I talk a lot about connecting with who you are, authenticity and how being an unapologetic, genuine, warts and all you allows you to connect with others on a whole new level (a core component of our happiness flow-go).
This means you won’t please everyone but the people who get you will love you. More importantly, when your internal and external world are in sync (how you are in the world aligns with who you are on the inside) you’re in a position to cultivate some solid, feel good, self-esteem.
If you strive to please others or you’re feeling the pressure of perfectionism then this whole thing can take some practice, not because you’re fake or insincere but because you’ve learned and developed a perfectly understandable life strategy. You’re wired to please others to avoid being shat on.
The thing is, you don’t need to do this anymore and it’s probably keeping you out of your happy place.
I recently went on a family holiday to Walt Disney World where they aim to provide an immersive experience and ‘keeping up the act’ is taken to a whole new level. Everyone involved has a character to play and staff are referred to as ‘cast members’ whether they’re taking part in a parade or waiting tables. Everyone is responsible for maintaining the Disney brand.
Now, you can imagine this is on roids if you’re playing one of the iconic Disney princesses. These guys are totally hardcore when it comes to maintaining a ‘be perfect’ mask for the public.
My daughter was keen to do the ‘meet and greets’ to get autographs and so on, so, as I stood there sweating my bits off in the queue to meet Snow White I said to my husband: “How are they doing this all day? How do they keep it up? The smiling, the conversation? Do you think they have a team of therapists behind the scenes?”
Honestly, Snow White was flawless and not once did she allow a bad camera angle or her smile to drop. As I stood there watching her inter’act’ with everyone I realized that’s what I used to do… or rather how I felt sometimes. Like I had to protect the image I’d created or risk rejection, judgment and not being liked. My currency and personal worth so to speak were dependent on what other people thought.
Now here’s the thing, the more you develop your ‘brand’ and hone your act, the harder it is to drop. It’s like the outside world would get a monumental shock if you reveal the ‘truth’. It would be like finding out Cinderella has a crack habit.
But here’s the thing I’ve come to realize and I continue to work on… it’s totally and utterly in my head. I’m not Cinderella, if I were a princess I’d much rather be Merida anyway, and more to the point no-one gives a shit… and if they do give a shit then they’re actually not my tribe.
The issue with this be-perfect, please-others life strategy is two-fold. Firstly, when you’re on the up it can feel like you’ve got things going on — you can start to believe your own hype and it feels genuine. However, you’re on rocky ground as it’s all built on external validation and approval.
Secondly, when shit hits the inevitable fan the cracks begin to show and the walls cave in. All of a sudden the “you’re not good enough” inner critic monster creeps out of the woodwork and bites you squarely on the arse.
The result of all this is that rather than show vulnerability we work even harder to keep up the act and earn our worth. It’s exhausting and it’s a vicious circle that cultivates separateness from others rather than real connection.
I remember when I was bullied at work by my boss and my people-pleasing, be-perfect strategy was a recipe for disaster. It was never about me it was all about the bully’s insecurity and sense (or lack of) self-worth.
But the more I was complicit in the game, the more I tried to make it better, the more I held up my mask, the more fear took over that I wasn’t good enough and I would lose my job. Self-esteem became a major casualty (for me and the bully no doubt) and the irony was I quit my job anyway.
So how can we take off the mask and show our underbellies to the world? Well, I guess the first place to start is by connecting with yourself. What are you about? What are your values, opinions, loves? Are you putting this out into the world? Does your internal landscape align with your life? Reconnect with yourself and from here you can begin to peep over the mask, take it off completely once in a while until it’s just a pain in the arse to carry it around.
I’ll finish by saying that this thing isn’t about needing to be a different sort of perfect. Being me isn’t about me feeling I have to throw my makeup in the bin and let my highlights grow out. That’s all a part of me, my style and my personality. The difference is I’ve made a choice not to be a slave to it.
I’ve also learned that part of this process is getting it in your head that you can’t bloody win. There’s no right or wrong way, only your way.
For example, when it comes to appearance I’ve had just as much subtle under the radar ‘criticism’ about making an effort to look ‘good’ “how long did you spend doing that…” as I have about not giving a shit. But you know what? That’s just as bad. Whether it’s the way you look, your opinions, your work, your kids, your house, the car you drive… there’s always a lover and a hater.
Connecting with yourself and the outside world in a genuine, honest, warts and all way is about intention. It takes a little courage, a bit of practice and a willingness to fuck up once in a while… but if you ask me, it’s totally worth it. It will set you free.