I am not very good at being myself. But I am very good at being who people want me to be. I can walk into a room, read the situation and take on a persona. (I would probably be a great spy.)
A room of academics? I’ll try and act smart.
A room of Christians? I’ll talk about the Bible study I’m doing.
A room of not Christians? I’ll show all of my cynical-about-church cards.
A friend once told me that one of the reasons I do this might be because I am an INFJ (introvert-intuitive-feeling-judging) on Myers Briggs. INFJs are intuitive feelers and can’t help but sense what people need from us. Does this person need me to laugh at his jokes? Does this person need me to listen? Do I need to smile, nod, be quiet, be loud, have an opinion, not have one…?
If I don’t check myself first, I can find myself bowing to a slew of expectations and sacrificing my true self at the altar of pleasing others and also, blending in.
I cringe when someone isn’t reading a situation like I am and are just being themselves, however contrary to the environment her true self is. But I am also jealous of those of you who can do this, who can just be you no matter where you are and who you are with. How do you do it?
My chameleon tendency is probably the thing I like least about myself. I only became aware of it a few years ago, after doing some counseling. Until then, I just thought I was one of those people who got along with everybody.
Once I get to know people, I settle in. I reveal more of my true self and feel more at ease. Having moved to a new city this year, however, I have felt chameleon Andrea trying to come out in full force. In any new social situation, I ask myself the same old questions: What do these people want from me? What do they expect? How can I give them that person?
It’s where I go when I am insecure and unsure. And it truly slows down the friend-making process. After all, how can you get to know people when you are not letting them get to know you, the real you?
Now that I’ve grown a little more self-aware, I’m better than I once was, but it is still my greatest temptation. To not be me in hopes of filling the insatiable desire of others’ approval.
There is one place in this world where I have always been able to be myself: in my writing. Maybe this is why I’ve always loved it so much. Writing is my safe place. It is where who I am is free to roam. When I’m writing, like really writing, I do not ask, what does someone need to hear? What do they expect from? Who do they need me to be right now? I write what is in me. I write what I need to say, how I need to say it.
I am most me when I write.
The reactions to English Lessons from people I know have been interesting. A couple of friends have said things like, “Oh, this was so you. I could just hear you saying all of this.” And some people have been surprised, saying things like, “This wasn’t what I was expecting.” Some have even said it was better than what they were expecting. (Thank you?)
The former category of commenters knows me. The latter knows the me I’ve presented to them, the person I thought they wanted me to be. So when reading my true self in a book, they were surprised, and for the ones who said it was better than they expected, that’s probably because it was honest and real—something they perhaps haven’t seen in me.
This is why releasing English Lessons has been the best and most difficult experience of my life to date. The best because I was so totally me while writing it, and that’s freeing for someone who is not always herself. The most difficult because releasing it as a book, for the public, to read and review—publicly—on the internet was like releasing the real me to be read and reviewed, publicly.
I wonder if there is a place in your life where you have found yourself default to the chameleon. Your work or your art. Your friends or even your family. And I wonder if there is a place where you never have to switch on that mode. Where are you your best you? Your most full and true you? Where the real you is free. If so, I hope you go there often.
Some writers write for an audience. I do that in my freelance work all the time. It’s important if I’m going to reach my client’s market. But for my own work, work like English Lessons, I do not write for an audience. Perhaps I should. Perhaps this is what real, list-making authors do. But honestly, I don’t think I would know how to do that if I tried. Writing, my writing, is the one place I am completely myself. I will not take that away from me.