I’m currently moving some old blog posts off of an old blog and onto this one. So, here’s a post I wrote seven years ago! It’s about something that proved very difficult for me: Learning to be myself.
People say “just be yourself” like it’s this simple addition problem where you can add brown hair to an outgoing personality and … poof! … there you are.
But it’s not that easy, is it?
Maybe part of the reason I struggle to know how to be myself is because I’ve lived most of my life underneath layers of masks…
My Favorite Assignment
I received some pretty interesting assignments in college – from stargazing for hours to seeing if I could go three days without listening to any music whatsoever. But this was my favorite.
It was dance class, and we were watching dancers twisting and turning inside capsules of spandex fabric, as though they were trying to escape. My professor suddenly clicked off the TV and concluded the lesson: “This is Martha Graham’s choreography. Next week you’re going to try out some of her dance techniques.
To prepare, I want you to make a mask that expresses some part of your personality, or the person you wish you had the courage to be.
You’ll wear it while you’re dancing next week.”
“What are you going to make?” my suitemate whispered.
“Something pink and sparkly.” I said. (I had known before the assignment was out of the professor’s mouth. I also knew I would get an A, because I was a master in creating masks to wear.)
Who did I want people to see?
- Someone with blonde hair
- hiding behind a pink paper plate mask
- with fake diamonds falling down from it,
- flowers on the top of the mask,
- and a sparkling ribbon to tie it around my head.
Heck, I would have worn it all over campus! – if wearing masks was the thing to do.
Years later, I found a quote by Martha Graham that made me think back to that morning. Perhaps she too had been struggling to find herself beneath the fabrics and masks of life when she said:
“We are all unique, and if that is not fulfilled, then something has been lost.”
May I add that something wonderful has been lost.
How to Be Yourself
Maybe you’re in the same place I was a few years ago, thinking, “Well all this talk about just being me is great, but I have no idea where to start or how to do that!”
It took me a few years to find myself under all my masks, and the journey might take you some time as well. There is no quick formula for discovering who you are, but these are some steps I took along my journey:
I was afraid to stop dying my hair. Afraid. You would have thought people might die or the world might explode if I went back to my normal hair color.
I just couldn’t go back to brown, because I didn’t think guys would notice me if my hair was brown.
Blonde hair was my trademark; it pretty much defined me. Then in a daring moment in Sydney, Australia, red became my trademark hair color.
But brown? Would anyone notice me then?
It wasn’t just my hair that I was faking, it was everything about me. I had to have
- Jenna’s sarcasm,
- Karyn’s sensitivity,
- Joanna’s waistline,
- Danielle’s facial structure,
- Ashley’s singing voice,
- and Krysta’s laugh.
I had pieced together a patchwork quilt version of myself, made up of my friends’ qualities. But where was I in the patchwork? I couldn’t tell anymore.
One day I had a brilliant idea: I could ask the One who made me who I was!
Of all people, He should know.
So I brought the patchwork quilt version of me to God and asked Him to show me who I was. Through friendships with people who loved me, reading the Bible to see what He said, and spending time praying and getting to know Him, I began to see who I was and who I was not.
Here is a very short list I’ve compiled of some hints the Bible gives us as to who we were created to be:
- We are royal daughters of the King (Psalm 45:13, 1 Pet. 2:9, 1 John 2:12-14, 1 John 3:1-2)
- We are His special treasure (Deut. 7:6, Psalm 17:8, Zech. 2:8, 1 Pet. 2:9)
- We are dearly loved by God (John 15:9, Rom. 8:37-39, Eph. 2:4)
- We are created to be worshipers of God (Isaiah 43:7, 1 Pet. 2:9, Rev. 4:11)
- We are messengers of God’s love to others (Matt. 28:18-20, John 13:35, Acts 13:47, Eph. 6:14-15, Rom. 10:14-15)
- We are chosen and called by name (Isaiah 43:1, Isaiah 43:6-7, Eph. 1:11-12, Col. 3:12, 1 Pet. 2:9)
- We were created in God’s image and for His glory (Gen. 1:27, Psalm 139:13, Eph. 2:10, Col. 1:16, Rev. 4:11)
- We were created for a unique purpose and given us gifts to accomplish that purpose (Exodus 9:16, Jer. 29:11, Rom. 8:28, Rom. 9:20-21, Rom. 12:4-8, 1 Cor. 12, 2 Tim. 1:9, 2 Tim. 2:20-21)
- We were created to be different from the rest of the world (John 17:14, Rom. 12:2, 1 Thess. 5:23, James 4:4, 1 John 2:15-17, 1 John 3:1-3)
When we realize how deeply God loves us, it gives us the security we need to let down the mask and truly be ourselves, living life as the daughters He created us to be.
I’ve gone au natural with my hair color. I had to dye it brown before letting it grow out or I would have had a huge line across my head of half blonde-half brown. It was actually Austin, my best guy friend, who put me up to it. He told me I needed to stop messing with my hair and let it go natural, because it was so pretty and all the dye was ruining it.
Me, pretty, naturally?
I was scared.
I mean, I came out of the bathroom at two minute intervals asking, “Mom, are you sure I should try dyeing my hair brown? Will it look okay?”
Then I’d go back to standing in front of the mirror with the box of hair dye next to my face, critiquing the color. Finally I took a deep breath and put the brown hair dye in.
Psalm 139 says “I will praise Him because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
Praise God for who He made you to be. Thank Him for making you to be you.
Throughout all of Scripture the key is in taking our focus off ourselves and putting it back on God.
Step #3: Choose to enjoy living life as you.
I no longer want that patchwork quilt version of me; I enjoy being who I really am – brown hair and all.
