You are the only you that has ever existed and who will ever exist. Your job is to be you in all of your weirdness and awesomeness and weakness and brilliance. It should be easy, right? It should be the default. Being yourself should be what you do best; what happens naturally. To maneuver and manipulate who you are into the mould offered by society should be the hard work. Why is it, so often, the reverse? E.E. Cummings said “To be nobody but yourself in a world that’s doing its best to make you somebody else, is to fight the hardest fight you are ever going to fight. Never stop fighting.”
Whether acknowledged or not, we humans have a deep need to be known. And in order to be known, we must be honest about how we feel, our likes and dislikes, our hopes and our fears. If we hide who we really are, we will never truly feel known. You being fully you means, not only being honest with others about who you are, but also with yourself; paying attention so that you can recognize your own strengths and weaknesses, things that you are really good at and areas where you need work. Your passions, the things that move you, that break your heart, that get you all fired up…these are all clues to who God made you to be. He put those things in you.
The Tragically Hip were the soundtrack to my teens and early twenties. A lyric from the song “Ahead by a Century” has been on the playlist of my mind for years, and honestly, has really challenged me to live fully. Gord sings “no dress rehearsal, this is our life.” This is our one life to honour the one who designed us. We can’t figure it out during the rehearsal, work out the kinks and then bring it. This is it!
As an educator of ‘tweens and teens, I allocate a great deal of discussion time toward self concept. As these poor unsuspecting children head into the tumultuous middle school years, I want them to be overfilled with self-esteem and self-love. I validate who they are and cheer for them to be just that, saying “If you love chess, LOVE chess! If you love fluorescent orange, wear fluorescent orange! Like what you like! You do you!” I want to send them off confident in who they are, because society is going to push against them and tempt them to conform. Though it seems the most natural thing in the world to be oneself, it rarely is. Other people, even the ones that love us and like us, want us to ‘obey the rules.’ It’s actually WORK to be fully yourself. It takes courage and determination every single day.
While I don’t strive for people to like me, because I’m a human, occasionally, I wrestle when they don’t. The temptation can be to falsify or become beige so others will approve, but that always backfires. If I’m just me and people like me, then I’ll know they really like me. Posturing is exhausting and it wreaks havoc on self awareness, separating us from our true selves.
I have zero interest in faking it. I don’t like it in myself and I don’t like it in other people. I crave authenticity. Though it can be complicated and messy, and we will most certainly see one another’s worst parts up close, it’s the only means by which we can truly connect. Removed and distant, we may not see one another’s scars and chin hairs, but we also miss out on truly knowing and being known. Up close, we see the broken and the beautiful. It’s visceral and it’s real. It’s worth it.
About a hundred years ago, at 19 years of age, God spoke to me very clearly about being REAL; about being a maverick and pushing back against conformity. I was invited to live honestly so that others could, too. At the time, it wasn’t a mandate that I perceived to be overly spiritual or weighty, but a couple of decades later, I understand how highly spiritual it is to honour the God who made me. I’ve now spent more than half my life pursuing this authenticity; attempting to be fully who God made me to be. I’m gonna tell you, while living freely and truthfully sounds idyllic, it’s not without its trouble. Because, as it turns out, not everyone wants you to be real. “They,” whoever they are, might not like it.
When you’re honest about the hard things, they might say things like “you’re negative” or “you don’t trust God.” Or they’ll be aghast and judgy that you live without shame of your past (because apparently they don’t know that Jesus really forgave all your stupid mistakes, and so you don’t have to live with shame!). They might also be offended that you actually like yourself and accuse you of believing yourself to be more special and ‘all that.’ Sometimes they’ll be upset by your freedom and utter resentful statements, like “it must be nice to be so free.” It’s almost as though they think you got lucky; they don’t understand that it’s not a personality trait, but a minute by minute choice. And often, it’s terribly hard work. And more often than that, it’s an all out inner street fight!
