Several years ago I took my niece to the movie theater to see the most recent adaptation of Cinderella. In this version of Cinderella, it is clear that Cinderella’s stepmother and step-sisters never really take the opportunity to see Cinderella’s beauty. She is treated as though she is inferior to them throughout the film. When Cinderella is on her way to the prince’s ball she gazes at herself in the mirror and the narrator of the story says: “The biggest risk we take is to show the world our true self.”
Recently I bought a small painting to put in my counseling office that has the words “Be Yourself” written on it. For me this is one of the important principles of therapy. It is my job to help my clients discover who they are, to celebrate their unique way of being in the world and to help them to live authentically. The existentialist Soren Kierkegaard believed that our true vocation in life is to be our unique selves. Not only are we here to live out the Socratic wisdom, “know thyself,” but we are here to be ourselves.
Last year I was in Dunkin Doughnuts ordering some tea when I saw a young couple dancing and singing. I realized as I watched them, that at one point in my life I may have judged their brazen actions, but as I witnessed them sing, dance and laugh I realized they were being their true selves. They were full of life and love and it was a gift to be able to see the joy and authenticity they displayed. I was able to accept and celebrate this couple and when I did this, the moment I shared with them somehow became holy for me and nurtured my spirit. Their brazenness was somehow a nudge for me to take more risks and to live out the dance of my own life in a more authentic way.
Thomas Merton said these wise words, “The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.” I am learning that in order to be my own true self, I have to allow others to be who they are. This means we can’t love people based on how they meet our expectations of what we think they should do and be. Instead, we are here to accept and love people for who they are and when we give other people authorization to be their true selves, then we can also give ourselves permission to be who we are.
When I was training to be a chaplain, I was given all sorts of advice regarding what sort of dress code a chaplain should have. Some chaplain mentors thought a female chaplain should dress like their male counterparts and wear pant suits and others thought they should wear dresses. I remember feeling so nauseated by all the advice, but at this time in my life I was in my early twenties and it was still very important for me to meet other people’s expectations. Because of my need to please others and do what I felt was required of me, I dressed so conventionally that sometimes I did not even feel like myself.
My own struggle to find my fashion identity as a chaplain reminds me of three examples of people I know who also have struggled with meeting the expectation of others. One chaplain colleague gave all his work ties away at his retirement party. Wearing ties was not really his thing, but throughout his career he had acquiesced to the pressure to do so, even though it did not align with who he was. I also am mindful of the experience of a female minister I know who was chastised by a parishioner for her earrings being too long. Another acquaintance who once served as a youth minister, told me a story of causing quite a scandal at his church when he wore Birkenstocks during a church service. All three of these people have felt pressure to give up their own true self, in order to meet the demands of others.
I clearly remember the day I was visiting a nursing home to see a patient and while I was there I said hello to another female chaplain and noticed she was rocking a hip outfit and a pair of long black boots. At first my inner narrative was a little critical about her outfit. I was listening to all of the voices who told me how I “should” dress, but then when I stopped listening to these voices it was so liberating. I went on to process this experience and realized her outfit was actually quite appropriate for the job and yet it also fit her personality. She was being who she was and her unique way was inviting me to also live as my authentic self.
I’m certainly not saying we should abandon all rules and dress codes and just do things our way. But what I am saying is that we are living in a world filled with toxic gossip and our judgment and expectations of ourselves and others negates our ability to be who we are, but it also disavows another person’s ability to be who they truly are. As we invite people to be who they are, we encourage them to not only have their own unique fashion sense, but also choose their own career, home, support system, car, politics and spirituality. As we affirm people’s need to forge their own path, it also gives us permission to do this for ourselves. It is my hope that you would listen deeply to the spirit within you and live life in a way that allows both you and others to live authentically. Go out and be your true self!
Let’s be who we are,
I originally wrote the article above for the Mountain Mirror. http://www.mountainmirror.com/