I’ve even started cracking my corny jokes when I’m around cute guys. So much for being suave and sophisticated – the other day I actually belched in front of a cute guy!
Instead of repelling people from me, I have gained friends. The more I am at rest with who I am – and fully enjoying life as me – the more other people enjoy being around me. Go figure!
Nick Vucijic is a Swedish man who travels the world, speaking to thousands of people. He is so happy and confident that you would never guess he is a man whose body is primarily composed of a torso. He has his little “chicken drum” feet and stumps for hands. He can hardly stand up on his own, and he struggled to learn to feed himself. No one would blame him if he felt sorry for himself. But he doesn’t.
Nick Vucijic loves life and enjoys being himself. He believes that God made him on purpose, and that he is not a mistake. He is an example to all of us of the way we can live, confident in God’s love for us.
Every single one of us can enjoy being ourselves, but it involves a choice. We have to decide to be confident in God’s love for us and learn to enjoy being ourselves.
If I am to be completely honest, I would have to say that, more than anything else, it was the time spent on my knees in prayer that showed me who I was. As I developed a relationship with Jesus, and began to know who He was, He in turn showed me who I was.
C.S. Lewis says it this way in his book Mere Christianity:
The more we get what we now call “ourselves” out of the way and let Him take us over, the more truly ourselves we become. There is so much of Him that millions and millions of “little Christs,” all different, will still be too few to express Him fully. He made them all. He invented – as an author invents characters in a novel – all the different men that you and I are intended to be. In that sense our real selves are all waiting for us in Him. It is no good trying to “be myself” without Him… I am not, in my natural state, nearly so much of a person as I like to believe: most of what I call “me” can be very easily explained. It is when I turn to Christ, when I give myself up to His Personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own… Your real, new self…will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him.
Ultimately it’s not so much about finding who I am. It’s about finding who He is.
If we’re focusing too intently on finding who we are, we’ll miss it.
We have to focus on searching out who He is, and on the way to getting lost in Him, we’ll find ourselves.
Sometimes people say to “be true to yourself,” which usually means, “make sure you get your own way!” That’s not what being ourselves really means.
God loves you just as you are and where you are on life’s journey, but that doesn’t mean He is going to leave you there. There are things about us that God will shape, like making something out of playdough.
Imagine He made this certain lump of green playdough.
The playdough’s sitting on the counter saying, “This is me. I’m blue and a circle. That’s who I am.”
God, on the other hand, sees the creation He wants this playdough to become, so He starts squeezing it and rolling it.
The playdough’s screaming, “Stop it! You’re messing with who I am! Hello, are you listening to me? This is uncomfortable!”
What the playdough doesn’t realize is that it’s becoming who it is meant to be. Eventually it is reworked into a beautiful bowl. It’s still blue and it’s still playdough, but it looks different.
There are things God is shaping into our lives as well. Being true to yourself doesn’t mean you never change; it means you are learning who God made you to be and asking for a glimpse of who He is causing you to become.
The Old Me and the Real Me
On days when I felt pretty, I said hi to everyone; on days when I didn’t feel pretty, I said hi to hardly anyone.
I was super, super, super sweet. Like, seriously, people told me all the time, “You’re the sweetest person I’ve ever met!”
But it was guilt-motivated. I felt bad about EVERYTHING and so I was sweet as sugar to try and make sure people liked me and were never mad at me.
I wasn’t very good at saying “no,” and you could guilt trip me into just about anything. I definitely wasn’t assertive.
The old me was your stereotypical “blonde.” Even though I actually was naive, I also played it up, making myself ditzy. I thought would like me better that way. Oh, and I was over-the-top girlie.
To top it off, I almost always felt like I wasn’t good enough. If I got a less-than-perfect grade on something, it would haunt me and I would beat myself up over it. I was so focused on being perfect, that all I saw in my own life was the imperfect.
The real me – the one I enjoy being today – is very different.
In some ways I’m similar. I’m still girlie. I still like to do everything with excellence. I still am fairly sweet — or at least I like to think so. 😉 And I still struggle with being guilt-motivated at times, or in other words doing things because I feel bad or am worried about whether or not someone will like me.
But I’m also MUCH different.
I don’t think people will like me better if I look better, and honestly, I’ve just stopped caring as much what people think about how I look. Now I tend to think, “Well, if that person doesn’t like me for who I am, that’s okay.” I’m not thinking, “Their loss.” No, I’m just accepting that some people will and some people won’t like the real me, and that’s perfectly fine and normal.
I’ve become much more assertive and good at saying “no.” I say it quite often actually, because I’ve learned my limits…and I’ve learned that the people who matter in my life will still love me even if I say no.
I’m still a bit naive, but not so ditzy anymore.
I’m not afraid to talk about my dreams, or my struggles. I feel like my life has become an open book. I’m hoping that my struggles can help someone else, so I’ll share them with anyone.
Now I remind myself to focus on remembering the positive instead of the negative. (This is still a struggle for me.)
I’ve changed SO much. Who I am in some respects is the same as who I as before, since the real me was just buried beneath the surface. But it’s also very different. And I’d take the real me over the Stepford me anytime.
Daughter of the King
You are not a mistake, and you are not an accident. You are a precious, dearly-loved woman, carefully and purposefully created just the way you are. You are a miracle.
Let down the mask. Stop trying to be the person you think is wanted. Take the risk of being yourself.
It’s scary, I know. Take a deep breath and decide to go “au natural” with your life, letting down the pretences and being completely and fully you. Spend time on your knees, getting to know God so you can come to know who He says you are. As you get lost in Him, through things like studying the Bible, prayer, and worship, you will begin to discover who you are.
You will find confidence as you discover your identity: You are a daughter of the King.