"To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best to make you everybody but yourself means to fight the hardest battle any human being can fight -- and to never stop." -- e.e. cummings

Daniel Goleman's research in Emotional Intelligence found that we human beings are wired for connection. We not only want to belong, we need to belong; and so we are at our best when we feel connected to those around us. We like to be appreciated, enjoy admiration and crave to feel significant in the hearts and minds of those around us. Too often though, in our quest to feel significant, we forfeit expressing our individuality, limit our vulnerability and don a mask intended to garner greater admiration and ward off the possibility of rejection. In the process we lose touch with what makes us special, disconnect from authenticity and give up what makes us someone whom others feel they can really connect to.

Social psychologists have found that two out of three people are dramatically out of touch with how they see themselves compared to how others see them, the irony being that people who strive the hardest to be liked or to impress others often have just the opposite effect on those around them. Most of us have an inbuilt "realness" detector that starts going off when we find ourselves in the company of someone who seems to lack it (sometimes called a "B.S. Detector"). We can sniff out insincerity, inauthenticity, and practiced charm a mile away. Our innate ability to sense incongruence extends beyond anything we can really explain. We just know that the person we are with is hiding some aspect of who they are, limiting our desire and/or ability to develop a stronger relationship with them. That is of course that we aren't totally preoccupied with our own masquerade...which can so easily happen. I know how easy it can happen because I know how often I catch myself focused more on "What will people think?" instead of "What feels true?"

The irony is that the less we strive to have people like us, the more they actually do. In a world that has so much focus on the superficial, people crave authenticity, yearn for 'realness,' and can't help but find themselves seeking the company of those who are comfortable in their own skin. And if you are someone who is in a position of leadership, authenticity makes you so much more approachable, trusted and influential. People trust people who can share their struggles, their doubts, their fears, their hopes and their heartaches; people who don't need to prove their superiority, their success or their significance in any way.

So why is it that so many people find it difficult to simply be who they are? As I wrote in my book "Find Your Courage" (in the chapter titled "The Courage To Be Yourself"), in a world that pressures for conformity, one of the greatest challenges we all face is to be ourselves. Because when all we do is try to fit in, we negate the difference our difference makes. When all we do is try to conform, all we have to offer is conformity. And when all we do is try to impress, we tend to repel instead. The fact is that if you have an unquenchable need to impress others in order to feel good about yourself, you will never be able to impress them enough. Give up having your sense of your own worth be contingent on the worth others place on you. Who you are is far more than any person's opinion.

In Zen Buddhism they speak of living with one's "original face." Buddhists describe our "original face" as being relaxed, without tension, free of pretension, devoid of masks, or airs and graces of superficiality. And so your "original face" is the one that shines through when you find your courage to embrace the one-of-a-kind imperfect human being that you are, however vulnerable that makes you feel. As Brene Brown wrote in her book The Gifts of Imperfection, "ordinary courage is about putting our vulnerability on the line."

Refusing to conform isn't always easy. We have to accept that some people may not like us. Some may criticize us. And some may reject us outright. Full self-expression demands vulnerability. But it's through vulnerability that we connect most deeply. Whether as leaders or lovers or strugglers just hoping to know more joy and connect more deeply, there is so much to gain by dropping the mask, letting go our fear of "not being good enough," and accepting that who we are is always "good enough." Always.

So I would like you to ask yourself these three questions and reflect on the answer that comes back to you:

1. If I were to let go of the need to prove my worthiness and my fear of not being "good enough," how would I show up differently in the world?
2. What mask am I most afraid to put down? Why?
3. How has wearing this mask impacted my life?

Mother Teresa, a woman respected the world over for her courage and total lack of pretension, once said, "Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyway." Or to quote from a slightly more quirky character, Dr. Seuss: "Be who you are. Because those who mind don't matter. And those who matter don't mind. The world needs you to be who you are. Stay real!"

Author's Bio: 

Margie Warrell; thought leader in human potential, master life coach, international speaker, media contributor and best-selling author of Find Your Courage.

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