Aging is an Attitude: Why “Just Do You” Feels So Hard

Without over-thinking it, ask yourself, “How often, in the course of a single day, do I suppress or “filter” who I really am, what I really think, and what I really want, in favor keeping some kind of harmony in my life?” It could be at home, with family, or in the workplace that you downplay your own ideas, opinions and wishes; it could be a stifling of something so personal to you, like your voice, makeup choices or sense of style.  It could be, out in the world you’re wildly assertive, but in your relationship with yourself, you really don’t approve or accept that who you are is worthy of all of the good things in Life.

 It doesn’t matter what age you are:  if you’re engaged at all in social media or exposed to media messaging of any kind, one of the dominant themes these days (it’s actually a resurgent theme from a few decades ago) is that it’s totally “ok” to Be Yourself. In fact, if you have school age children or grandchildren, you know that being referred to as “fake” is one of the most common and devastating insults to be on the receiving end of. If young children, even in elementary school, are chastising one another for being – intentionally or not – the child’s version of inauthentic or even duplicitous, that tells us a lot about our current culture. So: if authenticity’s not only acceptable, but an expectation for ourselves and others, why does being authentic feel like so much effort? Part of the answer is that learning to be and stay “true to yourself” goes against our DNA. We’ve absorbed a life lesson that’s been clobbering people since we first became social animals, and the fear of being ostracized was legit: being expelled from the protection of the tribe could mean certain death. But we’ve evolved, of course; so much so that we can choose our tribe, and – to a large extent – control much of the personal exposure we have to the larger society of potential critics. Still:  why do the comments and opinions of other people – whether close to us, or coming from cyberspace – get under our skins and make us feel insecure? Why does our sense of being approved of, accepted, (Liked, Followed) sometimes seem more of a determinant of our actions and Life Path than our own inner guidance system?

“Just Do You” is actually a contradiction for us:  a cute little catch-phrase dressed up as thoughtful gift that’s meant to empower in our modern times. But, as anyone who’s exposed a tattoo or piercing in the workplace and gotten negative feedback knows, self-expression is more of an ideal, than a practice consistently sanctioned by society. We’re naturally wary, when we’re on our way to a big interview and a colleague says, “Just be yourself !” We know what’s expected, and we doubt our ability to deliver that, in the process of sharing who we really are, what we know, and what we can do.

Recent events in various newsfeeds (I’m referring to several women currently in the political spotlight) highlight just how hard it is, especially for women, to find and hold on to that place within ourselves that allows for and promotes authenticity. Among other difficulties, we’re constantly being judged by others by our “surface” attributes:  every detail about how we look, how we speak, and what we wear. On a deeper level, projecting strong viewpoints and behaving outside of established norms will usually earn derision of the most personal kind.

Is there a “happy medium”, then,  between retreating into a shell of our own making – letting others dictate our thoughts, feelings and actions — and living a life that is authentic, powerful and fulfilling, but puts us in regular confrontation with others? Older, wiser women know that part of the answer to this question is to stop caring so much about what other people think, while in the pursuit of personal happiness. The way to develop this strength is to take an honest look at your current situation and evaluate for yourself what needs to change, based on what your heart wants. It takes courage to be who you really are;  you might find that people close to you become upset or confused by your changes. You don’t need anyone’s permission (except your own) or approval, before you act on what feels so natural to you.  In fact, the only difficulty you may have is deciding what  (and who) you really want, for the kind of life that really is best for you. Trust me on this:  that’s actually the fun part.

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