There’s a lot of talk in personal growth circles about “being yourself.” We’ve all heard a lot about being ourselves as a path to success in work, finding love, doing well in life.
I don’t recommend it.
Here’s the problem. Our authentic selves—in full—include our limiting beliefs and not-so-accurate stories about the world. Our authentic selves include our fears and defense mechanisms and self-destructive behaviors.
We don’t want to let those parts of us rein free. They cause us suffering. They cause other people suffering. Not to mention, quite often they make us look crazy, irrational, generally unappealing.
On its own, being oneself isn’t a helpful strategy. Walk into a difficult conversation with a loved one with the plan to “just be yourself” and you are likely to find yourself being run by your fears and defenses.
Walk into a stressful day at work with the strategy to “just be yourself” and you will be indulging in some of your least healthy coping mechanisms (candy bars, gossip, online procrastination) by mid-afternoon.
We need a more nuanced approach. The power of being ourselves comes in fact from something more specific. In each of us, there is a unique essence – a unique set of strengths and talents, a unique capacity to contribute something new to the world. There’s a unique sensibility and set of values.
It’s all of those parts – those rich and juicy and remarkable parts of ourselves — that we want to cultivate. That’s the self we want to show up loudly and boldly with in the world. That’s the self it makes us happy to be. That self doesn’t cause suffering. That self enriches the lives of others and creates positive impact in the world.
I don’t think we have the right words in our language to name it. The term that resonates the most for me is “soul self.” We don’t want to be ourselves. We want to be our soul selves.
5 Dimensions of Your Soul Self
How are you doing on these five dimensions of being your soul self? As you read, give yourself a score from one to ten – not to judge yourself, but simply to assess where you are now.
1. Using Your Strengths: Your strengths and talents are your gifts to the world. Put them to use and you will contribute to others and change the world. You’ll also feel good: more and more research is showing that using strengths is a key component not only of professional success, but of personal happiness.
If you aren’t aware of your strengths, use an assessment such as the Strengths Finder or the free, online VIA Signature Strengths Questionnaire. Then brainstorm ways you can use your strengths more in your life and work.
2. Doing What You Love: You are blessed. You are blessed because you’ve been given a set of activities that bring you joy, contentment, happiness. You were given a pathway to bliss. Are you walking it? Are you being a responsible steward of that blessing?
Your set of bliss-activities is unique to you and is a key element of your soul self. My set includes writing, reading poetry, seeing art, designing spaces, and being engaged in the creative process. For my client Chris, those activities are adventurous travel, listening to great music, strategic thinking, and having quiet alone time. What are your top five?
If you aren’t sure, look back in your life (and you may have to go way back) for clues. When have you felt joy from doing a particular activity? What did you long to do as child? If you still aren’t sure, place your hand wherever you feel your gut instinct in your body, take a few deep breaths, and then ask yourself. Trust whatever clues come up and start experimenting.
3. Aligning Your Life With Your Values: What do you value most? Community? Peace? Energy? Love? I know, all of these words sound good. They are all good–there are so many ways that the beauty and power of life can be expressed. But each of us has particular values that resonate with our unique soul self. Each of us is the messenger, the embodiment, of particular forms of the good more than others.
My client Judy’s are innovation, love, wisdom and trust. She knows just what those terms mean to her. Clay’s are purpose, loyalty, action, and forgiveness.
Pick three or four words that reflect your top values, the principles you hold most dear. Don’t overthink this. Don’t worry about what you feel like they should be. Don’t think about morals, think about what matters most to you personally, way deep down. Come from your heart, and see what three to four words show up.
How can you better align your life with these values? Does the way you spend your money reflect them? How about your calendar and daily schedule? Your home? Your parenting, partnering, and relationships with others? How can you make your life courageous expression of your values?
4. Acknowledging Others: Think of one person in your life whom you admire and appreciate. Articulate, right now, what it is in particular that you most love about them, for example: “I love Jamie’s unwavering loyalty and optimism” or “I’m moved by the integrity and trustworthiness of my friend Alex” or “ I adore the candor and humility of my sister-in-law Liz.”
That vision – the particular qualities you see and love in others– comes from your soul self. It’s a reflection of your unique perspective and your capacity to love. Expressing those acknowledgements, complimenting others on the beauty you see in them, is one way to actualize your soul self.
5. Doing Your Assignments: We’ve all been given assignments, work we are meant to do in our lifetimes.
I don’t mean the thing you put on a resume or show up at the office to do. I mean the thing you feel called, in your heart, to change. Maybe it’s a problem facing our world. Maybe it’s a need in your community. Maybe it’s the situation of a person living a few houses away from you and who needs love and assistance.
What is causing a twinge in your soul? What pains you? What vision of how it could be different dances in your consciousness?
Those are your clues about the assignments you’ve been given. The world has a you-shaped hole in it. It is waiting for you to show up with your contribution so that that hole can be filled. The joy that comes from doing that is unparalleled – the peace and the fulfillment and meaning is like nothing else. I hope you won’t miss out.
These are the ways of “being ourselves” that bring happiness and allow us to create an impact on the world. This is the authenticity we want to cultivate—being our soul selves. Using our strengths and gifts. Acknowledging others. Doing what we truly love. Aligning our lives with our values. Answering the callings in our hearts.