“Our job in this life is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.” – Steven Pressfield
For most of my life, I’ve felt like I had to put on a persona to get people to like me. Whether it was the “smart kid” persona I put on in grade school — hand always raised, ready to answer every question to show the class how much smarter I was. Or the “bad boy” persona I put on in high school and college – loud, brash, aggressive, life or the party or fight in the middle of it. Or “Mr. Self-Improvement” — productive, prolific, always excellent.
As time goes on, I’ve learned that I get more out of life by doing less. By working hard, but not trying hard. By being myself, but my real self, not the one I think I need to be to get a certain outcome. Every time I’ve grown in my life, I removed layers of my personality.
I need to focus less on my own perception of self to become more of myself. Instead of feeling like it takes great levels of action to get where I need to go, I remind myself that, while it will take work, I already have what I need right now.
That’s the thing. We all have everything we need right now to be whatever our version of success is. We’re all capable. But we’ve added all these extra layers to our lives, to our personality, to our circumstances, which makes success way harder than it has to be. In our attempts to make life better by pretending, we push ourselves away from the state that makes life better for not just us, but everyone around us.
“The free soul is rare, but you know it when you see it – basically because you feel good, very good, when you are near or with them.” Charles Bukowski
So, how do you become the free soul? You don’t. You remember that you already have the free soul within you and remove all the excess until that’s all your left with. How do you know when you’re being authentic? There’s no exact science to this, but there are some signs you’re moving in the right direction.
You more or less have an idea whether or not you’re living the way you know you want to live. The way you know you want to live is how you’d live in the absence of judgment from other people. It’s the way you’d live if you didn’t need external validation. It’s the way you’d live if you didn’t have all that mental chatter, those limiting beliefs, and ideas crammed into your head by society.
Pretty much, the real you is the unrestrained childlike version of yourself, the raw energy, with the maturity and basic social calibration of an adult. You’d move through the world tactfully and freely. Always doing what you wanted to do as long as it wasn’t hurting other people.
You wouldn’t be stifled.
Have you ever seen a stifled toddler? Exactly. Somewhere early on in life, you get introduced to beliefs, experiences, and environments that stifle you. You’re not born that way. You’re born free and slowly put into a mental cage. Society starts to condition you. Combine that with your wired-in need to fit into the tribe and you have a recipe for a life lived conforming to what other people want instead of what you want.
The real you is the person you’d be if you weren’t in that cage. This is why we love people seemed to have escaped the cage. They do want they want. They’re sure of themselves. And the thing about this type of energy is that it doesn’t seem forced at all. It’s the absence of the excess that makes you feel good when you’re around them — the total lack of need.
The ‘real you’ doesn’t need anything. It knows it already has everything it needs. You have some experiences in life, some great, some not so great, but overall, you move through the world in the present moment seeing what happens next. Sure, you work hard, but you don’t care too much. You want to make a good impression on people, but you also don’t give a fuck what they think. You don’t go out of your way to confront others, but you don’t agree with and don’t stand for some of the societal narratives people try to push on you.
“If you are ever tempted to look for outside approval,” Epictetus said, “realize that you have compromised your integrity. If you need a witness, be your own.” – Epictetus
Why is it so hard to just be yourself? Why the need to add so much extra on top? Mostly because you’re scared. We all have many different fears, but on some level, we just want to be loved and we’re afraid people won’t love us if we’re our true selves.
It’s not always literally this way — like you feel the need to be loved by each person you interact with — but rather a way you move through the world that signals the validation from other people matters more than your own.
And, as you’ve probably experienced, that keeps you from a lot of amazing opportunities you could have. Also, it’s draining to feel like you have to put on an act all the time. But, most of us choose this route because we decide it’s better than the alternative, exposure.
Confidence is vulnerability. You add on extra layers to keep yourself from being vulnerable to attack. But, life is duality. Without the potential of injury from putting yourself out there, you don’t get to reap the rewards from it. Everything important is structured this way.
So what are some of the layers we put on?
Can you see how having all these extra layers of BS on top of your personality can make your life a lot more difficult than it has to be? Yeah.
I’m not perfect. I struggle with many of these myself and I’m focusing on addition through removal every single day. Let’s take a look at some of the things we can work on.
“You already know what you have to do, and you know how to do it. What’s stopping you?” – Tim Grover
Like I said earlier, there are no exact methods or strategies, but there are patterns. Often, these patterns are the actions and behaviors you’re left with when you remove all the extra layers of BS you add on to protect yourself. They’re the things you’d be doing if you were freer.
The first step? Focus on removing the layers. But, don’t beat yourself up for having the layers in the first place. It’s hard to explain. You know you need to let go, but if you feel like you have to force yourself super hard to let go, then you’re putting yourself in another trap.
For me? I just try to remind myself that I don’t need to add extra BS on top. Just, like, a soft-toned reminder from a friend “Hey, you know you don’t have to do that, right?”
And then I go throughout the days working hard but trying not to force anything. I try to go through life, interacting with other people, and share parts of my personality with others in an honest and calibrated way. Just a continual focus on making things as easy as possible, even if they aren’t easy.
Some of the behaviors, actions, beliefs, etc, you’d start seeing when you’re on the right track are:
Unrestrained. No need for all the extra layers. Just you. A powerful you, too. Imagine what your life would be like if you didn’t feel so restrained all the time. Imagine if you just did what you wanted to do, for no other reason than you wanted to do it. And you did this every single day for the rest of your life.
Maybe that won’t happen, but you can always work on removing the layers and adding to your freedom. You can become freer. And you get freer every time you move in a direction that’s based on your internal view instead of the validation from other people. It’s a simple and powerful equation that gets you closer to everything you want.
Whenever I get stuck in a moment of limiting belief, I ask myself, “What’s the big deal? Why all the extra energy here? Let’s just get to work and see what happens.” When it works, it works really well. Try it.