It’s the summer party and festival season, and that can bring on some nerves or even anxiety. Do you have trouble being yourself when you’re spending time with other people? Do you find yourself censoring your words, being quiet, and staying in the background even when you wish you could be in the center of the action? Even with people who you generally feel comfortable with? Or maybe especially with them, because their opinions really mean something to you…
You’re not alone.
Most of us were brought up in the social crucible that is public school. We learned to fit in and to conform to the social mores of our peers. Particularly if you were a bit shy or sensitive, you soon learned the most important thing was to not make waves. I spent a good part of the mid 80s wishing I was a Preppie. Yes, it’s true. It was the “in” thing to be. I’m glad I never succeeded; it’s just not who I really am.
Even as you grow older and learn about who you are deep in your inner being, conforming on the surface can become a habit. You tend to keep your quirks, your weirdness, to yourself. It’s a form of self-defense that might sometimes be necessary, but more often than not, it just slows you down. It keeps you from true connection with others and holds you back from reaching for your dreams.
When you hide your essential self, or even pretend to be someone you’re not, you’re not accessing the full power of those who could love and support you.
So, how can you be yourself in community? How can you shine your brightest light without fear? Remember, you were either invited to the event, or you were drawn to attend for some reason. Keep in mind your relationship with the party’s hosts, or why the festival sounded like fun. Find a friend to go with, someone who already appreciates you for who you are. Gently push yourself just a couple of steps past your comfort zone.
Still feeling self-conscious? Here are five tips for revealing the true you to your community.
1. Avoid extremes. Sometimes those of us who felt repressed earlier in life go to wild extremes later on. We go for the most radical clothes or piercings, or make sure everyone around us knows exactly what diet or religious path we follow and why they should, too. Going to extremes just for shock value, or to make the point that you’re different, is nearly the same as conforming. Expecting others to eat or party or be sober the way you do involves dictating things to them that might not be their truth at all. Make your choices based on what truly calls to you. Be yourself without needing to try and convert others to your chosen way.
2. Show your quirky side. The things about you that are unusual and creative are what make you unique. This is what will draw your tribe to you. If you authentically love turtle tattoos, purple hair, and Willie Nelson, let your freak flag fly!
3. Lend a hand. No matter how different or shy you might feel in group settings, you’re human, just like those around you. Being free with a smile and a helping hand will often begin a conversation. Ask if you can help with dishes or carry platters at the party. Lend your sunscreen to someone who looks like they’re getting pink. Offer an arm to an elderly person, or open the door for them. Let your kindness be seen and experienced.
4. Polish your filters. Sure, there are always critics. Someone out there hates turtle tattoos and just doesn’t get Willie’s music. When someone judges you harshly, though, it’s more about their own unhappiness or insecurity than it is about you. Make sure you have your filters up, and rude comments will roll right off your back.
5. Focus on what you like. Instead of obsessing about the rude comment you overheard or the way you put your foot in your mouth that one time, think about what you like about your experience in community. The way that drummer smiled at you while you danced around the fire, the laughter you shared with those cool folks, that moment when your friend came running up for a hug, shrieking with joy that you’d arrived. See how loved and appreciated you are, and let yourself relax.
Most likely no one will remember the party guest who dressed like everyone else and blended into the background. They’re going to joyfully recall the one who played that funny ukulele tune, shared blueberry mead, laughed with wild abandon, and helped clean up after the BBQ mess.
Being yourself in community expands your tribe. It feels great to relax into being you. You’ll feel valued for who you truly are, not for some image you’re projecting. And next time you’re out and about, you’ll be recognized and invited along for even more fun!