There are some habits that we cultivate over a long period of time that become so deeply engrained in our patterns of behaviour that we start to feel like they are part of our character. We say things like “that’s just who I am” or “that’s the kind of person I am”. But I’m not sure I believe it. I think that we develop a collection of habits that inform our behaviour. Some of those habits we deeply value and want to hold onto, others we do not and wish that we could let them go.
I’ve been thinking about one of those habits recently and decided it’s time for this particular habit to take its leave. My long-standing habit of hustling, of observing people closely to try to figure out what they want from me and who they want me to be so that I can be that to them. It’s a terribly tiresome habit taking a lot of my energy and focus so I want to kick it to the curb and move on.
The thing of it is though if I get rid of this habit, it means that I’m checking out of watching you to see what it is you want from me. I’m done trying to figure out who I should be in each different social context. I will no longer watch your reactions to what I say as signs that I’m on the right track, that maybe you do like me, that maybe, just maybe, this time, I am okay. I’ll stop, and if you want something from me, other than what I’m giving out, you’re going to have to ask.
You see it has been a long game for me of trying to figure out who others want me to be so that I can feel loved and okay in my skin. Maybe you’ve played this game too, sitting in a new social situation, unsure of yourself in the mix of people and instead of letting yourself be seen, you watch and try to figure out which version of you will be most accepted in that space. You try to match the level of intellect, the sense of humour, the interests of the group. You don’t want to let on that you really are not interested in the political conundrum being discussed or the pop icon being praised. You fit in, you blend, you adjust in order to be liked.
But the problem with all that is it’s bloody exhausting. You can’t let up because if you do, you’ll slip and the charade will be over. You’ll say something that will give you away and those you have been working so hard to impress will realize that you don’t really fit. Oh horror of horrors, this you cannot allow to happen. So you play, you watch, you create a version of yourself that will work. And when you go home or wherever it is that you don’t have to hustle, you collapse into an exhausted heap and swear to yourself you’re never leaving your house again.
I have for many years mistakenly assumed this meant I was an introvert. That it was the social dynamic itself that drained me, but I no longer think that’s the case. It is not being social that drains me, because in fact I find some social encounters distinctly energizing. It is the hustle that leaves me empty and in need of reprieve.
So I’m working on breaking the habit. Practicing showing up and being seen seems to be the antidote to the hustle and thus far, it’s working well. When we have the courage to let ourselves be seen as we are, we offer ourselves permission to engage from a place of authenticity and honesty with whomever we are with at the time. We are free to admit what we don’t know, what we are and are not interested in, what we feel. Now, I don’t mean let it all hang out and just be an ass. This is not permission to be rude or unkind. It is permission to just be, as you are. If you have had an exhausting day and your head is distracted by whatever your day held, let that be said and known so that others know where you are starting off when you come together. If you have had an amazing day, let that be shared as well. If you don’t catch the pop culture reference, don’t pretend, even if it means admitting you have no idea who Taylor Swift is.
To really break the habit though, means reminding myself over and over and over again that I am okay as I am. That I don’t need to prove myself to others, that they will like me as me and appreciate the honesty that I bring to engaging with them. And that if they don’t, they are not people I want to surround myself with. It is reminding myself that people are pretty good at detecting bullshit and can see through a cover story better than I may have thought. It is also understanding that bravery encourages bravery and if I am willing to show up and be seen, just as I am, I give someone else permission to do the same. And when we can engage with each other from a place of honesty, we are saying to the other, I trust you. I trust you to accept me as I am, I trust you to let me be myself in this space. I am not sure there is a greater compliment or a more profound gift than that kind of trust, both for the one who gives it and for the one who receives it.