Leave that last slice of humble-pie alone. You've had enough.
"I knew there were certain expectations because I was in the projects, because I am black, because I am female. But I think I made a conscious effort to be heard, to be seen, to create a life that matters, and it's always been a process of finding my own voice." — Regina Taylor
If you are curious about who you could be if you were less concerned about what others think — and feel uncomfortable with the notion that you should "fake it til you make it" — this article is for you. It provides a range of choices for expressing your true self in safe, effective ways.
When you boast about yourself for a good reason, you’re likely to see at least the following benefits:
- Recognition from others for who you are and what you offer.
- Clarity regarding which people in your life truly appreciate you.
- Increased confidence in and comfort with being your authentic self.
- Greater enjoyment in being yourself.
- Deepened ability to contribute to others.
You may believe the messages you put out to others about yourself should be modest and self-effacing. After all, tooting your own horn, by women especially, is considered socially unacceptable by many people.
Expressing your unique style may feel too risky. Maybe you’ll alienate others or expose your vulnerabilities.
On the hand, a recent study by researchers at Brown University shows that "individuals who claim to be of above-average ability will be perceived as more competent ... than those who remain humble."
While your hesitation to boast may provide a feeling of protection from perceived challenges and threats, remaining silent also risks\ constraining yourself. Just as your muscles shrink when you don't use them and your flexibility decreases when you remain immobile, the less you use your mental muscle to express positive reflections of yourself to others, the less likely you are to discover your full, true self over time.
When you fail to share with anyone the reasons they should appreciate you, neither you nor they get an opportunity to learn and appreciate fully who you are and what you can offer, which means fewer people benefit from the wider range of contributions you can make.
Despite these possibilities, you still may feel that going from being quiet about yourself to boasting freely is just too much of a leap. You might fall or get bruised.
Have you ever been told something along the lines of what my mother said to me when I verbally patted myself on the back after effectively leading a college class?
"Be careful," she said. "You might break your arm ..."
Though this was a shift from her typical encouragement and support, I had enough presence of mind to quickly reply, "Who knows better than I do what I did in that class?"
Since even someone you know is in your corner might be taken aback by your new expressions of confidence, consider starting with small steps taken under safe circumstances. Move slowly from your present style to more open expression. This approach will help you find what's comfortable now and how you may want to stretch toward strutting your stuff in the future — appropriately, of course!
To create, find, and use opportunities for expressing your best self, try any of the following 7 suggestions:
1. When you feel engaged or excited about something, say so.
2. When you are with people who share your interests and passions, express your own.
3. When you expect to be in an environment where you can feel comfortable dressing in your unique style, rather than in what's perceived as acceptable, do so.
4. When you participate in new activities and groups that appeal to you, show the positive aspects of yourself that you don't generally express.
5. When you've accomplished something that gives you pride, share it with someone who would benefit from knowing about what you've done. Summarize the essence of the accomplishment quickly and give a few concrete examples.
6. When someone's accomplishment or self-presentation provides an opportunity for you to acknowledge them, state specifically what impressed you. Avoid putting in your two cents in a way that shifts the focus off of them, such as, “Oh, that reminds me of when I ...”
7. When you find yourself in situations where the risk of being more open seems minimal, make sure to express your unique ideas, insights, and skills.
You can adapt each option to suit your own needs, and no doubt you will think of other approaches as well. However, if none come to mind right now, try one from the list above that feels like the most authentic step for you. You can find inspiration in movies, TV, YouTube videos, theater, dance, art, books, articles, etc., and you can also learn by observing the behavior of confident people you know, enjoy, and respect.
If being open about your strength and enthusiasm still feels like a stretch, remember to practice, practice, practice. Try making a video of yourself or observing yourself in a mirror until you feel more at ease. When you do, be sure not to hyper-focus on what you do "wrong." Instead, make a specific list of everything you like about your presentation and identify one aspect to improve.
Here are some mini-scripts to try out:
- I was lucky enough to have an opportunity to _______________________________.
- I was surprised when I recently learned _______________________________ about myself.
- While doing _______________________________ the other day, I figured out that I can _______________________________.
- I've been working hard at trying to _______________________________, and now I see that _______________________________.
- I've been interested in _______________________________ for quite a while, and when I had a chance to follow through I found that _______________________________.
If all else fails, seek to find strengths and enthusiasm you have in common with others during your conversations, activities, and other forms of collaboration. In those situations, opportunities to be true to yourself are likely to arise.
A word of caution: Some people may never be comfortable with this shift in your style or such shows of strength.
They could feel competitive, jealous, resentful, intimidated, or threatened. Your relationship could be based on you remaining one level down from — or at least not one-up on — the other person, so be alert to such situations and make choices accordingly. Instead of letting other people's issues keep you from being who you are, experiment with the following alternatives:
- Minimize your contact with such people and situations.
- Ask yourself if you really want to spend time with individuals who send vibes or overt messages that you should tiptoe or keep yourself under wraps.
- Speak openly about your concerns when the relationship has value to you, as I did in the conversation with my mother above. She took my comment well and never said something so squelching again. In fact, I suspect her comment may have reflected her own training and values more than a wish to limit mine.
As you experiment with the suggestions in this guide, you are likely to bring more fun and variety into your life.
You will also elicit greater interest and trust from others who will be good companions and who will appreciate your true nature. These new experiences will enhance your confidence and sense of finding deeper meaning in life.
Ruth M. Schimel, Ph.D., is a Career and Life Management Consultant in the Washington, DC area. She shows her range of clients throughout the U.S. and abroad how to make wise choices that awaken their strengths and interests to become their best selves in life and work. Ruth’s Choose Courage series is available on Amazon. You can find additional resources as well as information about her and her practice on her website or you can reach her at 202.659.1772.