Some of my worst wounds have come from very nice people; people who, in their humanity, have been threatened by me being me. People who have made assumptions about who I am based on the snapshots they could see. I don’t fault them, because, regretfully, I know I’ve doled out my fair share of unsolicited judgement, too. It’s easy to tell one another to ignore what people say; to shake it off. But combatting hurtful accusations is brutally hard work. I tell my own children and my students that if someone doesn’t like you, it doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you! Though I really believe this, it doesn’t mean we won’t feel the sting of rejection. For me, walking this out usually involves tears (because tears wash us) and speaking the truth aloud (so that my brain can register truth and reject lies). And always, it requires a return to my Father God, quietly asking him to tell me AGAIN who HE says I am.
Here’s the thing, me actually liking myself should not make you feel diminished, it should give you permission to like YOURself! I think I’m awesome…and guess what? I think you’re awesome too! We are not in competition. One person liking themselves is not a slam on the other with the purpose of making them feel less than. In her book “A Return to Love,” Marianne Williamson writes:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Being fully you is intentional and determined. But, there’s no right or wrong way to do you; no measuring stick. In church-speak, this means we must understand fully that we are not under the law. Because of Jesus, the law and all of its impossible rules are fulfilled. When we know Jesus, we are covered by grace. And a checklist doesn’t exist with grace. The trouble is that a lot of us still live like there’s a law, making sure that we DO and DON’T DO. We adhere to some rituals, while avoiding others; say this, don’t say that, act like this, don’t be seen there. Barf. Sure, sometimes it seems like it would be easier to know that if I do certain things and avoid others, I can be assured that I’m on the right path, but it’s a losing gamble. You will never achieve its demands or satisfy its requirements. We need to hear Jesus on what is okay and not okay for us as individuals. Obviously, there are Biblical truths and standards that are immovable, but lots of times we live according to rules that have their origin in humans, not God.
Being fully you requires wisdom and maturity. It is not an excuse to stop caring for or respecting the feelings and opinions of others. It’s not permission to hurt or offend people with the cop out “I’m just being me” or “this is how God made me!” There’s no excuse for mean, intentionally hurtful behaviour. Above all else, love. Our true selves are like Jesus, friends!
Being fully you requires discernment. Authenticity does not ask you to be indiscriminate, throwing your precious pearls to swine. I had to learn this one the hard way. In other words, know your audience. Not every person needs to hear every detail and certainly, not everyone has earned the right to hold your story. Choose your people carefully. Not fearfully, but carefully.
The benefits of being fully you are not just for you. Beyond the joy of feeling known and being true to who you are, it creates a pathway for others to follow. When we are real, others can be real. When we are brave, others can be brave. When we are honest, others will feel safe enough to be honest. Somebody has to go first! Be the one. When we pretend to have it all together or “present” as perfect, it renders us inaccessible to others; either perceived as a threat or sniffed out as a fake. In both scenarios, we end up alienated and not connected. When we are real, it diffuses competition. We can connect because we’re sharing the story and fighting the same fight.
Brene Brown presented a TedTalk a number of years ago that went viral entitled “The Power of Vulnerability.” After discovering it, I watched it no less than twenty times and made everyone I know watch it, too! She talks about the power and necessity of vulnerability. In her research, she has learned that that vulnerability is the birthplace of connection and creativity. If we want authentic relationships, if we want to be known, we have to risk. We have to be vulnerable.
Let’s decide to be the kind of people that allow others to breathe a sigh of relief. No more perpetuating the lie that we have it all together. Let’s tell the truth so that others can tell the truth. Let’s be vulnerable so that we can know others and be known by them. Let’s honour the one who created us by being fully who we were created to be. Here’s to keeping it real, friends!
