By: Dr. Gwen Smith
Have you ever been in a relationship that stifles who you are? That's a suffocating feeling. One that is fear-filled especially if you are vested in the relationship and want to see it succeed.
Equally suffocating and possibly more debilitating and fear-filled is allowing yourself to be trapped in your own body, wanting to get out but being too afraid because of ideas you have about your competence or impact or for fear of not being loved or respected; you are afraid to be you..
I personally know how that feels. I've been there before. More than two and half decades ago, as a young professional I remember feeling a sense of powerlessness in my life and a strong need to feel respected as a first-time school administrator.
Though I was a continuously high performer delivering on every level, there was that feeling of being too nice, not saying what I really wanted to say, and feeling trampled, like a pushover. I did so many things to bolster my courage and to appear likeable but in my mind, my level of assertiveness was lacking.
I saw an older, more experienced leader, Pamela, gaining what looked like more respect from my perspective. And, without objectively assessing my own status, I perceived that this was a missing for me. I really desired to have that level of responsiveness from the entire staff and purposed that when I got promoted to her level; I would work to get the same.
The only issue was that she was tough and appeared to be uncaring about how she spoke to the faculty. She had a really tough exterior and everyone, from my perspective, seemed to respond immediately to what she requested. I wanted the latter results, but my personality was not one to be scathing unless there was 'good reasons'.
I watched carefully and thought if I copied her approach, I would get the same results. I didn't want to be me anymore because I felt that I wanted the staff to respond to my requests without me having to chase them to follow up on missed assignments.
My perception was mainly due to two or three faculty members, out of a staff of 150, who were continuously missing from the assignments I gave them. It drained my energies to follow up with them issuing disciplinary warnings. I did not enjoy that process. I resolved that this will never ever again be the same.
The day came when I was promoted. I was to open a new school, new faculty, no programs in place, no furniture, no classroom layout, and the head person was not yet hired. I felt quite confident in my abilities to handle what was before me. I looked forward to a new beginning, and basked in the lovely send-off prepared for me.
Arriving at my new school, I discovered that word had gotten out to the new faculty about my previous performance and their love and affinity for me. The previous faculty had only kind words to say. I was amazed. I didn't know what I had done to earn that.
Though pleasantly surprised, I was also quite aware that, this did not match the image of leadership that I had of myself. I had formed the image that I did not have the respect of the faculty.
In my new position, I became like Pamela. I was not my real self. I tried hard to be direct but that combination with my compassionate side really did not work out well for me. I was trying too hard to avoid being me and to be her instead.
In the end, the affinity was not as campus-wide and teachers even had descriptions of me that appeared as though I was cold-hearted. That too was painful for me because I never would have realized that this was the result I would have gotten. Because I'd formed the same perception of Pamela it shouldn't have come as a surprise, but it did.
I learned some big lessons about being myself:
The biggest lesson I learned in those moments was that people can only fall in love, purely, with the true you. Being your pure, authentic self, you'll never have to worry about how you are going to be the next day, or week or month...you're consistent.
Being your natural self will create consistency. People will always appreciate consistency, though they may not always love the actions.
Trying to be someone else is taxing, not just on the people surrounding you, but also on you yourself. You feel like a phony and you therefore get phony results.
What worked for Pamela clearly did not work for me. No amount of forcing to be her got me the same results that she got. It only created an image of me that I wasn't proud of in the end, and left me with a feeling of having missed out on an opportunity.
Pamela being her own consistent self, got her own consistent. People will come to respect you for who you consistently are being. Because you are unique, you really can't consistently and reliably be someone else. At some point parts of you will slip out, producing dissonance.
The dissonance eradicates negative vibes that people experience when relating to you. The end result is discomfort in relating and communicating., and a completely different experience than intended.
Additionally, when you are not free to be yourself, you rob others of the amazing benefit you would have brought, had you showed up exactly the way you are. Showing up the way you are means that you are not allowing your self-limiting beliefs and self- image to dictate your showing up as someone else.
From not being free to be myself, I lost an opportunity to make a tremendous impact that only I, as an authentic being could have made. Coming fully as representing only me, flawed or not, to the world allows humanity to touch humanity and in those moments special bonds are created and transformation, otherwise not possible, results.
So, no matter what you think about who you are have the courage to experience the freedom of showing up only as you. In doing, you will have a unique approach that will possibly free someone else who may be waiting for exactly you, just as you are.
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