Bust Through the ‘Just Be Yourself’ Myth – Part 1

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We all have heard it: Just Be Yourself! And how many of us have wondered how exactly to achieve the elusive ‘Just Be Yourself’ mandate? Especially if, like most of us, we can be different people at different times and with different persons. Some personality types trigger us and we’d like to take a chunk out of their head in a primal rage, while the presence of others might reduce us to unforeseen meekness or unwanted intimidation.

So then what about the age-old warning to ‘Just Be Yourself’?

So off to hunt down our ‘authentic’ self, a quest that runs the gamut ranging from self-help books replete with affirmations; “I accept and love myself just as I am” to ueber-expensive retreats in exotic locations, gurus and the required ‘Love Eat Pray’ advice.

This elusive ‘authentic’ self seems static, somehow fixed outside of time. Worse, it apparently hides from ourselves until we laboriously excavate it, dig it up from the dirt of the debris left behind by what we call our life, dust it off and heya Eureka discover ‘Who We Are’! We knew it all along it was there, we only had forgotten and lost it sometime when we were children.. or an infant or still in the womb. Or…?

What is wrong with that picture is that it reduces our identity to some determinism handed to us at birth as perhaps imprinted genetically or even epigenetically programmed, and in any case unchanging like a rock: the true ‘authentic’ you! Voilà!

I would like to propose a very different perspective, one that I find liberating to the core and less time-consuming in the process.

You see, the reality is we all change from cradle to grave. We are not the same ‘authentic’ self. And what we do in between with ourself, who we are, our identity is totally up to ourselves. Identity is not a given, that we have to unearth and discover in years of hard work! Identity is in the becoming, it is something we shape and create and yes even invent daily. That is what makes up who we are and most importantly who we become in the process.

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Acclaimed Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar’s magical movie All About My Mother is all about that. Identity. It is not given to you at birth or handed to you in a bag of genetic markers. Almodovar explores that in regards to being a ‘mother’ a core identity in our culture that seems a given as almost pre-destined to many. Yet, you are not all of a sudden a ‘mother’ and that is your identity. Instead you create your identity of a mother of any other identity you carry, discard, develop and cultivate throughout life. The way we create our identity is by the experiences and people we allow into our lives and those we let stay in our hearts or our memories and how we interpret these experiences, memories, relationships.

Early on in Almodovar’s film, the main character stands in front of a poster of a stage actress her son admires. When the camera goes close in on the poster, the actress face on the poster becomes indistinguishable and disappears. All you are left to see are the pixel or dots that make up the shape of the face. The shape of face only emerges once you stand back and view the poster from a slight distance. It is a brilliant image of how identity is made and created, as our daily experiences one dot, one pixel, one experience at a time shapes us.

At the very end of the film another equally memorable image shows the stage actress’ dresser with a larger mirror, the mirror both reflects her face but also all the people that mean something in her life, real or imagined: there is Bette Davis whose acting style she tried to emulate, there are photos stuck to the mirror of people she never met or flowed in and out of her life her who meant something to her. Her reflection, her identity is made up of the composite and residues of all that’s left behind in
the mirror of her identity.

In fact, to truly be yourself, Almodovar seems to tell us, we have to become someone else, sometimes act out the new self (slip into the identity of a mother or anything else we want to be and become) and then we become what we envisioned, what we designed ourselves to be.

Hollywood star makers have long known this. Famously Archibald Leech, an itinerant British circus performer became the ultra suave and witty charmer known as Cary Grant. He once stunned reporters when he pronounced that “Everyone wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant!” Pointing to the fact that he had created himself and his own star persona. But by all accounts his creation became his identity. He had become Cary Grant on screen and in real life.

So what is your inner Cary Grant or Rita Hayworth dying to come out, to be freed and to be created. Your version of who you want to be and become?

What dots/pixels do you allow in your life today to make up the shape of who you are? What are the reflections in the mirror of yourself that you see other than your own (ever-changing) face? Is it time to remove some photos, memories, that no longer serve the identity we are creating for ourselves? Is it time to add a new photo or two, more relevant to our present life and the identity we reflect back to ourselves and to others as we joyfully create an ever-evolving and never quite static identity. It is our creation!



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