Simple advice but deceptively difficulty.
Yes, I collect vintage sports t-shirts, agonize over two sentence emails, and choke up at sentimental movies. I chew too loudly, mispronounce “button,” and neglect laundry for days, sometimes weeks, on end.
I downplay my proudest moments. My article is leading Psych Central? That smoldering hot mess of a column? I am an admitted people-pleaser, shunning my own needs to appease family and friends. I am punctually unpunctual, arriving into work at 9:02 AM to a red-eyed glare from an unforgiving supervisor.
But after reading Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, a truism dawned on me. Finally.
Be authentic to yourself. If you are sensitive soul, own it. If you are revel in others’ satisfaction, embrace it. If you are a frazzled flake, own it.
Here’s why: In the change game, we are continually striving to reinvent ourselves. The underlying assumption: We are inadequate or inferior. Unloved or unworthy. We need a self-help manual to lecture us on happiness, a relationship guru to establish meaningful connections, and a spiritual advisor to approve our religious beliefs. Have you scanned your library’s self-help section lately? The books runneth over.
In our perpetual quest for self-improvement, here is the delicious irony: We look at others’ interpretation of happiness. Or fulfillment. Or religiosity. And we deviate from our own perfectly acceptable definitions.
In my case, it was fun. Or my lack thereof. I grew up in middle America: the land of hogs, hunting, and Hawkeyes. For most native Iowans, Hawkeye hysteria is a year-around religion. Returning home to my native state, yes, I celebrate Hawkeye victories with trademark enthusiasm. But as I listened to buddies recount every painstaking detail, I openly asked myself, “Do I really care? Or am I following the Hawkeyes because of my friends’ black and gold obsession?” The answer: as obvious as the Hawkeyes’ staid play-calling.
Over the past year, I have discovered my own definition of fun. It is exploring small-town Americana, thrifting for a vintage antique or prized t-shirt. It is backpacking in Nicaragua or Haiti, muddling through my broken Spanish to exchange a toothy grin with a stranger. It is buzzing through downtown on a vintage bike, grinning as motorists exchange cockeyed glances at my vintage Schwinn.
And as I have discovered fun, this self-discovery has metamorphosed into other personal awakenings: writing, travel hacking, yoga, and an unshakeable love of 90s hip hop. In fact, embracing myself — interests, passions, and, yes, warts has been a revelation. My newfound philosophy (“Be Matt”) has filtered into career choices, relationships, and everyday interactions.
I am more confident and, at times, even emboldened. Writing this column, I wonder how many of us are cheating ourselves out of our true passions or toiling away in unsatisfying careers? Are we afraid our others’ reactions if we step out of — or knock down — the proverbial box imprisoning us?
Be yourself. And that can be as an intrepid adventurist, nerdy bookworm, and, yes, Hawkeye homer.