There’s been a lot of talk lately about focusing on yourself including: self-care, self-love, and even something as simple as just being yourself. Although you won’t find a bigger proponent of these ideals than I, what does “focusing on yourself” look like? And more specifically, what does it mean to simply “be you”?
When it comes to personal growth and development, much of it is accomplished by concentrating on what must be done to improve ourselves. However, the idea of directing attention to the person staring at you in the mirror can stir up conflicting perspectives. In many cultures, religions, and familial settings, focusing on one’s self is deemed more as selfish rather than self-growth. It’s no wonder why one of the biggest challenges facing many of my clients is overcoming this way of thinking, and learning to embrace, forgive, and love themselves.
Is there a fine line that separates self-love from selfishness? Can we become overly obsessed with self-care to where it becomes an obstacle or worse, a trap from which we cannot escape? Certainly, there can be nothing wrong in simply “being me,” can there?
Perhaps one of the most frequently used expressions spoken with the best intentions, is imploring that person to be “who you are” or be authentic. Of course, everyone should strive for this end, but most of us are not disciplined to be 100 percent successful in this endeavor. And if we fall short of our personal expectations, does that mean we weren’t being who we are or authentic in that moment?
I believe it is in these times – the challenging moments requiring swift action – which ultimately reveal who we truly are. Falling short of self-expectations and disappointing ourselves need not be viewed as failures, but rather as indications of what we need to improve on our journey of personal growth. Believing we were not authentic can trigger self-doubt, frustration, and shame which only stifle any opportunity for potential change.
Furthermore, is “being me” the essential goal and something for which we should continually strive?
Being your authentic self is important. However, I contend it is not the goal but rather the means by which we operate. Whether we like it or not, we are always “being me.” The narrative should shift from “being me” to “becoming the best version of who I am.”
Those times when we may have failed to demonstrate our true selves are not catastrophes and should not be looked at as disappointments or failures. As humans, we are constantly changing and growing with much of that trajectory aimed at bettering ourselves. Working with a goal of becoming the best version of ourselves as we can, we are still authentic, but now we become aware of the areas of personal development which need our attention.
Telling it like it is
Some people have learned to speak their minds with little hesitation or concern of what others might think. They tell others they just “call it as I see it and if you don’t like it, that’s your problem.” However, their perception of things likely includes a huge dose of apathy, a great lack of concern, or a distorted version often skewed toward their own gain and control.
What are the intentions behind those who tell it like it is? If there is no concern about the damage their words initiate, then their interpretation may be more of a ploy for attention. While I am not advocating lying, insincerity, or duplicitous behavior is a better choice, often people who have learned to react this boldly have acquired this kind of rhetoric as a defense mechanism. By acknowledging and admiring this conduct it enables and encourages them to craft their remarks with more biting sarcasm and bitter insult.
If there is no concern about the damage their words initiate, it’s likely they were hurt in a similar manner and are trying to make themselves feel better by putting someone else through the same agony which afflicted them. Any intention of helping someone has been replaced by the need to be more demeaning and humiliating at the next opportunity. Unfortunately, there have been far too many prominent examples of this boorish behavior which people wrongly believe will lift them up by dragging others down.
This is why I continually say it takes more strength to be kind than brash. Compassion, empathy, and kindness take more muscle than rudeness, and there is no integrity in claiming your hurtful words will do any good. The only positive coming from those actions is the example of the kind of human not to be.
Too much of a good thing
There is a line between self-care and selfishness. But we need to be vigilant of where our own line occurs. It can also change according to where you are on your journey. In the beginning, we may need to spend more time being forgiving and loving to ourselves to begin the healing process and continue personal development. But as we grow, we may also find ourselves spending more time reaching out and helping others. What we may also discover while assisting others are areas in our own life where we need to concentrate our self-improvement efforts. And there isn’t a much brighter reward than when we help others while at the same time, learn to improve ourselves.
Personal growth is similar to exercise. If we want to maintain a healthy lifestyle, we fit it into our busy schedules. If the goal is to enter competitive bodybuilding, the amount of time spent exercising is exponentially increased.
It is no different for life coaches or mental health professionals. If our goal is to help our clients heal and develop, it is vital we are at the top of our game. Otherwise, what does that say about our guidance if we do not demand the same from ourselves?
My goal in a year from now, is to look back at this post and see where the growth occurred and continually say I’m still striving to “become the best version of me.”
What a great post, John, that in such a calm voice spoke for taking time and holding space for our own internal works in progress.
The thought that came up for me in your description of “telling it as it is” is how some people push s### downwards/onwards and others think that “the buck stops here I can have any say about it.” The attitude, that because I suffered, you must suffer, too, is seen and somewhat sanctioned in everything from college hazing to how expatriates treat those arriving later to foreign shores.
The idea about not treating anybody like you didn’t like to be treated – it is not even the hypothetical “would like to be treated”, you know what it felt like and you didn’t like it one bit – is thousands of years old and still so many people don’t even think of saying “this at least I can influence for the better.”
If we are not “agents of ourselves”, as Mark O’Brien puts it, who are we?
As always, Charlotte, excellent thoughts.
Dear John Dunia,
” Being your authentic self is important. However, I contend it is not the goal but rather the means by which we operate. Whether we like it or not, we are always “being me.” The narrative should shift from “being me” to “becoming the best version of who I am.”
Your amazing thought quoted above in comments caught my attention, … Difficulty of being me , selfishness or selflessness is rightly addressed in your statement above . Experiencing what we feel within for ourselves and coaching or mentoring aspects of similar modes of occurrences in others needs careful scrutiny and application of mechanics of thoughts . Visualise, Experience the Visualization , Authenticity over our own behavioral patterns and then believe our patterns to apply on others , is a logical process of mentoring … Deepening the Shallowness would result in chaos or half hearted effort without any value … Hope you agree with me ! Thank you very much for your thoughtful article here.
I’m sure you saw my response on LinkedIn, Vishwas, but I wanted to acknowledge you here, too.