This old song title seems like a no-brainer: if I am not Me, who am I? I have certainly tried during different points of my life to be someone I’m not, probably like most people. Trying to be someone else is like writing with your non-dominant hand: it feels weird, it doesn’t work well, and it’s hard to sustain for any length of time.
But does Being Me mean I can’t or shouldn’t try to evolve me? Evolving me does not necessarily mean that I believe there’s something wrong with me. For example, I’m not the same Susanna I was when I was 20 (Thank God!). It doesn’t mean that I have been inauthentic at either point in my life. It simply means that I’ve evolved, grown, changed, and hopefully matured. There is absolutely no way that I could’ve predicted this growth trajectory, nor could I have planned it if I tried. It unfolded organically in some ways, but also discreet decisions at key points have sent me in new directions. In other words, depending on the point in time, that growth and maturation was either actively or passively determined.
Does actively determining direction of growth mean I’m being inauthentic? For example, I am a shy person. Always have been. Always will be. Some time ago, however, I decided that shy behavior was getting in my way. I didn’t like how shyness made networking and meeting people so difficult. So I decided to put that shyness away and ignore my feelings of self-doubt and discomfort interacting with people I do not know well. Most people who know me now are surprised to hear that I am shy, so I feel I’ve done pretty well managing that aspect of me. Does working through shyness mean I’m not Being Me?
I’ve recently completed a course in Life Coaching. Our “final exam” was to coach one of our peers for 15 minutes. I had been feeling out of focus and distracted the entire session leading up to this exercise, and felt like I just couldn’t do a good job. I think I could’ve bowed out without repercussion except for losing a little face. I also could’ve given a disclaimer going forward like, “well I’m going to do it but it’s gonna suck.” But instead, I just dove in. The session went fine. Well, even. What I learned about myself is that I can actually do just fine when I put aside my self-doubts or concerns about my less-than-optimal state of mind. Authentic, or no?
A similar experience in my job as a new faculty member comes to mind. I was fresh out of training when I was asked to chair a committee before I had even served on a committee. I did not feel remotely ready, but I just dove in. I didn’t advertise either any made-up experience or my lack of experience. I simply did my job. Like the coaching exercise, the outcome was fine. Good, even. In other words, I can fake it until I make it. Was I being inauthentic by not fessing up to feelings of inadequacy, lack of preparedness? Should I have begged off since Who I Am (at that moment) is Not Ready?
And so it is with many different aspects of Me, and I would imagine with You as well. Each example involves a decision to push through what I believe to be my limitations either globally (I’m a shy person) or temporally (I don’t feel up to this). There have even been times when I have felt stuck and have turned to self-help books (OMG) to find a way to work through a problem. The person at the other end of these shallow or deep self-assessments is still Susanna. It’s just Susanna taking an intentional course in determining who or what will or will not influence my choices. (OK I’ll stop writing in third person now.)
I’ve discovered from strengths coaching that we often have talents that we’re unaware of. We even have the capacity to compensate for our talent gaps, not by becoming someone we’re not, but by enhancing and evolving who we already are. The latter involves being willing to explore who we are, even if it feels weird or unnatural at first. When it doesn’t work out, we try another approach, and then another, until it does work and feels right. The mature Me knows that to tell myself or others that I can’t do something is doing myself a disservice. I may not want to do something, but if I do want to do it, or have to do it, I will find a way that works for me. That’s about as authentic as I can be.