A few days ago, I had the pleasure of speaking to the Ohio University chapter of the Pi Beta Phi sorority. The topic? My all-time fave thing to talk about: authenticity.
Most people (especially college students!) 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 your sorority sisters. 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.
The bottom line? We often choose our social self because we don’t want to be judged for our authenticity. And I have the numbers to prove it…
When I asked how many of the sorority girls were choosing to be authentic in their everyday lives, only three out of 130 ladies raised their hands.
Yeah, let that sink in for a minute.
The fact is, if you choose to be disingenuous—and if everyone else around you chooses to be the same—then you’ll never experience the joy of genuine relationships.
To fix this, you must ask yourself whether you’re making decisions based on what other people want instead of what YOU want. 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 with your boyfriend or break up? 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 partner.
Sounds pretty simple, right?
Well, unfortunately, not so much. Oftentimes, our insecurities (and the insecurities of others) make this transition into our authentic selves super difficult.
Let me explain…
Your Judgements Are a Reflection of Your Thoughts
While I was at Ohio University, I bought all of the girls compact mirrors. As they stared at their reflections, I talked to them about how everything is a reflection of themselves—in other words, every time they judge another person, it’s a reflection of how they feel and their own insecurities.
So, let’s say you’re at the grocery store, and you bump into someone you know from work. With a big smile on your face, you say hello and ask how she’s doing. To your surprise, she barely notices your existence, flashes a quick wave, then turns her cart to continue shopping. Um, what gives?
Your mind immediately goes to the worst:
What a b*tch!
Did I do something wrong?
Does she hate me?
Well, that sweater she was wearing was hideous.
While it may be tempting to jump to conclusions, we need to stop and think that maybe she’s just insecure or shy or having a bad day with her family. It’s easy to take someone’s actions at face value, but we need to stop taking everything too personally. If people are treating you a certain way, this often has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them.
So, what does this have to do with your authentic and social self?
Towards the end of our time together, many of the Pi Phi girls shared their deepest fears, secrets and insecurities. They chose to embrace their authentic selves in front of all of their sorority sisters. As it turns out, several of them struggle with anxiety. Many of them get quiet when they’re nervous or become loud when they don’t feel included.
The truth is, no one really knows what’s inside each of us, unless we choose to be completely real, open and honest. Sometimes choosing to be your authentic self is scary, like admitting when you’re nervous, feeling self-conscious, or left out. Being authentic means being vulnerable, and sometimes we’d rather choose our social self, aka “the one who has it all together,” so we don’t look foolish. Unfortunately, choosing your social self means living a lie. And living a lie leads to unhappiness, fake friendships and a false sense of self. And while we fear that other people will judge us for who we really are, you might actually find that they feel the same. The result? True, authentic relationships.
Nobody has to be anything 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.
Life is too short to live for someone else. It’s time to live for you.