I constantly think if I am actually being myself, but after reading the article in New York Times about what it really is – to be yourself, I decided to write down my thoughts on it. You can read the full article by Adam Grant of Wharton School here.
While many people (who have seen and actually met me) believe that I am the most optimistic person in the world and call me an extrovert (how dare they!), it only takes a few days for someone else to see the other, dark side of the person that I am. Then, there’s the vulnerable side of me. To tell you that I know who I really am would be telling lies, and I don’t tell lies that often and I am being honest when I write, when I don’t write fiction.
In reality I do not know what I am, because then I would have to define everything that I am trying to be with different people and then sit down and talk to myself craving to find out the true me, who would probably be trying to act out too! I will elaborate in a second.
There are several groups of people who see me as someone who they think is the only version of me. Let’s say, my friends from London think I am extremely outgoing, and I am speculating of course, a little bit stuck up and maybe even fancy (someone told me that recently and that threw me off a bit). My London photographer friends believe I am eternally happy, that I do not have any problems, that I have dozens of boyfriends and that I always love where I am at the moment, meaning my state and presence of course, but my location as well sometimes.
My childhood friends from Russia know me as the quiet girl, who would never do anything wrong, who is shy and probably wears glasses (I actually did sometimes before I hit 25), they know I will listen to them and sympathise with them, but never let them know of my opinion, but if I do, they will always like what they’re going to hear.
People from my school at University of East Anglia, specifically those who I have studied with, came to know me as the course representative, a girl with a loud voice and even a louder opinion, she goes to the lectures, she interacts with both students and teachers, and she was the one who tried to change the content of one course subject by arguing with the professor. May I say, they weren’t public arguments, as I am really not that horrible. They promised they would consider changing it, by the way. This girl also does pub crawls, is sometimes 5 minutes late for the said lecture and who flirts with everyone, most of the time unknowingly.
I have a few friends who can see right through me and I always wonder what they see. Asking helps sometimes, but then the truth starts hurting, and after that you ponder: is it really who I am, and is it not the person that is acting, yet again, against her own will? You have to read people pretty well, to understand what lies beneath a smile, a straight face, a laugh, a witty comment. Then there are silly comments too, and imagine what people think of you when you make them! Should I say: you shouldn’t care about what people think, but then we enter a very dark territory. What would you do if you really didn’t care about what others thought? Would you not thank a salesperson for helping you in the shop just because you didn’t care? Would you stop nodding to the new information that your friend gives you about themselves (in case you had any friends anyway)? Would you wear a stained shirt when you could have washed it, but you just didn’t mind looking untidy? Would you say you were a lazy person at a job interview? Would you simply tell everyone that you didn’t care about their personal opinions about you?
Yes, there is a select group of people we honestly don’t care about, and they should be the people who aren’t concerned about your persona. They would feel the same lack of interest. So that is how empathy works. It exists in our everyday life and we may not be aware of it every time we encounter it, but it’s there. It’s different with everyone, and yes, people will not thank someone who helped them, but does this mean, that this unthankful person should be you?
We adjust to hundreds of various situations and numerous people almost everyday. We change our appearance, we start resembling the characters that we are with from day-to-day. We change the way we speak, the way we eat, walk, sleep, feel with each different person on our path.
We numb the emotions when we feel hurt by a stranger, we let the tears roll down our faces when someone you like mistreated you (but never in front of them), we pretend we don’t check Facebook when our boss walks past, otherwise we’d lose the job, we don’t cheat because we care about the heart that can be broken. We care. We change. We live in the mimicry of the Earth.
Are we ever our true selves? Does it count as the real you, when you are at home by yourself, eating cereal for breakfast and watching cartoons on TV? Or are you trying to resemble the rest of the world when you sip your morning coffee on your sofa? Is this you because no one sees you? Is it the real reason you think you don’t act anymore – but have you ever thought – maybe you’re acting for your own self?..
And then I read the second half of the article.
We may wonder who we are, but in the end what matters, is the sincerity. To quote Grant as he quotes Lionel Trilling. “He urged us to start with our outer selves. Pay attention to how we present ourselves to others, and then strive to be the people we claim to be.” I like that. That explains the situations we are in and sheds some light on a complex human nature. It doesn’t answer my question about my true self, but it gives an idea to play out until one day we will understand. And with time I believe we will.