Have you ever tried—and failed—to change your natural preferences to fit what someone else thought you should be?
When I started my counseling internship years ago, I was preoccupied with learning to dress professionally.
I watched hours of What Not to Wear, and like a marathoner guzzling Gatorade, I gulped down Clinton and Stacy’s advice on how to look polished and put together. I learned that bright colors and patterns were compelling; neutrals were boring.
Well, I didn’t want to be boring.
Though I’m naturally drawn to earth tones, I took their advice and labored to incorporate more color into my wardrobe. But despite my valiant efforts, many of my multicolored purchases were wasted because I rarely, if ever, wore them. I remember one shirt in particular with bold fuchsia flowers on it. I liked the pattern, and I liked the colors. I just didn’t like them being on me.
I was reminded of this experience recently when I was reading Gretchen Rubin’s book Better Than Before. In it, she talks about her commitment to “Be Gretchen.” She touches on the reality that to be the most effective version of ourselves we must know ourselves, including our likes and dislikes. She observes, however, that, “It’s very hard to know myself. I get so distracted by the way I wish I were, or the way I assume I am, that I lose sight of what’s actually true.” And, I would add, the way others wish we were.
Because of what others thought, and what I thought I should be, I tried to adopt a way of being that didn’t reflect my true self. Though it took me years, I eventually was able to accept my clothing preferences. I’ve had to learn to ignore the voices that chide, “There’s nothing wrong with wearing bright colors, you know,” (it wasn’t just Clinton and Stacy sending me this message) and be comfortable being who I am.
But the struggle hasn’t been just around my attire.
I’ve fielded objections to a variety of my core preferences, such as:
- Being quiet natured (Why don’t you talk more?)
- Loving cloudy weather (How can you not love hot sunny days?! I don’t know, but I don’t. My fellow Alaskans just can’t wrap their minds around this one).
- Being introverted (Why don’t you spend more time in social settings, attend more events, have guests over more often...?)
- Preferring vanilla ice cream (Don’t you want to try a different flavor?)
- Favoring walking over other types of exercise (You should run, it’s a better work out.)
- Being unhurried (You’re slow as molasses in January.)
I don’t think anyone who made any of the above comments meant to be unkind. Yet, however unintentional, the comments left me feeling like I should be something other than I am. I’ve felt badly about all these traits at one time or another and have made efforts to change them (except for liking cloudy weather).
But try as I might, my efforts didn’t change my reality: I don’t fit the mold of the brightly clad, fast-paced, adventure-seeking, loquacious, athletic American girl.
We get so many messages about how we “should” be. The messages are rooted in our culture, and they come to us through our families, friends, teachers, churches, and TV. They sell their version of the ideal American, or the ideal woman, or the ideal whatever.
The problem is, we’re not generic women. We’re not generic anything. We each come with specific likes and dislikes, our own needs and personalities. When we disown what Gretchen calls the “fundamental aspects of our nature,” we turn ourselves into imitation art, and, by default, forfeit the unique masterpieces God created us each to be.
There’s nothing wrong with wearing bright colors, you know. Yes, I know. But I’ve come to accept that there’s nothing wrong with neutrals, either.
The thing is, these attributes, even the seemingly random or superfluous ones, reflect something of the essence of who I am. Like vanilla, or quiet walks, or earthy colors, I’m softer, calmer, slower-paced, and more subtle in my approach than many people.
These traits tap into core themes of my life and even and the themes of the messages I feel God has called me to share. Themes like restful living. Enjoying everyday beauty. The importance of quiet contemplation.
It has been so freeing for me to accept myself and realize that I don’t have to change the core features of who I am. In fact, I can celebrate them and, instead of seeing them as defects, see them as the strengths they actually are.
Sometimes it takes a bit of courage, but I'm choosing to be who I am, to be Carina. Carina, who is subject first to her Creator, not the preferences of others. Because it’s not just about feeling more comfortable with myself, it’s about fulfilling my purpose. It’s about being an authentic expression of who God designed me to be. I don’t want to be anything else.
Just to clarify, I'm also not saying we should never accept or seek the input of others. We can learn valuable information about ourselves from those who know us well, and it's worth listening to what they say.
Sometimes others' feedback reveals an area that actually does need to change or identifies and area where we need to grow. I think when we get feedback, we need to consider it carefully and weigh whether it is something that really needs to change versus someone else imposing their personal preferences on us. What I'm talking about in this post is our core, God given preferences and attributes, not areas of personal weakness.
Next week, I’ll be sharing more on being ourselves and some of the great benefits of being uniquely you!
"For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago." Ephesians 2:10 (NLT)
In what ways have you learned to accept your authentic self? I'd love to hear about it!
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Photo courtesy lextotan via Pixabay.
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