“Be yourself, everyone else is taken. In order to be oneself, one has to take risks, to accept that one is not perfect and to be courageous enough to say what one really thinks” Oscar Wilde
When our students were little, they had a fairly easy time being themselves. This probably was true up to some time in elementary school when many of them began to get the message that they needed to hide some of who they were to fit in. The kids around them became more self-conscious and critical of themselves which resulted in projecting that judgment onto other kids.
Many of our students slowly became more and more who they thought the other kids expected them to be. By late elementary school, groups started to form such as the popular kids, the athletic kids, the kids who sat alone, the rich kids, the bullies, the smart kids, etc, and they wondered, where did they fit in?
Some of them started to say and do things that felt a little off or even wrong, but their group of friends were doing and saying those things so how bad could it be?
But as they twisted themselves into a pretzel to fit in, they diminished some of their presence and life force. They stopped listening to their gut. They stuffed parts of themselves others didn’t like deep down and hidden in some corner because by now they didn’t want to be seen that way anymore.
This “masking” became the social, public self that protected their true self from adverse scrutiny and rejection.
But a burden came with wearing that mask. Many of them became disconnected from who they really were. Loneliness, anxiety, and depression may have taken up residence in the empty spaces.
But it doesn’t have to go that way.
The truth is: when we’re ourselves, that’s the best! We’re all different. No two of us are alike. Not everyone is going to like us or be like us and that’s ok. Being who we are is the most courageous gift we can give to ourselves and others.
Be forewarned: When we are our true selves, we will fall and fail and be marginalized at times. But we will also soar, find true friends, and be more present because we’re not busy hiding. We can afford to be kind and compassionate when we have nothing to prove, nothing to hide, and no need to convince anyone that we belong because we know that we belong to ourselves first.
It’s never too late to be ourselves. Taking this step is liberating, courageous, and invigorating.
And we can help our students do the same. We can teach them to be themselves through social-emotional learning via mindfulness, improv theater exercises, and cognitive awareness. We can change the dialogue from fitting in to belonging. We can save them unnecessary pain and loneliness. We can guide them to wholeness.