Tailor-made for teenagers and the teen-tinged reaches of the internet, April Fools’ Day is somewhat lost on me as a person (and a parent). But as a Life Coach, it had me thinking this week not of harmless pranks, but of the detrimental ways we can fool ourselves.
Most people have a keen ability to alter who they are in different situations like a chameleon that changes its colors. Many of us have two different selves: our authentic selves and our social selves.
Our authentic self is who we are at the core. It’s who we are when there’s nobody around to judge and it’s what we look like stripped of expectations. Our authentic self isn’t concerned with pleasing other people.
Our social self, on the other hand, is based on who we think others expect us to be. Or what we think we should be. Society at-large dictates this, but so do the unsolicited opinions of family, friends, co-workers and even random people at the grocery store. The social self is the version of each of us that makes choices based on what’s acceptable to everyone else.
Like white lies (no, those big girl pants don’t make your butt look big), this duality isn’t inherently a bad thing. The danger comes when we fool ourselves into thinking that our social self is our authentic self. Or when we let our social self dictate our lives and the lives of those around us. This can be a one-way ticket to a lifetime prescription for antidepressants.
As you know from previous blogs and my book Big Girl Pants, my role is not to identify a problem. It’s to help you identify a solution. And unfortunately, the answer isn’t a little white pill. It’s complex, constant inner-work, but ultimately will result in a happier, healthier you that is a better spouse, friend, parent and co-worker.
The answer sounds deceptively simple. You must ask yourself before each decision whether your actions are sparked by someone else’s beliefs and desires or your own. Each and every day, whether consciously or subconsciously, you have hundreds of choices. Some are small. Chai or cappuccino? Heels or flats? But some are a bit more layered, nuanced and life-altering. Stay married or get a divorce? Stick with this job or open my eyes to the possibilities? Regardless of the stakes, we must commit to our authentic selves and ask whether our choices reflect who we are or the expectations of a judgmental barista or a controlling spouse.
In my book, I share the story of a client I call Anna. She had been working as a CFO in her family business for 10 years. Her authentic self knew that her deepest desire was to be a full-time mom. Her social self didn’t want to disappoint her father or take away an income stream from her family. So she kept working and making choices each day that fulfilled her social self and left her authentic self withering. Together, we worked through the self-limiting stories she was telling herself and peeled back the guilt that was enveloping her.
All she needed was permission. But it wasn’t permission from me. It was permission from herself to make different choices. Nobody has to be anything that they don’t want to be. You do, however, have to give yourself permission to follow your heart and do what you love. In the end, not everyone is going to agree with your choices. But when you stay true to yourself, YOU will be happy.
This year on April Fools’ Day, it’s okay to trick your friends into thinking you finally got that full-back tattoo of Kim Kardashian that your spouse thought would look cool. It’s just not okay to actually get it to please your spouse.
Life is too short to live for someone else. It’s time to live for you.