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To Thine Own Self Be True...But First, Know Thyself - Finale (finally...)

"I am what I am and that's all what I am." - Popeye

In Part I, I discussed “Knowing Ones’ Self” with an interlude in Part II suggesting that knowing “Who You Are”, while not a condition precedent, is perhaps a more efficacious threshold investigation than the way I went about things. (A little legalese in there. Apologies.). In plain English – it’s probably a better jumping off point. I will admit, I may not have done so succinctly. Brevity and me – not so much. See? I know myself! In my defense, those two “chapters” were a bit like birthing my first child – 36 hours from water breakage to getting that stubborn little fucker (I mean beautiful baby boy) out of my body – and they had to cut me open in the end to do it. Yeah, it was kinda like an emotional version of that. But I’m wrapping up this little series, and Imma gonna keep it short. Well. Short. Er.

To Thine Own Self Be True.

Ahhhh. Finally. One with which I have not struggled. Or…have I? Said with hand cupped to chin and a masculine like stroking of the three rogue chin hairs that refuse to succumb to that damn laser. (Okay, five. Okay, okay, it’s ten. TEN! Final answer.)

Age related hair migration notwithstanding (News flash for younger readers: bikini hairs migrate as well. Just a friendly heads-up), I was lucky enough to have been born with an innate sense of self-worth and a good deal of self-confidence to boot. I was also blessed to have a mother who made me feel loved, worthy and capable of anything.

By nature and by nurture, for the better part of my life, I knew who I was, and I liked me - save one notable exception. I’d posit that my ego was healthy, but not outsized. I suppose it’s up for debate, but that’s my take and I’m stickin’ to it. I’ve gone through the self-analysis routine, including the one I explore here, plenty of times on this one. Trust.

Growing up and on into adulthood, I felt entirely free to pursue my goals and my dreams without fear and without hesitation. I almost never internalized slights, or perceived slights, of others. Sticks and stones was my outlook on life for sure. I was uninhibited, unrestrained and pretty much without exception I stayed true to myself: my choices of hair color and off-trend fashion (holy, goth-phase); my broad and diverse friend circles and odd romantic pairings; my moral, religious and political stances; my one-tracked focus of getting into, and through, a top-tier law school with the goal of getting a job in the music business followed by a solo move to the Big Apple to pursue said job (weird way to go about getting there, I know), and, for better or for worse, my potty mouth.

I will say, however, I went wrong in a fundamental way with the “Be True to Yourself” mantra. Very wrong. No, not with the potty mouth. Again, maybe it’s up for debate, but I’m pretty sure that ship sailed circa 1987.

Generally, critiques or criticisms of others didn’t make a landing in my consciousness – hard or soft. They simply just didn’t hit my radar, didn’t concern me, I deflected them or, sometimes, I agreed and embraced them (see, e.g., my belief that the words if, and, but, for AND fuck are all conjunction words). As a general rule, this has served me well. I was pretty cool with who I was and more than okay being true to that. But, inside deeper relationships, it created an impenetrable barrier to connectivity and growth.

To illustrate, I am going to quote Paula Deen. I hesitated to use this quote because it was offered by her during an interview with Matt Lauer in June, 2013 in response to the controversy surrounding her allegedly having made racist remarks (I believe she did, but being a lawyer and all…). Racism is something I do not, nor have I ever, had tolerance for. But as a stand-alone, outside the context in which it was delivered, the statement resonated with me:

“I is who I is, and I’m not changin'.”

In essence, I embraced a “love me or leave me” stance and brought it squarely and firmly into my most important and valuable relationships, including, perhaps, the most important relationship I’d ever had.

With people who mattered to me, whose opinions were deserving of thoughtful consideration, I sloughed off any concern or critique with a “well, that’s just me” more often than not. Sometimes, I took it as an assault on “who I was” - a personal affront or attack. Rarely did I stop to ask if it was a valid complaint or a constructive  criticism. Nor did I stop to ask if it was a behavior or pattern that was causing injury, hurt or harm to someone I loved, valued and respected. It left little to no room for compromise or growth. And it certainly did harm.

After peeling away the many (MANY!) layers of the onion, I could see the pattern clearly. What I wish I had done, and what I strive to do now (but by no means am I perfect at it), is what I counsel my kids to do when they face perceived slights, insults, or even peer pressure (a close cousin for adolescents).

