IN LEWIS ANDREWS' excellent book, To Thine Own Self Be True, he says, "To the extent we compromise our integrity to make an attractive image of ourselves, we lose contact with our natural enthusiasm. We become contrived, artificial… bored."
I thought that was rather interesting and then I went on about my business.
But one day I realized how it works. Trying to make an attractive image is not as unusual or rare as I thought. We do it a lot. People expect you to be something in particular, and you expect yourself to act a certain way also — often. The trouble with that is: It leaves you with no flexibility, no freedom, and thus no enthusiasm for living.
People used to comment on my attitude — I was so cheerful and full of life so often. After my first book was published, people began to expect me to be in a great mood all the time. After all, I wrote a book on how to improve your attitude.
I didn't want to disappoint them. I wanted them to think well of me and my book. I wanted to prove the stuff was good. But every moment I spent trying to live up to an image ruined my attitude. It sapped my enthusiasm. It was stressful and it made me resentful of those people for their unrealistic expectations of me. That's when Andrew's meaning hit home. When you try to live up to an image, he said, it kills your natural enthusiasm for living.
After I realized that, I deliberately started doing what I wanted, and had the determination to make sure I didn't do anything to live up to someone else's expectations. And you know what? I was in a great mood. That very day, for the first time in a long time, someone commented on my great attitude.
Opera singer Rise Stevens had a lot of poise and confidence on stage, but she wasn't comfortable hanging around with others. "My discomfort came from trying to be something I was not," she said, "a star in the drawing room as well as on stage. If a clever person made a joke, I tried to top it — and failed. I pretended to be familiar with subjects I knew nothing of…"
But then she had a personal revelation. She says, "I realized that I simply wasn't a wit or an intellectual and that I could succeed only as myself. I began listening and asking questions at parties instead of trying to impress the guests. When I spoke, I tried to contribute, not to shine. Almost at once I started feeling new warmth in my social contacts. They liked the real me better."
Whenever you feel yourself harden into a fixed persona, break out! Whenever you lack natural enthusiasm for living, find out where you're trying to live up to someone's expectation (including your own) and break out of it. Start creating your life again right from that point, as an artist would take down a painted canvas and put up a new blank one.
The price you'll pay is that you will, in fact, disappoint people more often. And you aways have the choice: Live up to someone's expectations or have a natural enthusiasm for living. Choose one and then the other for awhile, just to get a feel for the difference in results. Eventually you'll settle on freeing yourself from trying to live up to an image and you'll relax and be yourself.