And now, for a laugh, and in honour of the fact that we are talking about being real to be known, allow me to disclose some honest and quirky things about me. If you had sanitized and safe ideas about who I was before today, I’m about to correct the error of your ways. In my humanity, I hope I’m your cup of tea, but if I’m not…I’m reminding myself right now that it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with me. Deep breath. Here I go:
1. I’ve always wanted to be a laid-back, easy-going person; to have the kind of presence that would cause others to remark: “She is SO innately peaceful and lovely to be around.” But, have you met me?? I am SO the very opposite of that! I’m as intense and ‘too much’ and type-A as they come. And though maturity and grace do tame my many opinions and passionate responses to situations, this IS who I am.
2. Being me is a perpetual dilemma. People often believe me to be an extrovert because of how I present in public; I am social and confident. I truly enjoy people and I want everyone to feel included. However, I am actually equally introverted/extroverted. Right in the middle. A so-called ambivert. This leaves me in incredible inner turmoil most of the time. My extrovert loves parties and social gatherings and she fist-pumps at an invitation to hang out with people…it seems like the BEST idea ever! But when the time comes, my introvert feels nervous and wonders who she’ll hang out with. That event that seemed like it would be so much fun fills her with dread and she begs to stay in her pyjamas and watch Netflix. However, my extrovert feels sad and left out when she hasn’t been invited, because she hates not being included – she doesn’t want to miss out on ANYTHING. But, my introvert tells my extrovert that she’s glad we weren’t invited because she doesn’t ever want to leave the house! You get the idea.
3. I make my own life hard all the time with preconceived notions and expectations. Though I try not to, I often have ideal visions in my mind about how something will unfold and then, when it doesn’t line up, I feel frustrated and disappointed. To illustrate, every year, I set up an elaborate Advent plan for my family. Last year, it was going to involve readings from Ann Voskamp’s book “Unwrapping the Greatest Gift.” We would sit by the tree, sipping hot chocolate, deeply touched by God’s love for us…and then we’d probably pray together. Nope. The readings were clearly waaaay too long for my kids to endure (and also my husband). There was a lot of sighing and it usually ended with me getting mad because they were RUINING Christmas!! Put that on Facebook, friends.
4. This next one is really vulnerable for me to share, so please hold these pearls tenderly. Seeing a mom with a brood of kids, as in, four or five, gives me little pangs in my heart. I am SO very content and thankful for my children (and have to trust that God knew my spicy two would be enough for me), but I always believed I’d have a large family. It just didn’t work out that way.
5. My kids fight ALL THE TIME. As a teacher, I’m fairly skilled in employing self-control and patience, but when my own kids fight, it pushes me right.over.the.flipping.edge. It looks a little bit like this: patience (I am so God’s gift to motherhood), paatience (umm, this is getting annoying), paaatience (gritting teeth), paaaaaatience (closing cupboard doors with all my strength), and…FREAK OUT! I find it’s really effective parenting when you yell at your kids to stop yelling at each other. Haha. Kidding. Not kidding. Some days I feel like I’m rocking it, and on others, I’m rocked.
And there you have it: 5 honest facts about me. How about you, friend? Tell me something real about you…
Oh my gish…spot-on!!
Was having this conversation with my daughter yesterday…even referencing the aforementioned ‘TED Talk’…then again at CR last evening.
Thank you soooo much for this.
Perfection as always, Ellen.
Ellen Pusch says
Love you, too, Shan!! 🙂
Sacha Hamming says
This is awesome Ellen! I’m sharing and sharing your blog posts and more people are loving it but more than this, being fed and encouraged and inspired! You in all your authenticity have always been Beautiful to me!! Hugs.
Ellen Pusch says
Thank you, Sacha!! xo
I seriously LOVE this! I hear echoes of so many of the things that God has spoken to my heart over the years and is continuing to say. Perfect timing for me to hear. Thanks for having the courage to continue to write and share. (I was laughing out loud at your wonderful “self disclosures”! I can SO relate!!) You are definitely “my cup of tea”, and lots of other people’s too!
Ellen Pusch says
Awesome encouragement…thank you 🙂 Your art is MAGNIFICENT!(just creeped you!) So beautiful.
Thanks so much, Ellen! That’s so encouraging to hear!
Sarah Westphal says
Loved this! Amen!