First, ask yourself the following questions:

1. Is this a person whose opinion I respect or value?

2. Is the criticism or critique a valid one?

3. If I don’t change, will it cause harm to someone I care about and/or respect?

4. If I do change, will it compromise “who I am” and so therefore, ultimately cause harm to me?

These questions go in no particular order, and none of them necessarily has a higher value than the other. They can be applied individually, mix and match or all together. The important thing, I have learned the hard way, is to engage in a thoughtful and honest analysis before reacting, either internally or externally.

With a small pat on the back, I’ll share how I see my kids starting to avoid mistakes I made. My then pre-teen, smack in midst of the easiest of all environments - middle school - found himself feeling alone and friendless. Kids told him he was annoying over and over. I’m not exactly sure what it was that other kids found so annoying about him (I happen to think he’s pretty stellar despite having given me a helluva a fight exiting my body), but I think it had to do with his level of maturity, or lack thereof. He was still doing things that other kids had largely outgrown like talking in class during lectures, making silly jokes below his age level and running in the halls. He did not like the ostracization or his lack of friends. He did some self-analysis and found that he agreed. He was, in fact, annoying. Rather, his behaviors were annoying. So, he made some adjustments. After some time, kids took note. He didn’t compromise himself or pretend to be somebody he wasn’t, but he stopped acting like an 8 year-old in the halls and classrooms of the middle school. Fast forward and he now has more self-awareness AND a great group of friends. And, thank God, has stopped running in the halls. My Inbox thanks him for it too - “Dear Mrs. Bason, your son is very sweet, but I am contacting you again because…”

My other kid, like his mother, is not a big fan of critique – constructive or otherwise. He was recently told by someone he respects and likes very much that he is too sensitive and complains too much - criticisms lodged at him by his brother as well. Whether his brother’s opinion is respected or valued is iffy - depends on the day. This one is a little more challenging - one is a behavior – complaining. The other is more of a personality trait – sensitivity. And, like me, he’s a tougher nut to crack. He’s not convinced either is a valid criticism, BUT he did stop and think about them. He’s still mulling it over… If he determines that he is, in fact, too sensitive, it’s not an easy fix. It requires some inner work – and he’s only 11 after all. If he determines that he is not, then he can "reject" the idea and be secure in who he is. Good news is, he’s a secure little dude. He gets that from me too. Actually, he gets it from both of us. His dad has no dearth of self-confidence either (I mean that as a compliment – it’s one of his most attractive qualities). As to the complaining thing – I’m pleading the 5th. But if he does complain too much, I certainly don’t know where he gets THAT one…

So, to Thine Own Self Be True. Living in a way that is true to oneself is to live authentically. To live inauthentically is a sacrifice. It is a sacrifice of self. And it comes with a price. To your sense of self-worth, your security, and your happiness. An authentic self is a happier self. Everyone in your orbit, and beyond – the ripple effect and all– benefits from your happiness.

Invest in you. Invest in knowing who you are. Then invest in who you are and stay true. You and your loved ones will reap the benefits. If you don’t know who you are, learn. If you do know who you are - be content, be secure and stay the course. Do not, however, make the mistake I did. Allow for some course-corrections. Your authentic self is not always in the right. It is not perfect, and it will most certainly need to grow, to evolve, and perhaps, to change.

There is some merit in taking into account how others view you, your actions or even your inactions. Especially if the feedback comes from a place of love and from people you value, trust and/or respect. Certainly, these opinions should be giving the appropriate weight, if any, but they are deserving of some consideration and thought. People may see things that you do not, or cannot, see in yourself. And even if you do, perhaps a look from different perspective is in order.

As many have said, but most recently in my world, my dear Uncle Sam, “First, do no harm.” But that’s a two-fold edict, isn’t it? Do no harm to others. And do no harm to yourself. There’s a balance there that must be struck. So, whether the critique is internal or external, stop and think about it. In each instance. Maybe it’s is a valid one. Then you be a like a caterpillar. You enclose your inner self in a cocoon and do some work until you reemerge. You’re still you, but now you’re a butterfly. Maybe the criticism turns out to be truly bunk. In which case, you be like a duck. Shake that ass, and let that shit roll off your back.

Know thyself. Be true to yourself. But be true in a way that does no harm. To others. Or to yourself. You do you. Just do the best version of you.

Now, go shake that ass. Wherever you are. And tell ‘em Mack sent ya.

“Always be a first-rate version of yourself

and not a second-rate version of someone else.”

Judy Garland

Sound off in the comments below - maybe something you embrace about yourself, something you tweaked, or your journey of self-love!

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