An insightful elementary teacher noticed our daughter had matching socks and called us into the school for a parent-teacher meeting. He told us she was changing, not participating in class, and developing an attitude. He knew our daughter as a creative, non-conforming spirit who dressed unconventionally, never wore matching socks, and participated enthusiastically in learning.
Turns out the popular girls had accepted her into their group and she wanted to fit in so much she forgot who she actually was. I don’t think this tendency ends in childhood. Peers have a strong influence on who we are and we may mimic what they think is important.
We all adapt
We all adapt our behaviors to be socially acceptable, fit into our environment, and not offend or irritate others. This is, at times, a wise practice. Dave Matthews expresses this idea when he sings, “I find sometimes it’s easy to be myself. Sometimes I find it’s better to be somebody else.” The trick is to adapt without losing ourselves. To accomplish this we need to figure out when we are ourselves and when we are being somebody else.
The pressure to be somebody else can start early. Perhaps your parents or other family members expected you to act or be a certain way that wasn’t really you. Children see what their parents value and may accept or reject these values. Either way, it’s hard to not be influenced by your family of origin. The messages your family members sent you as a child have likely become ingrained.
On a broader scale, societal influences are also constantly sending messages about who you should be and what is important. Owning things, being attractive, staying young, and spending lots of money to have fun are just a few examples of the advertising and media messages bombarding you everyday.
We sometimes wish we were someone else. I love my creative, spontaneous way of living, but sometimes, especially when discouraged or under stress, I wish to be more structured and organized. I have had clients who were trying so hard to “fix” themselves that they defined themselves by who they wished they could be. Although I am all for personal development and improvement, we need to recognize when the actions we take are developmental, not core. I can be organized, but would never consider organization as part of my core. Accepting our strengths and challenges is part of self-discovery.
How can you ensure your personal brand is really you, not a result of pressures to be someone else? Somewhere under all the layers lies the real you. To clearly define your personal brand separate the true you from all of the messages and pressures suggesting who you should be.
Only then will you create a personal brand that is yours alone. Then you are free to be yourself.
Have you separated who you really are from the pressures to be somebody else? Do you have any tips or thoughts on how to help others be themselves?
Donna Dunning, PhD, is a psychologist, certified teacher, member of the MBTI ® International Training Faculty, and director of Dunning Consulting Inc. She is the author of more than a dozen publications, including her two newest books, 10 Career Essentials and What’s Your Type of Career? 2nd edition. Donna’s guiding principle is: Know yourself, respect differences, learn and grow. Follow Donna on Twitter and Facebook.