We talk about self-awareness as this gorgeous thing. But, it has a dark side…
To know who we are, to be aware of our presence, gifts, desires, strengths, values, traits, tells and smells. All the yadda yadda yadda that makes us uniquely us. How others affect us, and we them. Knowing these is a good thing, right?
Self-awareness gives us the raw data to better align our actions with our essence, to step into and bring that gorgeous, essential self to the world. To see and be seen, as we are. For who and what we are.
Then, why do many “self-aware” people still live flatlined lives?
I’ve wondered about this for years. I’d see it all the time when I was more deeply embedded in the world of meditation and yoga. How can we know ourselves deeply, yet walk through life largely unexpressed and disconnected from a life of purpose and potential?
Turns out, awareness is the precursor to a realized life, but it’s not the entire answer.
In fact, there’s a potential dark side to becoming self-aware that nobody talks about. It sets in somewhere around late toddlerhood. We move from something akin to pure, in-the-moment consciousness to becoming aware that we exist as separate beings and sweet mother of gluten-free honey-nut cheerios, someone might be watching…and judging.”
Self-awareness comes with an evil twin, self-judgment, which, for many, tips into fear, censorship and self-loathing with stunning efficiency.
The same thing that allows us to see ourselves as unique humans and choose to craft decisions and actions that light us up, also breeds near mortal fear of choosing and being “wrong” and being cast out for our violation of the perceived conformist norm.
So we just choose not to choose. Or, we choose based on what we think others want us to choose. It’s not that we lose our self-awareness, it’s that we subjugate its expression in the name of fitting in.
Self-awareness, alone, does not necessarily breed self-expression. In fact, without the third leg of the awareness “Self Stool”—self-esteem—it often breeds contempt, repressed emotion and all the gut-wrenching the comes along with these angsty bedfellows.
Awareness is the seed of expression, but esteem is the water that allows it to flower.
Then, how do we “get” esteem? How do we arrive at a place where we take ourselves importantly enough, love ourselves enough, validate our inner workings at a level that fuels the courage to wear them on our sleeves?
There are tomes written on the topic, especially in the context of kids. And, a debate rages on about the building of esteem based not on demonstrated merit, but on lavish and universal praise. No doubt, one-side of the esteem puzzle is the process of building ourselves up.
But, I wonder about the other side of esteem. The thing rarely explored. What if part of it is building ourselves up, but another part is building ourselves down? Bundling self-love with a healthy dose of self-levity. Rather than elevating ourselves to the level of demigod worth watching, what if we actually stepped into the fact that, very often, nobody is really looking.
What if our gloriously developed sense of self-awareness forgot to tell us that we may be the center of our universe, but not so much “the” universe. That if we screw up, and we will, over and over and over, there might not be a whole lot of people hanging around to judge us?
And, even if there are, with the average attention span ranging somewhere between that of a bat and a gnat, that judgment will very likely be whisked into judgment lost sock land long before we ever realize nobody cares any more, if they ever did.
What if we discovered that the real altered reality was the one where we freaked out about being judged and the true reality was the one where it just didn’t matter anywhere near the level we feared. Nor, for better or worse, do we? That we are a beautiful moment of consciousness in a vast sea of humanity and maybe it’d be okay to take ourselves just a little less seriously? That we can still be respected, loved, do great work, but still not be center-of-the-universe important in the lives of every person in existence.
Can you even imagine what you might do or try or make if you knew nobody was looking?
Yes, the self-love/building-up/taking yourself seriously part of self-esteem helps equip us to see them looking, but just not care. But, what about the other part?
What if part of the answer was less about building ourselves up, and more about lightening up?
It’s funny, for some odd reason, when I think about the embodiment of this, Kate Hudson’s character, Penny Lane, from the movie Almost Famous comes to mind. Maybe it was the whole free-love, just roll with it hippie thing.
Maybe it was the sense that, “I’m gonna dance like nobody’s watching, because life is too short not to.”
Maybe it was the moment Penny turned to the 16 year old “journalist” on the band bus who’d been trying like hell to be “respected,”and now just wanted to be home, when she gazed deeply into his eyes, the corners of her mouth rising into that Muse-like grin as she fanned her fingers out before him. “Poof,” she offered, “you ARE home.”
What if it was just that easy?
What if home was this place, these people, this moment, minus the stifling self-importance?
As the great philosopher, Dr. Seuss, once told me, and yes, I know for a fact he was talking specifically to me when he wrote it because I’m that important (#kidding), “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
What if, just for a day, we could point the spotlight somewhere else, like nobody was watching? Even if they were? What if we could take ourselves just a bit more lightly?
We just might discover something.
Unedited, unadorned, unfiltered.
You. Are. Enough.
As always, just thinking out loud, working ideas in realtime. What do you think?
The image accompanying this essay shows a stunning 3D-printed “Dreamer Mask” that was created for me by the incredibly kind and gifted, artist, designer and technologist, Melissa Ng. It’s a mask designed not to hide, but rather to embolden you to step into your dreams, the ones you rarely ever share, for fear of being judged.
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