Jody Williams, winner of the 1997 Nobel Peace prize, advises that the winners this year ‘Stay true to themselves’. This is advice we often here is kids or in movies, but what does it really mean? First of all, how do you discover who your true self is? It seems many people don’t quite know who they are. Second, most people have some qualities that they wish they didn’t have, such as jealousy, envy, insecurities or prejudices. Staying true to those things wouldn’t seem to be in our interest. What does it mean to you to stay true to yourself? Which part of yourself to you think about?
This is a big topic and one I’m not sure you can do justice to in a short blog post. Being true to yourself is very individual; but for me it’s finding out who I authentically am, deep down inside, peeling back the layers of opinions, attitude and beliefs I’ve picked up from others and all the different learned behaviours. I want to act and react to life because of my own true beliefs, not just because I’ve seen other people act that way.
If I’ve analysed my opinions or feelings and they feel real and authentic then I trust them and myself. I also find that I have more confidence in an opinion I can justify to myself, if I truly believe it then I’m not ashamed or embarrassed to share it with others. I want my reactions to be my own, not just direct reflections of other people’s. I know that I have been formed by those I grew up with and those I spend time with now, and I’ve realised that I have experienced ways of life that I believed to be normal and acceptable at the time; but only now have learnt that they weren’t. It’s because of this that I have found it important to look back at everything I’ve ever thought and felt and review it, to see whether it’s really me or if it’s coming from someone else.
Being true to myself and discovering who I am seems to have been a real focus over the past year. It sounds corny and clichéd; but I think it’s so easy to get caught up in life, to get pushed or dragged from one crisis to the next, that you never get chance to stand back and just be. It takes courage to be with yourself, without noise or people. It’s in those moments of quiet, when you are either swamped by stress and anxiety or embraced in calm tranquility. I’ve experienced both sensations and I know which I prefer. If you’re comfortable with yourself then you can be in a room by yourself and never feel alone and that’s a great feeling.
It’s easier to distract yourself from your problems and issues, the term “busy fool” springs to mind. I know I’ve been guilty of this, of trying to pretend everything in life is okay; but that sense of unease doesn’t go away, despite how much I try to keep my mind busy. I know it has an impact on my overall life and happiness. I then tend to feel like I get swamped by the little problems, so I don’t appreciate the beauty and awe that surrounds me. It’s hard to feel grateful for all the positive things in your life when you’re stressed out by what’s happening today, tomorrow and next week. I think I accepted that I had to just get through this current bad time and then everything would get better.What I’m realising is that is life is stressful, no matter where you are or what you’re doing it can overwhelm you. I know I’ve felt lost within it and I hate that feeling.
I think the key to “finding yourself” is to have a clear picture of who you are, what’s important to you and how you want to be living your life. If you know this and connect with it on a deep level, then it’s easier to hold onto during stressful periods and you don’t feel as lost. It’s easier to get back to being you and finding happiness, if you do get swamped by life again.
I think that “negative” traits like jealousy, envy and anger aren’t the true you, they are just emotions, often triggered from your beliefs or experiences; but I don’t think they make you who you are. We can all experience them; but I think it’s how we work through them that is a comment on our true selves. I also think that it’s never too late to reevaluate how you live and react to situations and people, you can always work to understand yourself and to let go of reactions and mindsets which only make you suffer. It’s not easy or fast; but it can be done.
As I was writing this post I realised that there are so many examples in literature of advice about staying true to yourself, including Shakespeare in Hamlet, during Polonius’ advice to his son Laertes.
To Thine Own Self Be True
-- William Shakespeare Yet here, Laertes! Aboard, aboard for shame! The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail, And you are stay'd for. There ... my blessing with thee! And these few precepts in thy memory Look thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue, Nor any unproportion'd thought his act. Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar. Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel; But do not dull thy palm with entertainment Of each new-hatch'd, unfledg’d comrade. Beware Of entrance to a quarrel but, being in, Bear't that th' opposed may beware of thee. Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice; Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgement. Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy, But not express'd in fancy; rich, not gaudy; For the apparel oft proclaims the man; And they in France of the best rank and station Are of a most select and generous chief in that. Neither a borrower, nor a lender be; For loan oft loses both itself and friend, And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry. This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man. Farewell; my blessing season this in thee!
Another example is Rudyard Kipling’s poem If.
IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise: If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools: If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’ If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
‘ Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!
If you are happy with who you are, then I think that’s what matters most. I know that I still feel like there are parts of me that are missing, that I’m still trying to uncover and develop and I guess it’s all in my quest to find true and lasting happiness. I don’t think it’s a journey that will ever end and in some ways that’s depressing and exciting in equal measure. I want life to keep getting better and I would rather live my life in search of the real me, than just let the years slide past me. I live to laugh and love and learn, and I know I’m doing it right, if I’m feeling happy and content. In the words of the great bard “This above all: to thine own self be true”