Thursday, February 3, 2011

To Thine Own Self Be True

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I recall reading Hamlet in senior English.  I know this because I memorized the "To be...or not to be..." soliloquy during Spring Break because I'm pretty sure I needed the bonus points.  Since there are actors in the family, you'd think that I'd have had an easy time getting into character and truly being able to channel the angst...but that's where you'd be wrong.  I was too busy trying to make sure that I didn't miss a word of dialogue (and thus blow my chance for the points) that I didn't care what I was long as I was quoting it verbatim. 

I'm fairly sure that Mrs. Watson took pity on me.  She probably thought I was some kind of freak of nature for doing it anyway. 

But that's who I am.  A freak of nature.  I think that's who we all are in our own unique little way.  I spent, decades...trying on different personas without a clue of what I was doing.  I tried on more personalities, habits, ideas, looks, styles (sadly, this was also the 80s), and ways of viewing the world than I can actually imagine now.  Somewhere along the way, I finally realized that growth didn't necessarily mean that I had to start completely over everytime I faced a disappointment or had a setback. 

I just had to learn to be true to myself.

In Hamlet, there is a speech by Polonius (whose purpose I cannot remember...and I only know his name because I "googled" it) that includes some advice such as "neither a borrower nor a lender be" (oops, guess I blew that one on both sides as I spent ten years as a commercial lender and American Express says "who's your Daddy" to me every month).  But the quote that is in Act I, Scene iii (lines 78-80) is:

"This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day.  Then cans't not be false to any man."

I'm not exactly sure what the context of the quote was...and I'm not exactly sure what it is supposed to mean.  But I'll tell you what it means to me.  After all, if you've read this might actually stick with me through this. 

What this means to me is that we have to be true to who we are uniquely created, gifted, and placed to be on this earth, in this time, and for those we encounter.  If we do so, then we will fulfill our purpose...and will be someone that others can trust to be genuine and unique. 

But then again...maybe I'm reading too much into it.  Hard to tell.

Being raised in the South, we tend to understand a few realities of life fairly early.  We know that it is important to be polite.  We understand that some people play by different rules than we do and that sometimes this is acceptable and overlooked, and sometimes it is not...and avoided.  We want to be a credit to our families, to our church, and to our communities.  We are to be applauded for being our best self...but are better served to stay within the boundaries of acceptable behavior lest we become too outrageous or different.  One of the worst things one can be is "different."  Maybe it is the same in the other parts of the country...but all I can really speak to is my own experience.

It is difficult to be true to yourself while you are trying to fit in and not embarrass your family.  It is hard to tell people your honest opinion about something or stand for anything when you aren't sure that you have the capacity to stand alone.  Being true to yourself is hard work and takes a strength of spirit that a lot of people just don't have.

So, life turns into a compromise.  We hold back our true feelings and wishes because we don't want to hurt someone's feelings.  We make excuses for why we don't pursue our dreams.  We go through the motions of life...looking for a better day...because we just cannot quit putting our light under a bushel. 

I don't know what voice is in your head tonight.  Maybe it is someone who told you that you aren't as talented, beautiful, strong, or capable as you once believed yourself to be.  Perhaps you just wore yourself out trying to take on the world in your own strength.  Or you may just be feeling tremendously alone because nobody can see what a wonderful person they are passing up in you. 

I don't know.  But what I do know is that you can start by being true to you.

Tell yourself the truth.  Drop the facade.  Quit expecting the fairytale and look at what is in front of you.  It may not be much...or even what you think you deserve...but it is what it is right now.  Determine within yourself that you are going to be you...100% of the time.  Oh, you can temper your "youness" to preserve people's feelings...but don't let others' directives, wants or expectations for you drive you any longer.  You can listen...but you ultimately have to quit relying on other people to reflect "you" back to you. 

If you want a relationship with someone and they have turned you is their loss. 

If you have a dream but nobody is encouraging it...pray about it and then keep plodding forward.

If you have people in your life who suck the life out of you...cut them off.  Set boundaries.  Move on.

If you have too much time on your hands...fill it with something productive.

If people ask for too much of your time...politely help them find alternative arrangements or just say "no."

If you feel alone and undervalued...then step out in faith that you are just a breath away from having everything in your life improve.  It is usually at the point where we think there's no way out that we quit banging on the door bolted shut...and see the open window just beside it.

If you are pretending to be something you are aware that almost everyone else is doing the very same thing.  Be bold.  Drop the mask.

If you want more friends in your life...then take the initiative.  Too many of us sit around waiting for someone to come to us.

Those are my thoughts as I reflect on being true to myself.  I can say that there are times when I would like to still be in that phase of life when it was still possible to change my life drastically and be okay with it.  Today, I am pretty happy with who I am and what I have to offer.  Not always, mind you...but often enough.  Part of that is the realization that I can't pretend to be something that I'm not for long.  I'm just not that good of an actor.

Just ask Mrs. Watson. 

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