The Real Me
The real me. I wanted to take this statement and start with a very simple question - what does that mean?
Is it a slogan? A confession? An affirmation?
When we speak about 'me' and prefix it with 'real', we recognise a degree of constructed identity in our public and perhaps even private lives. By emphasising that something is real, we acknowledge that it must have an unreal alternative, a false twin. The actuality of the core being throws its shadow into relief, and maybe for a few seconds we realise that the shadow was masquerading as the whole.
It's easier than ever to create the personal reality we want to. We have so many freedoms - our education, our friends, our politics, our clothes, what we read, where we go, how and what we speak. Text, photos, sound, all are editable, malleable tools for self-projection, for image-creation. But whether what we create is indicative of our reality is up for debate. Naturally I pick and choose the parts of my life and myself I'm willing to publicly share - I don't mind people knowing what parties I go to or when I've been on holiday; I'm more cautious of letting them in on how many times I wear my jeans before washing them, or the rants I have when I'm by myself in the car. I'm using what may seem like trivial examples but this is how simply the charade can start - because I know once I begin worrying too much about how people see me, I stop remembering who I actually am. I can even believe my own construction for a while. My created reality is liable to run away with me, and like Peter Pan I'm left slumped on the floor imploring my shadow to come back and behave itself.
Of course the shadow metaphor has its limitations. Humanity is not two-dimensional; it is possible to be multi-faceted, to be complex, to be 'real' yet still changeable and diverse. I believe that the centre of 'real' in this human complexity is honesty with ourselves and others. What we acknowledge to be the truth is the starting point for all our decisions, be they moral, ethical, emotional, practical. When we centre ourselves honestly, we are better placed to relate to others and to our own selves. So why is it that I find this so difficult?
The main measures I used for myself when I was young were academic and moral. I wanted to be top of my class, and I also wanted to be the best-behaved; I craved the pat on the head, the gold star stickers, the sense of moral superiority (and I know some of you are nodding because you remember this about me!). Clearly wanting to succeed at school and wanting to do the right thing are perfectly good objectives, but it was easy for it to become about performance and perception just as much as it was about content. When I fell short of those standards in any way I didn't feel I could acknowledge my weakness; I wanted to maintain an image of a perfect reality that simply wasn't possible.
The trouble with reality in our society is that it never comes up to our standards. On a global level there are wars we don't understand and poverty we may feel helpless to fight. On a community level there are prejudices and injustices of which we can't fathom the roots. On a personal level, we struggle for a degree of success that is so often judged by external measures which have gained huge influence in the public consciousness, but which can constrict our viewpoint and cause us to feel that failure is our only option. These measures filter into our mindsets so easily from such a young age that it can seem impossible to extricate ourselves, to decide which are valid and which are not.
I think this is why it's so important to make 'the real me' something to be unafraid of. More often than not we can think of it in terms of exposure - we think of our negative attributes, what people are going to judge us for. Well guess what? That's going to happen anyway. How about we decide to go for honesty that flies in the face of a perfection-obsessed culture, and work to some standards we really believe in? How about we give ourselves the chance to breathe and let down the facade? I'm not suggesting we forgo all privacy, which is a very necessary safeguard, but I am suggesting that seeing as we are imperfect we might as well acknowledge it, and realise that it's okay. We have value anyway. We are loved anyway. And when you consider that 'perfect' actually means 'complete', not flawless, it doesn't look so bad.
I readily acknowledge that I've a lot to learn, but what I do know about the real me is that too often I have let shame destroy my confidence and freedom. I would much rather celebrate the value of honesty in a world of unattainable expectations, and set some goals for myself that I can reach for without having to hide behind shadows that don't represent who I truly am. Improvement is always on the cards, but so too should be love and acceptance.
This is Project The Real Me, and I invite you all to join.