“This is the ultimate misery: living a life that is not our own.” – Brendon Burchard
Just last night I was thinking to myself about how ever since I was a very young person I’ve given in and allowed other people — often cruel, small-minded people — to guide my behavior and my life. Not to blame them for any dissatisfaction with the way my life has turned out, because the choice to succumb and hide my true self has always been mine. Then this morning I coincidentally came across an insightful and powerful section in Brendon Burchard’s Motivation Manifesto on social oppression that completely described my dilemma.
For all the recognition I’ve received for being different, for non-conformity, for thinking outside the box, I have, for my entire life, nearly completely been someone designed by those around me.
This is something I have known and acknowledged to myself all along. I was most aware of this surrender and masking of my true self during grade school. Examining my childhood, though, I suspect it began even before then, at home, in effort to best please and most easily pacify my parents, especially dad, and other adults around me.
I remember never fitting in with other kids at school. An especially strong memory of being teased by a group of (dumb, cruel) boys on a school field trip sticks out to me as a turning point where I accepted one of the worst lessons I ever could have and consciously decided to hide my real self and stifle my intellect. To appease those kids, who I didn’t even know and whose opinions shouldn’t have had any weight on my behavior, I chose to stop expressing who I really was.
That’s sad. What’s sadder is I continued living that way, actively concealing my real thoughts and hiding my true potential throughout the rest of my school years, and beyond.
Sadder than that, even: I still didn’t fit in.
The real tragedy, though, the worst, most horrendous and terrible effect of letting other people shape my behavior and outward identity, was not the accumulation of poor decisions and record of underachievement. It was the inner conflict I suffered. The person I knew I was meant to be fought to rise up, to burst out into the light of day, stayed in constant battle with self doubt, fears of rejection, and, over time, the conditioning of being held dormant.
That conflict and denial of self created all kinds of problems. Depression, naturally. Anger. During periods of my life it manifested in selfishness and hedonism. And a near constant search for meaning and happiness that I could never quite reach.
I fooled myself for a very long time that keeping my real self submerged was actually a good thing, that it was an exercise in discipline. I believed I was a master of self control, even though my behavior and choices often proved otherwise. In reality, I was a prisoner of fear and a victim of ease and comfort.
Another level of self-deception disguised itself as a bizarre strategy for performance at school and work. I’d foolishly convinced myself to purposefully downplay my abilities and let people underestimate me, so that in a dramatic move I could surprise them later with results beyond their expectations. A twist on the under promise, over deliver rule. The problem was, by underachieving, I often left my actions at that lower level of expectation and failed to spring the big reveal. So that led to a cycle of frustration and added to my dissatisfaction and disappointment with myself.
Well, it ain’t happening any more.
The people in my life deserve better. I deserve better. I can’t be the best person I can be, to help others and contribute fully, if I’m in a constant state of hiding and using up all my energy struggling between my real self and who I think people want me to pretend to be.
Not that it will be easy. A lifetime of suppression and decades of malignant habits will be difficult to overcome. It’s not like throwing open a cage door and running out free. But the door is at least open. I expect I’ll need to work just as hard to push my actual self out front as I did to hold it back. Fortunately, the psychic muscles I’ll need for that are strong after years of flexing.
If you’re someone around me who (believes they) know me, I ask for your patience and understanding while I work on this. I can use your help and encouragement too. You can definitely count on the same from me.
It’s a damn shame it’s taken me this late in life to make this move. I believe a lot of people have similar difficulties with social oppression. I sure hope they find their way free earlier than I did.
Although I came to my own conclusions about my issue, the section in Brendon Burchard’s Motivation Manifesto on social oppressions so clearly expressed the same struggle, it opened my eyes wider. So much of what he identified on only three pages resonated with my experience. I completely recommend his books and teachings for everyone, but if you are suffering from trying to appease those around you at the expense of your own spirit, I believe he offers some special guidance. There’s been an offer recently to get a free copy of The Motivation Manifesto and an accompanying online study. If it’s still available, by all means take advantage of it.