A few years ago, my sister invited me to her New Year’s Eve party. I was excited about going because she was a great entertainer and I knew it would be a fabulous evening, but I also felt apprehensive.
My sister has always dressed beautifully and as long as I could remember, I’ve always felt like scarecrow alongside her. It isn’t that I don’t care about my appearance, but we have different lifestyles and like different types of clothes. I feel happiest in casual, while she and her friends go for the elegant, successful look. She looks like a model stepping off the runway, while I mostly do a great impersonation of a poverty-stricken student.
So after receiving the invite, I spent days agonizing over what I was going to wear. Clothes and appearance tell others a lot about our personality and what’s important to us. We judge others by their appearance without even meaning to. I wanted to look good and I wanted to fit in. I went through my wardrobe, pulling out and then rejecting one outfit after another. I loved all my clothes, but none of them screamed success or elegance and I didn’t want my sister’s friends feeling sorry for her having me as a sister.
In the past, I’d have gone shopping and come home with an outfit that I thought would make me fit in and be accepted. I always hated feeling different and I’d grown up believing that looking the same as everyone else was the first step to fitting in. But most times when I bought an outfit to make sure I’d fit in, I’d feel awkward wearing it, like a child playing dress-up. After two or three outings, the outfit would be shoved to the back of my closet so it was out of sight and out of mind. Eventually I’d discard it altogether feeling guilty for wasting money on something I’d never liked.
As I grappled with what to wear for the party, I came to understand that the real challenge I was facing was whether to dress as the best version of myself or to imitate others who had different values and ambitions in life. Being me was scary and seemed hugely risky but I was tired of pretending not to be me.
That New Year’s Eve I decided to show up as myself. I felt nervous as I walked into my sister’s apartment where everyone was glittering. All my inadequacies about my appearance floated around in my head all night, but for the first time ever I decided to ignore them and have a great time. As I drove home in the early hours of New Year’s Day, I realized how empowering and liberating it had felt to be me.
We’re all inauthentic at times, particularly in unfamiliar situations when we worry that our ‘real self’ isn’t good enough for the situation. So rather than face rejection, we show up as the person we think everyone else will like. We say things we don’t really believe and we do things we despise ourselves for. That’s because we’re hard-wired to fit in and seek the approval of others. It’s an instinctive response that can be extremely difficult to overcome. After all, in prehistoric times survival mostly depended on being part of a family or tribe .
So how can you become more authentic?
Image by Eugene Kim