Uncovering and Learning To Like the Real You
At primary school, I had a ranking system for ‘out there-ness’.
I placed myself third on the leaderboard. I always wanted to play the lead in the school productions. I tried out every after school club you could think of. I ran around the playground with everyone else, forming ‘bands’ and playing games.
Thinking back, I probably wasn’t one of the ‘craziest’, but I certainly felt like I was.
I must have known I was quiet – I spent my weekends with The Famous Five and The Secret Seven and I wrote a complete novel in year six – but I must have figured that my quietness didn’t have any bearing on how much fun I was.
I was quiet but I was happy being quiet.
Then I Went to Secondary School
Suddenly no one else in my class was interested in learning. I was soon labelled ‘the boff’, so I kept my head down and tried not to get myself noticed by the naughty kids too much.
I hated it there, so, my parents fought to get me moved to a different school, where I was suddenly once again surrounded by other children who cared about school.
I carried on getting some of the best marks in my class but by this point, I was really shy. I had to get a taxi to school with a group of people I didn’t know and I’d spend entire journeys plucking up the courage to tell the driver I wouldn’t be in the taxi that afternoon. I was still the quiet and clever one.
At my next school, I got the top mark in all of my GCSEs. At uni, I finished top on my course.
The idea of who I was in my head had completely changed. I was the quiet, clever, geeky, boring one.
Then I Realised I Wasn’t Who I Thought I Was
Figuring that I was good at working on my own and at a desk, I’d tried careers in translation, academia, and freelance graphic design. But I’d got bored with all of those, so I was trying to think of a new career path to go down, by thinking about all of the things that I’d done and enjoyed.
I’d lived in Slovenia, Germany, and Luxembourg. I’d travelled to almost half the countries in Europe. I’d written two novels. I’d travelled to Oslo to go to a party with a bunch of people I’d never even met.
Suddenly it hit me that I was an interesting person.
I realised that I was basing my career choices on my belief that I was quiet, clever, geeky, and boring.
But that the quiet, geeky, boring girl wasn’t who I was. It was the identity I took on at secondary school to protect myself from the other children. I’d taken on that identity and then I’d run with it.
This shy, quiet, boring person identity was like an outfit that I put on to go out in the world. It was a kind of armour that I used to protect myself from potential judgement.
It wasn’t really me. It was a safety behaviour.
Those exciting things that I’d done were evidence that the real me was still there, hiding underneath my quiet identity. That was the silly and fun me that my family knew. The me who loved being on stage at primary school.
I know now that I’m naturally quiet – I’m an introvert and I always have been. And that’s OK.
I’m fun and playful, but I let my fear of what other people might think of me stop me from showing my real self when I’m around other people.
So I decided that, if I wanted to be the confident quiet girl that I was at primary school again, I needed to learn to like and trust the real me, so that I could drop my boring girl identity and be myself.
Learning To Like The Real Me
I started a site called Twisted Sleeve, where I committed to figuring out how to become confident and to helping other shy girls to do the same. And then I started working on getting to know the real me. Because you can’t like yourself until you know who ‘you’ is.
I got to know myself primarily through introspection and healthy comparison. I got past the surface things (like hobbies and skills) and got to know the deeper stuff about myself, like my personality traits, my motivations, and the themes and patterns that link up all the things I do.
And by getting to know and understand myself, and by realising that each of my flaws comes with a flip side, I’ve come to like myself. And liking myself has made it easier to eke that real me out into the world.
As I write this, I’m in a coffee shop with no make-up on, scruffy clothes, and wet hair.
In the past, I’d have been distracted from my writing, worrying what the baristas and other customers might think of me.
Today I know that they don’t know me, how much I’ve achieved, what makes me fun, and why I look so gross, and so I’ve been able to focus on what I’m doing and relax.
It’s not always like this but I’m so much more relaxed about being myself now than I used to be. I’m way closer to that whole ‘I couldn’t care less what other people think of me’ attitude than I ever thought I could be.
What This Means for You
As babies and toddlers, we do whatever the hell we want. We don’t realise that other people might be judging us, so we bop around to music and leave spaghetti sauce on our noses.
We don’t care.
But as we grow up, we notice that other people see certain things as good and certain things as bad, so we start to hide and tweak the parts of ourselves that we’re not sure they’ll like, so that they’ll approve of us.
Eventually we find ourselves feeling shy, uncomfortable, and awkward. Some of us feel like misfits or like we might at any moment be exposed as the way we really are. We’ve covered up our real selves.
If you know the you that you really are isn’t the you that you show everyone else, maybe it’s time to get to know that real you and see what’s down there.
Maybe it’s time to see if the real you is actually kind of OK.
It’s by knowing who you really are that you can start to like and be confident in yourself. So you have to get to know the real you first. And once you’ve got to know and like yourself, you can finally start putting that you out there and being yourself.
Battling her British social awkwardness, Joanna L K Moore (Jo) runs Twisted Sleeve, where she helps shy girls get the confidence they need to do whatever they dream of doing. If you have low self-esteem and feel like you don’t fit in, get her self-study course DIY Self-Esteem: How To Start Liking Yourself.
Joanna is offering a special discount on her DIY Self- Esteem course for Outsiders’ Network readers until the end of October 2014. Get $8 or £5 off if you enter the code OUTSIDER at the check out. This is an affiliate link, so purchases will also support the running costs of the Outsiders’ Network. Thanks!