Friday, April 25, 2008

The Trouble With Being Myself

Yes, the title is from a Macy Gray album (which contains these two amazing songs, among others, so give it a listen).

After several days of working on final papers and one heckuva portfolio, I've had a lot of downtime today. I've basically been enjoying the quiet time, listening to music, reading, and reflecting. Specifically, I've been thinking of the challenges and rewards that face those who try to be completely authentic (or as close to being completely authentic as can be achieved). "Authentic" is a bit of a weighted term, though. I guess what I mean to say is that it is a challenge to truly be yourself, especially in a society that is catering more and more often to the group than to the individual. This post basically follows the same theme of my previous posts about individuality and fitting in, but those were mostly about society's faults in accepting the individual. This is more or less about the individual's choices in being him or herself.

First of all, we have to understand what is meant when people say they are "being themselves." What is authenticity? What kind of people do we think of when we think of the most authentic people we know? Obviously, giving in to every elemental desire is not "being yourself," because convictions and inhibitions are also part of who you are. Also, saying every thing that pops into your mind is not necessarily being authentic, either. Sure, you may be honest, but honesty doesn't exactly have to equal rudeness (this is something I struggle with, by the way).

I personally believe that one of the defining characteristics of a true individual is a disregard for the thoughts and opinions of others. I don't mean a disregard for their feelings, nor do I endorse not listening to logical, thought-out opinions even if they contrast your own. What I mean to say is that if the thoughts and opinions of others influence your behavior in a major way on the sole basis that they are the thoughts and opinions of others (and not because you believe them to be true on your own), then you are lacking authenticity. I think this, personally, is the only way to live and be content. The only One whose opinion I hold as an influence is God. Of course, I am also influenced by people who are also followers of Christ and who care about me spiritually, but even with them I have to make sure that my own understanding of God (if it is Biblical) takes precedence, lest I do things for the wrong reasons. Those wrong reasons could be anything, from wanting to fit in to wanting to appear more different than I actually am. If you change who you are for the approval of people, you are making people into an idol.

But of course, I'm making this sound easy, and it's not. There are many challenges to being an unapologetic individual. One of them is, of course, that you won't fit in as neatly as everyone else, and might even get envious of people who do. But more than that, the temptation to want to hide who you are will also come, and it's hard to deal with. There are definite times when I've felt I should "tone it down" or perhaps not say my opinion just to make conversation go more smoothly. But what's the point of smooth conversation if you can't speak your mind? What's the point of toning it down if you best represent yourself by tuning it way, way up? Maybe I'm sounding a little extreme here, but I'm just starting to realize that being disingenuous really doesn't have any perks. Yeah, life is easier when you don't have to deal with weird looks and arguments and awkward situations, but at least that kind of life is honest. People may not like you if you are who you are, and that can be especially painful when they are people that you wish liked you. I suppose in the end it just takes confidence, and this is where a relationship with God really comes in.

If you know that there is a powerful, loving, merciful, perfect God who loves you just the way you are -- with all your personality quirks, struggles, ideas, feelings, and (most importantly) faith in Him, then how can you hide that person? Wear it on your sleeve -- all of it! Be careful, of course, to not put yourself in harm's way (at the same time, remember that they can only hurt your flesh), but don't avoid subjects -- be they trivial or important -- just because you might be the odd one out. This life only happens once. We are to be lights to the world and represent what God has done in our lives, and keep our focus on eternity when we will finally get the chance to completely be the creations God intended us to be. But how can we represent God and His work if we can't even represent who we are for fear of what others think?

There is a lot of trouble with being myself, and I pray I don't become too arrogant while standing up to that trouble, but I am happy to face that trouble for the rest of my life. If I am true to God and myself, then nothing else matters. This should conclude my posts on individuality for the time being. :-)

Peace, everyone (and yes, that's a picture of me. Can't quite get to the point of showing my whole face online, but at least I'm being myself). :-)


P said...


Thank you for that beautifully written essay. The subject of "authenticness" is especially salient for me these days. Having recently removed myself from gay culture (I can't bring myself to use the word "lifestyle") I am often tempted to not be as honest as I can be about things. I have many gay friends and when they ask if I'm dating someone, its so much easier to simply say "no". If I say why I'm not dating anyone, it turns into this intense discussion about how the church has treated gays, about ex-gays, about other "sins" that the church seems to neglect, etc... It can be very time consuming and it often puts me on the defensive -which I don't like.

