You wouldn’t have liked me in high school…not even a little bit. I was arrogant and brash and entirely too confident in my own abilities. Compared to now, I walked differently, I talked differently, and I treated people in ways that were less than they deserved. I was nice enough, I suppose, but I wasn’t caring. I wasn’t earnest. I wasn’t someone you could rely on. But why? Why did I act like that when I was raised better—when I knew better? Honestly, I wish I could blame it on television or wayward beliefs, but that isn’t true. I was simply acting like I thought I was supposed to act. I thought I was behaving as those around me wanted me to behave. That couldn’t have been any less true.
It’s been said a million times, from the radically bodacious Dr. Cornel West to the incomparable Dr. Seuss, that we should be ourselves, that we should be honest and real with ourselves so that we may be happy. But isn’t that a contradiction in and of itself? In one way or another, we are each a product of the environment in which we were raised. We either see the aspects of the environment around us and succumb to them (both good and bad circumstances apply), or we become the polar opposite of what we have witnessed and experienced. So how can we be “ourselves” when each of us is but the solution to our atmosphere’s equation? How do we know what the “real us” is?
I like to think we all know when we’re being fake. We feel our actions, words, or even attitude stray from where they fit, and our skin begins to crawl. I hate that feeling. It’s so uncomfortable. And to me, that’s what being a less-than-authentic version of ourselves is—it’s uncomfortable, it’s tiresome. To be centered, to be true, to be honest is where internal comfort comes from. That’s where an organic sense of happiness and contentment originates.
Looking back, I can see what a tool I was (no, seriously…total jerkface). But since hindsight is crystal clear, I can see that I was such a laughable version of myself because I thought that’s what I needed to be. I was concerned with how I was perceived, yet the result was somehow this brash, loathsome character that emerged and ran amok. Why? I haven’t a clue. Let’s blame it on being an ignorant teenager and leave it alone. It’s embarrassing to even think about.
Today, I like to think I am much more centered than I was way back when. I try not to let the opinions of others sway me or affect my decisions. I say what I feel needs to be said and I write what I feel needs to be written. It isn’t always easy. Sometimes I wonder what readers or other writers think of my prose and if they like it or if they think I’m actually any good at writing. Sometimes I wonder if people actually like me and want to hang out with me or if they’re simply tolerating me. But every time, I find my way back to center and realize I enjoy the way that I write and person I am, and if others don’t, I can’t help that. I can only be me and realization of that is a gradual progression. Becoming comfortable enough in one’s self to be whole and content within our own skin is a crusade, one that takes time and blessed understanding.
In the end, it all breaks down to something very simple. If our friends or romantic partner enjoys the version of us that is a forgery, a falsity, then for them to continue liking us, we’re going to have to keep up that façade. When does that end? It doesn’t. Just the very thought of that whole charade is exhausting. So let’s not be a version of ourselves. Let’s just be the real us—authentic, true, centered, comfortable. That’s the real us. And that’s what we were made to be.
(Note: I’m on Twitter @Cory_Copeland. As always, thank you for reading.)