It’s pretty standard fare to have clients come to my office because of anxiety. I’d like to talk about one small (not small) aspect of anxiety.
In Martha Beck’s wonderful book Finding Your Own North Star, she talks about how we all have an essential self and a social self – and that the further “apart” these two selves are, the higher and more intense the experience of anxiety. The Essential Self is the ‘you’, you really are on the inside – the one who has dreams and passions and a vision of what their life could be. The Social Self is the ‘you’, you show the world – the one who accommodates others’ expectations of you, the one who makes themselves small, who isn’t too loud, too funny, too creative…..
So what is she talking about? Well, it’s been my experience that a lot of us don’t get to be who we really want to be, or do what we really have always wanted to do. We don’t allow ourselves the experience of being authentic, of living out loud, because we are afraid. We are afraid of being judged, someone might think our idea is crazy. We are afraid of being laughed at, we are afraid of being rejected, we are afraid … period. If people see our real self, we will never: get the job, have a friend, be in a relationship, find ourselves happy .. and on we go.
Beck further delves into the phenomenon of social and essential selves in the area of work. She argues that we suffer because we have given up on our authentic self by not choosing work we want, work we had (often still have) a passion for. The painter, the dancer, the toy maker, the athlete, the entrepreneur … all quashed in service of what we were told, then believed, we “should” be. And again, who we think we should be is the definition of our “social self” .. whereas who we want to be is the definition of our “essential self”. So it seems we are set up from very early on to not be “who we were meant to be”.
A word about what’s possible. For sure, not everyone can work at their “dream job”. Culture, education, oppression, opportunity, life circumstance, and many, many more things play a key role in how much room you have in your life to do the work you want to do. But I have to believe that we all have the power to bring our authentic self to the task at hand. That we all have the power to feel proud of what we do, to feel productive and contribute to a better world for ourselves and others. It’s important to know that we can work – at whatever – and still be our authentic self.
So how to bring the two “selves” together? How do we risk letting the world see who we really are inside? If I always wanted to be a painter, but was steered away, frightened out of, that career choice .. can I find ways to let that part of me be expressed? Is there a way of bringing the very best of me to the present moment? Isn’t that being authentic? Is there room to bring a new attention to my creative soul and find ways to address it? Not all our needs can be met by work .. we also have our social lives, our families, our creative lives – that allow for being genuine, authentic and being how we want to be in the world. Can I bring creativity into my life in other ways than work? Is it possible to find what’s creative about my work and appreciate that?
Lots of questions. Nothing is simple, or easy … except trusting that if you show the world who you are, YOU will feel better. If you show the world who you’ve been hiding – YOU will flourish. If you align who you want to be on the inside, with who you are on the outside… your anxiety will diminish and you will be living a realer life.