8 Ways To Start Being Your Authentic Self (And STOP Pretending!)

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Self

Because faking it is exhausting.

When I was in second grade, I got a minus next to "plays well with others." In my family, this was a terrible thing, much worse than getting a bad grade.

(This also wasn’t allowed, but somehow getting a "B", although the equivalent of failure in my parents’ eyes, didn’t carry quite the same degree of shame and inadequacy in what they interpreted as social incompetence.)

Years later, that stupid report card still haunts me from time to time. But here’s the thing I don’t think anyone realized. It’s not that I was incapable of playing with others well or otherwise. I just preferred doing a lot of things on my own.

I didn’t dislike my classmates. I wasn’t mean nor was I excluded when I was with them. But if there was even a remote chance that I could stay in during recess to draw or read or make something, I happily passed up the chance to go freeze my butt off on the playground "playing with others."

Even extroverts need time off.

I score about as high on the Myers-Briggs Extrovert Scale as you can get. But even today, if you give me the chance to work on a puzzle or some project or another, I’m most likely to wander off and play, research, discover, create, or simply do my own thing — often much more effectively without the distraction of other people. 

Is this really a problem?


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Looking at my occasional preference for solitude as a problem did me a great disservice. In fact, I believe that this perception was the problem, and the labels and concern I encountered from well-meaning adults dogged me for years.

It wasn’t until I saw someone wearing a t-shirt proudly emblazoned with the warning, "Does not play well with others" (there are dozens of different models online) that I began to appreciate the silver lining here. 

In truth, I’m not a bad collaborator, and unless there's a ball or a lot of running involved, I’m a pretty good asset for your team.

But the best work I’ve done — whether in teaching, writing, or any of my various hobbies — usually happened when I’ve been left to my own devices.

Was it a hunger for conformity? Meh...

When we’re young, our survival depends on the approval of others. Most of us grow up looking for ways to fit in, which often means living up to the expectations others have for us. 

If we’re strong enough to follow our own unique passions, we can end up as misfits, marginalized by mainstream social groups, and worried over by adults trying to protect us from rejection—much less some stifling diagnosis pasted on people who don’t easily conform.

In general, the need for approval drops off over the years. (Probably the coolest thing about getting older!) 

With time and support, I’ve gotten way less worried about fitting in and spend far less time making choices based on how others are likely to react to them. The freedom that’s accompanied this relative indifference is exhilarating.


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There aren’t many hills I’m willing to die on these days, and speaking an unfamiliar truth has, on occasion, made me pretty unpopular at times.

I don’t like being shredded in an encounter or review any more than the next person, but some things more important than having everyone in the world agree with me.

Plus, I tend to be too busy or tired to worry about what "normal" is supposed to look like anymore.

You can make peace with not fitting in. How to be your authentic self depends on whether you're doing any of these 8 things:

1. Surround yourself with people who "get" you and appreciate you for who you are.

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Find people who don’t have an agenda for who you are supposed to be, who won’t be disappointed when you don’t live up to standards that aren’t relevant to who you truly are.

2. Stop seeking approval from people who don’t.

Develop some discretion about what you share with certain people, especially anyone who belittles your expression of your true self.

Devote your time, creativity, and energy to chasing your dreams instead of trying to convince others of their value.

3. Know that sometimes being rejected is a blessing.

We can’t always avoid toxic people, but we can usually reduce the amount of contact we have with them.

Although it may not feel like it at the time, when they throw us away, they create space for new and better, and our lives are generally better for it.

4. Question beliefs that no longer serve you.


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Growing up, I got a lot of information about who I was. Some were true, at least at the time. But some information was flat-out wrong and led me to believe negative and limiting things about myself. 

It took a good bit of work to sort through and reject these messages, updating them to reflect who I really was in present time. Don’t let yourself be stigmatized by other people’s judgments

5. Use feedback that is useful.

While not all information is worthwhile or accurate, see if you can pull something of value from the messages you currently get.

Strive for kindness and consideration without trying to twist yourself into a version of yourself that doesn’t feel authentic. 

Watch for defensiveness or slipping into shame. If someone’s input or requests help you grow, improve, or understand yourself better, consider it a gift.

6. Don’t take things personally.

Even when it is personal. Don’t make it about you. People judge from their own filters, values, and priorities. Honor their right to their opinions and move on.

7. Stop comparing yourself to others.

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The real value we bring to this lifetime comes from our authenticity and uniqueness, whether or not it is immediately appreciated.

There are huge benefits to chasing an individual dream and solving problems in creative, out-of-the-box ways. Look beyond the push for conformity.

8. Take time for yourself.

We all are pulled in so many different directions that we often end up exhausted and resentful because we haven’t made time to pull away for a little recharge time.

If you’re really worried about playing well with others when you really want to, you’ll be in much better shape if you bring a healthy "you" to the party.

Unless you’re especially thoughtless and self-absorbed, "Doesn’t play well with others" is probably code for "doesn’t tow the party line" or "doesn’t act the way we expect."

Learning to follow your inner guidance, especially when it means saying "No" or taking time for yourself, can mean developing a tolerance for the discomfort of swimming against the current.

But over time, the judgments and criticism can start feeling like a badge of honor because they often affirm that you are being true to yourself.

And think about this: What if the people who "don’t play well with other" are actually the ones who just need a little space and time to themselves to process, think, create, and maybe, just maybe, come up with ideas, solutions, and products that can only happen for them when they aren’t being forced to fit in or interact with their peers?

Perhaps the signs my teacher saw when I was in second grade were simply the stirrings of what would one day allow me to start my own business, write my own books, compose my own music, and design my own patterns for sweaters and afghans.

Maybe it never had anything to do with "others" at all.

Dr. Jane Bluestein is an author, artist, and life-long educator who works with teachers, counselors, and parents worldwide. Her book, The Perfection Deception: Why Trying to be Perfect is Sabotaging Your Relationships, Making You Sick, and Holding Your Happiness Hostage addresses many of the issues in this blog. Visit her website for several hundred articles, handouts, book excerpts, interviews, and other good stuff.

This article was originally published at janebluestein.com. Reprinted with permission from the author.

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