The Cost of Not Being You

"We find it an awful thing to meet people, serious or not, who have turned into vacant effective people, so far lost that they won’t believe their own feelings enough to follow them out."
William Stafford, "An Introduction to Some Poems"
In his wonderful post, Joe Gerstandt asks if you've recently paid the cost of being you, of bringing your whole self into your relationships and making the contributions that only you can make.

When we stand out from the crowd, when we do not conform to others' expectations, we often have to pay a cost.  I'd suggest that when we choose to do the opposite the cost may even be greater.
"If you are unfaithfully with us, you are causing terrible harm."
Rumi, Sufi philosopher
Each of us regularly makes choices related to fitting in.  We dress the part and say our lines in order to be accepted by others.  We did it as kids in school, and we do it as adults in the workplace and our communities.
“Whenever people refuse to participate in their own subordination, they resist the way power asserts itself in organizations and society.”
—Debra E. Myerson, Tempered Radicals
So here are a few questions for you:
  • Is the part you are playing in your life consistent with who you are or have you simply become incredibly adept at consistently playing a part?
  • Are you spending more energy trying to fit in instead of seeking the places, the people, and the opportunities that fit?
  • Wouldn’t you rather be rejected for who you truly are than embraced for someone you truly are not?
  • As you "play on bigger stages" in your life, are you slipping into performance mode instead of preserving the raw connection that comes from staying unplugged and using only your own voice?
In the wonderful play and movie Shirley Valentine the lead character namesake offers this truth about how so many people lead their lives:"We don't do what we want to do.  We do what we have to do and pretend it is what we want to do."

We can only pretend for so long.  It is not a sustainable choice.  When so much of our attention and energy is devoted to fitting in, it depletes the vitality we need to actually make our contributions.

So yes, the cost of being you will sometimes be great.  But the cost of not doing so is a limited-term loan and comes with a significant balloon payment at some point in the future.
“To be as authentic as we know how to be at the moment, so that we can be more and more present in what we do. The more we can do that, the safer we are. The problem is it feels most dangerous … But this very thing that seems dangerous is where safety lies.”
Barbara Cook, vocalist and star of Broadway shows and movies


Stefanie Reeves said...

Great post Jeffrey! I stopped being concerned about fitting in a few years ago. In reality, I gave up because it was never going to happen. The funny thing is that I felt that way regardless of where I was and who I associated with. Standing out rocks!

Jeffrey Cufaude said...

Thanks Stefanie, and interesting observation you make about context really mattering for how you fit in.

David M. Patt, CAE said...

Let's hear it for noncomformists!

Our conforming colleagues, though, should know that even people who don't try to be accepted are often accepted anyway, because they are nice people who possess valuable knowledge.

Jeffrey Cufaude said...

Interesting David as I wasn't thinking about being a nonconformist so much as confirming to your own sense of self and letting others decide how to react to your being.

KiKi L'Italien said...

Slipping into performer mode is a fear I own. It can be easy to fall into a caricature of lose that vitality and then suddenly look around and wonder how you floated to your spot. I think I'm mindful enough not to do that, but it is always a slippery slope.

Jeffrey Cufaude said...

KikI; it's the one I worry about most nowadays, particularly when doing speeches or workshops I've done over and over again.