I said yes to something recently. I was lucky enough to be given an opportunity for a freelance side gig that included reporting on global issues. What do I know about global issues? Mm, not much. (Inner issues = I've got you covered.) Somewhere in the back of my mind, I thought: "well, this isn't really me, but..." It's the but's that are dangerous, let me tell you. I agreed to it, but later on, I asked myself why. What was motivating me to say yes? The first things that came to my mind were, "well I should take the opportunity" or "it would look good." Oh my damn. It would LOOK good? That's not who I am. And that's not who any of us are, either. We are not born being concerned with the way we are portrayed, thinking what will advance our station in life. We're interested in cookies and playtime and making up songs and blowing bubbles with our milk.
I started reading Steering by Starlight, by O Magazine contributor and all-around guru Martha Beck. It's about finding your way back to yourself. Beck believes (as do I) that deep down, we all know exactly who we are, but that little things (like societal pressure, relationships, roles we play in our family dynamics, our jobs...ok BIG things) can lead us astray from our truest self. From our Self that knows exactly who she is, and doesn't do things that aren't in line with that. A good example of when we start to veer off our true course is usually in adolescence when we're conditioned to try-and-fit-in. Let me ask you: does that ever really go away?
If you're getting sad now thinking about all the weirdness social media has brought into our lives, or your own social anxiety, lemme tell you something: your true self is still in there. You've just got to hear her out. Beck has a fabulous way for getting back in tune with who you REALLY are, and making decisions that reflect that. She refers to it as the "shackles on/shackles off" test. When you think about the prospect of something, gather it up in your mind and really let it ruminate. How does this idea make you feel in your mind and body? Does it make you feel free? Or does it make you feel trapped and confined?
The interesting thing is, when you start to use this simple exercise, you'll see that things you might verbally define as "chores" really give you a sense of freedom, because it feels good to accomplish them. Helping out a neighbor, doing your dishes, walking your dog--these types of things actually tend to increase our sense of freedom. (This goes back to the philosophical principle that essentially, human beings are moral because it feels better to be moral. This does not apply to sociopaths.) Yet sometimes doing things like accepting an invitation to a party you're dreading or saying yes to something solely because it will make you look good, can intrinsically bring on that "shackled" feeling.
When I really went back and thought about my "yes," it felt wrong. I've never been a reporter. I watch exponentially more Bravo than CNN, and I like it that way. The work I had put into the proposal felt half-hearted at best, so I rescinded it. I then felt badly because I had not only let myself down by being inauthentic, but then another person by backing down. That's what happens to all of us when we agree to things that don't truly align with our authentic selves: we feel shitty about them, we do a shitty job, we get irritated and resentful, and we wonder why.
It's not about eschewing obligation. It's about, as Danielle LaPorte says, "loving the necessary hard work" that gets you closer to who you really are, and weeding through the rest of the additional, self-imposed muck. Things we "should" do. People we "need to" impress. Although I'm a work in progress, I've been practicing Beck's simple "shackles on/shackles off" litmus test and I think it's a pretty easy way to tune in to who you really are. Try it out next time you're wrestling with a decision, however small or large. Does this decision free you up to be the person you really are? Or does it confine you to a box made out of stories you tell yourself about who you should be?