Imagine stepping into your own shoes (for me, the actual shoes are Chucks, warm worn leather, and Nikes, depending on the day) and feeling true ease and peace with the person you are today and the person you are still becoming. This person is comfortable at work & at home, not the feeling that you have to “snap into character” at a moment's notice to feel acceptable to humanity and this world.
You are simply you. In boldness or in hushed tones. In a business suit or oversized sweats. Just that feeling of being complete. That is the ideal, isn’t it?
And identifying your own forms of comfort and ease starts with self-expression and being unabashedly yourself, regardless of what that looks like. In this edition of Unraveled, we will walk through different forms of self-expression, the importance of aligning with your values & beliefs versus what you deliver to the world, and practical considerations on how to express yourself. By the end, we will share some TED Talks that inspired this write-up and dive deeper if you want to dork out like I did.
Shapes & Sizes
The word expression means a “pressing out” or the ability to convey thoughts, feelings, and identity through communication. In researching the topic, I had no idea how critical expressing yourself really is to both your mental health and overall well-being. Our sense of belonging stems all the way back to our natural inclination to enter survival mode and protect ourselves, which is why sometimes we revert to doing the thing that makes us fit the mold and feel validation (especially at work).
Some forms of self-expression are:
· Physical (using your body)
· Intellectual (expressing thoughts & ideas)
· Creative (art, music, poetry, writing, etc.)
· Emotional (authentic expressions of emotion/vulnerability)
· Relational (showing who we are in relationships)
What self-expression is NOT:
· Mimicking others and following their lead
· Driven by external factors or the desire to persuade- instead, it’s a genuine expression of inner self
· Manipulative, controlling, or a popularity bid
I spell out what it is and is not because I know one thing for certain. At some point in each of our lives, whether it was middle school and high school, a first job in a new field, or climbing a corporate ladder, we feel the need to “fit the mold in order to see success.”
It’s natural to do it, and it takes some serious boldness/security to feel comfortable enough to express ourselves. Starting to do so starts with doing some deep personal work and identifying what it is we actually stand for, and then taking that and aligning it to the position we find ourselves in, then sticking to our guns.
Tune in & Align
Have you ever heard the phrase, “If you stand for nothing, you will fall for anything?” It is absolutely true. This then begs the bigger question. What are your own personal values & what do you stand for? Everyone’s list of values is different, depending on their current life circumstances, goals, background, passions, and so on. However, there are a few common values that people across the globe prioritize. Some examples are kindness, honesty, loyalty, responsibility, and courage. Maybe it’s time to drill down on what values & beliefs you identify with. The real catch is that you’ll need to revisit them. Especially if you’ve experienced major life changes (marriage, divorce, the birth of a child, death of a loved one) or your goals have shifted. Not identifying and aligning with your core beliefs would be like never updating your phone's operating system, and continuing to utilize the iOS (Apple’s Operating System) from 2020. Changes have happened in your life & career, and with that comes the need to revisit your own iOS.
Getting really clear on what you stand for and where you’re headed (or want to go) will help give you the clarity you need to give a big ole exhale and step into yourself more. It’s pretty damn hard to express yourself when your daily actions feel unaligned and completely disjointed.
Megaphone & Execute
Blasting out forms of self-expression can feel really foreign, especially at first. I know for me personally, one way I express myself is through tattoos. I’ve wanted to have sleeves for years but never felt it was quite appropriate in corporate medical sales, or maybe I would be judged or looked at differently. I even felt the need when I first started using LinkedIn 7 years ago to either show up in scrubs (an automatic credibility boost) or a business suit.
Today you’ll find me in a snapback in the trunk of my car or dropping F-bombs in my newsletters because, guess what? That’s the real me, people. I love to dress up and respect others by showing I care enough to do so (time and place for everything), but the reality is that most of the time, I’m behind my computer creating media, collaborating with my graphic designer, and on ZOOM calls between school pick up and drop. That’s my reality, so I stopped trying to curate a look for other’s hypothetical approval perfectly & started imperfectly putting media out with a genuine take-it-or-leave-it mentality.
Expressing your truest self gives others permission to do the same.
Now, without further ado, as promised, I will share a few TED Talks with you that served me. In this one https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ati3O3-iZls, Sarah Hernholm has some incredible items in her toolbox that can serve you:
1. Get quiet & build boundaries
2. Their story isn’t yours (start building ownership & authorship of your own story)
3. Lighten Up
4. It’s a choice to close your heart, or keep it open
5. Express don’t impress
The other incredible TED Talk that hit home for me was with actor Ethan Hawk called “Give yourself permission to be creative” https://www.ted.com/talks/ethan_hawke_give_yourself_permission_to_be_creative?language=en where he examines how courageous expression promotes healing and connection with one another.
Warning: The side effects of being yourself may result in new-found optimism, a sense of liberation and freedom, and magnetism of others to you that you didn’t even know was possible.
My hope and prayer for you as you continue to unravel is that you have a moment of introspection and understand that the world is an incredibly unreliable critic. Only you are responsible for your own happiness. May you be blessed with the confidence to be yourself, express yourself, and share your gift with this world.