Clearly Frankenstein and Cleopatra were ruses, but what about the faces you put forward at work or at parties, with your partners, children, mentors and friends? Chances are, you’re never the same “you” in any two given situations. You have a demeanor, a role – a personality, really – to match each one. In the course of our lives, we put on a lot of masks, so how do you meld your many faces to get at the real you?
Most of us have been asked at one time or another, “How would you describe yourself?” There are so many ways you could answer that! Your professional version probably varies from job interview to job interview and (hopefully) only vaguely resembles the versions you compose for online profiles and allude to on first dates. But that list of adjectives waxes and wanes with your mood. So how do you determine which ones should be strewn together to represent the essential personality at the heart of them all?
Truly, there’s no easy answer here. The “real you” incorporates the entire list – all your lists. Maybe it’s more accurate to say that a different version of you emerges under each new set of circumstances. You’re a nurturer to those in need, a student of those you admire and a rebel in the face of unjust authority. The contemplative, solitary you is made of the same stuff as the life of the party that leaps hungrily for the spotlight.
Here’s how to tap into all the glorious parts of you:
1. Embrace yourself
Remember, you are a product of your base instincts and inherited dispositions, as well as those traits that are learned. We absorb habits and values from those around us, and we teach ourselves to be the people we want to be. The goal in better understanding yourself is not to strip yourself of these influences – that would leave you featureless, devoid of your life’s experiences (like a hard drive that’s been wiped clean). Instead, acknowledge the influences of your environment that bring out your many facets, even as you strive to better understand what is beneath them.
2. Inhibit inhibitions
One influence that tends to suppress your true self rather than color it, is that little voice that longs to censor your thoughts and actions. Remember that inhibitions have their uses in life, and to do away with them completely would invite chaos and self-indulgence. But if you can temporarily dispense with that little voice, you’ll invite the parts of you that are suppressed by fears, propriety and, yes, sometimes consideration, to come to the surface. Get in the habit of asking yourself: “If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do here?” “If no one could see me, how would I proceed?” We only have a certain amount of energy and attention available. Eliminate doubts and questions about what you should be doing then you will have more of yourself to devote to true expression, insight, creativity and self-exploration.
3. Choose your company carefully
Our best friends are those who make us feel like our best selves. Surround yourself with those people and collect more wherever you find them. It’s nice if you can identify what it is they trigger in you (confidence, sensitivity, leadership, playfulness) but just by immersing yourself in these personalities you’ll find you’re more self-aware and self-accepting.
4. Raise your expectations
We have a tendency to match what other people expect of us with our own. We’re more confident, humorous and insightful around people who believe in us. On the flipside, we’re guarded and awkward around our critics and those whose opinions are unknown. Assume they are positive. The real you (all of them), are purer and more vibrant when they aren’t weighed down by the weight of imagined expectations.
So make an effort to raise your own expectations of those around you – you’ll find their best selves emerging to keep your best self company.
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