peers, pretending that *pulling all nighters* was thrilling, staying late at work for the sake of it, dealing with client’s with corporate philosophies I fundamentally disagree with and generally doing everything I found soul-destroyingly depressing , I can attest to the fact that being in camouflage takes it out of you: energetically, emotionally and physically. For me, this business of *being someone else* became so unbearably inauthentic and a crime against myself (more than anything or anyone else) that I had to walk away (or hobble as the case may be).
A year or so after leaving my then employer and having embarked upon a new life mission to *be myself*, I happened to bump in to one of the big shots from my old department on my way back from a gallery show. He didn’t actually recognise me until I called his name “Hi Bob (not his real name), it’s me Anna“. He looked me up and down, eyes saucer-like and said “wow, hi…..you look really well“, which was nice of him but I’m afraid I couldn’t say the same of him. That’s when it dawned on me that, in all probability, poor Bob (despite being in the highest echelons of the firm) was also spending his days trapped in an environment where he wasn’t *being himself*.
I’ve often thought how cool it would be to just be the person you are at home *all the time* and, in theory, surely one can be (obviously caveating inappropriate behaviour). So what keeps so many of us in camouflage? Quite simply, I feel the answer is FEAR: fear of people not liking the real you, fear of people judging the real you, fear of people not accepting the real you. For me, what these fears highlight is that perhaps one does not like oneself, judges oneself often and doesn’t accept one’s true self and one would be best served by exploring why because self-esteem doesn’t just fall out of the sky.
Self esteem, simply defined (courtesy of the Oxford English Dictionary), is:
Confidence in one’s own worth or abilities; self-respect
If we look at how worth is measured in our current society: productivity, ability to make the sale, ability to generate money, ability to gather followers etc, I feel the murky waters of self esteem become a bit clearer.
We hit the 20th century and we entered a new culture that historians call the culture of personality. What happened is we had evolved an agricultural economy to a world of big business. And so suddenly people are moving from small towns to the cities. And instead of working alongside people they’ve known all their lives, now they are having to prove themselves in a crowd of strangers. So, quite understandably, qualities like magnetism and charisma suddenly come to seem really important. And sure enough, the self-help books change to meet these new needs and they start to have names like “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” And they feature as their role models really great salesmen. So that’s the world we’re living in today. That’s our cultural inheritance.
Extract from Susan Cain: The Power of Introverts TED Talk (see full talk video below).
Many of these societal worth-related characteristics tend to be synonymous with being an extrovert and measuring oneself against these yard sticks can leave the introverted and highly sensitive amongst us feeling like we don’t measure up! According to the Myers Briggs personality types, I am what is known as an Introverted, iNtuitive, Feeling, Judging (INFL) personality type. As such, this means whilst being mistaken for an extrovert, I have a preference for introversion, so I’m not naturally comfortable schmoozing to land a big fish client or socialising a lot (although I can if required). This is why, for me and those like me, I feel it’s healthier to go back to the drawing board and step away from society’s definitions of worth and look inwards to find one’s own unique strengths.
This TED talk really resonated with me:
“In a culture where being social and outgoing are prized above all else, it can be difficult, even shameful, to be an introvert. But, as Susan Cain argues in this passionate talk, introverts bring extraordinary talents and abilities to the world, and should be encouraged and celebrated.“
In truth, we all have valuable and unique strengths which we should rightly be proud and confident about, regardless of whether they measure up to society’s yard sticks. In finding and embracing these strengths, I believe one can find the key to emancipate oneself from the curse of camouflage!
These days my mantra is:
Never be afraid to be oneself, to speak one’s truth and walk one’s own unique path. Other’s may not understand or support and may even judge but most probably they’ll want to find the courage to follow suit.