Conversely, at church, folks sometimes assume that I'm now on the fastrack to heterosexuality -which leaves me with the choice to either let it go or explain to them that homosexuality isn't necessarily something that goes away. Sometimes my faith in God's healing power is questioned. When people take things that far, I'll ask if I can "try out" heterosexuality on their daughter or sister. That usually quiets them down ;) (no, I don't really do that.)

In the end, I recognize the inherent value of my perspective. I can help slay the Christian stereotype to my gay friends and enlighten my new church friends on the reality of being same sex attracted.

I can only imagine the value you bring to the various discussions you find yourself engaging in.

Brandon said...

Being myself more is something I've definitely been learning the last two or three years. I used to hide myself so much from everyone and never really allowed anyone to truly know me, and well... that's just no way to live. You have to be yourself and let it all out and if people don't like you, then so what. That's life. Not everyone is going to always like you. But at least you can be comfortable. Trying to hide yourself takes so much effort and is just so tiresome.

Anyway, I'm glad you're being more authentic, Jay. And I like that picture, by the way. :)

Brandon said...

By the way, what do you call that sort of hat you're wearing? I've always liked the look of those, but didn't know what to call them.

wjc said...

Jay, I just posted review of a book that I found really helpful that addressed authenticity in a big way. I do think that sometimes authenticity is over-rated... we can "authentically" be selfish, uncaring and deceived. Authenticity needs to be moderated by the values we choose to live by... which I think is what you're getting at.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.

Learner Man said...

Hey Jay,
I've been reading your blog for a while now and want you to know that I appreciate it. I really like your heart. You have a great willingness to live out your life openly before God and express this well. I'm excited for you because I'm pretty certain God has got great plans for your life and if you continue to walk out your life honestly before Him you will bless alot of people.

Bless you man,


otrolado said...

Great post! Speaking up is definitely one of the hardest parts of being honest/authentic. There have been times when I should have spoken up whether for justice or to defend someone or because I know something needs to be said, but I let the moment pass. Afterwards I know I can never correct the wrong, and it's a shame. All I can do is work harder the next day to be true and honest (without being a miserable person and alienating people).

yosef said...

Your point about "toning it down" is definitely something I find myself doing. I think I tone down parts of me depending on which set of friends I'm with. I'm still very close with certain friends from high school along with certain ones from college, but sometimes I'll act a little different depending. What "p" said in the first reply reminded me a lot of this, as my HS-college friend divide is largely Christians vs. not-so-much Christians.

What you said about a God "who loves you just the way you are," it reminded me a lot of the message Mr. Rogers always gave on his show (although he had to covertly leave out the God part). I've always thought that was such a good message, and I wish people (myself included) could just stop worrying and realize that the people who matter (and God of course) will accept the real you.

Mephibosheth said...

I personally believe that one of the defining characteristics of a true individual is a disregard for the thoughts and opinions of others.

This is more of why I hate self-assured, self-aware Millenials. I didn't learn this until...well, I haven't yet, quite frankly. One of my parish priests is always talking about "where do you find your esteem?" and "rejecting the esteem of the world". I think this is precisely what you're getting at.

You're wise--and peace-filled--beyond your years. And for the record, I don't hate. I'm just sitting here laughing at God's beautiful irony that the average age of my accountability partner brothers is 55, while my spiritual director/father is 26. I learn a lot from you, too.

Anonymous said...

I always enjoy reading your blog, Jay, because no matter how long it's been since the last time I've read it, you continue to inspire me and make me think about my life and how I'm serving God. Thank you.

Jay said...

Thanks so much for reading guys! I'm sorry I haven't had time to respond to everyone (or make any more posts). I'll write something soon. I just have to get through one or two more exams first. :-)

Thanks for everything,

amalapropos said...

i feel like knowing that the knowledge of how hard it is to be yourself is... well, revealing a glimpse of exactly how it is to be yourself. i don't know how to word it , but thank you for an insightful post =]