Openness. Confidence. Presence.
These are skills I struggle with, and want to improve. I use the word “skills” deliberately because I know that’s what they are.
They’re skills I can learn, I can practice, and I can master.
They’re also ways of being, just like “insecurity,” “timidness,” and “unconsciousness” are ways of being. None of these things is irrevocably who you are.
It took me a long time to learn that, and I spent a long time feeling stuck “being” certain ways that didn’t serve me.
Ways of Being Versus Who You Really Are
For most of my life, I believed I was shy — meaning, that’s who I was. Shyness (along with anxiety, and worry, and fear of judgment) was a part of who I was as as human being and I knew I couldn’t do anything to change it.
The idea of being different felt impossible, and in fact, when anyone suggested that I could be a different way — I could be someone who was vibrant, outgoing, social, and open to other people — it often made me mad.
“If I could change how I am, I would!” I thought. “Does anyone really think I’m choosing to be shy and awkward and terrible at connecting with other people?”
I’ve since gotten opportunities to see things from a different perspective, and I feel differently now. I know there’s a difference between who I am and how I’m being.
I’ve also realized the way I’m being can cover up who I really am and prevent me from shining as brightly as I’m capable of doing.
Knowing, though, is not enough. It’s not enough to know I have the power to change how I’m being, or to know it’s my choice to be a confident, open, present person.
It’s really hard to practice these things. Personally, I find it really scary. But recently, I’ve been freshly inspired to take on the challenge of changing my ways of being and leave old ways, ways that don’t serve me, behind.
The Way You’re Being Can Mask Your True Self
These are big words, openness, confidence, and presence. But these ways of being don’t have to manifest through big, over-the-top actions.
It’s the simple stuff. The baby steps. The really small actions you take over and over again that add up to make a big impact.
I had two such small opportunities to put new ways of being into practice when I was traveling earlier this month (well, really, every moment is an opportunity to practice, but these two instances really stood out and made an impression on me).
I walked through the airport on our way out west, and saw our old neighbor walk by me. We were only acquaintances, but I recognized him.
My initial reaction, the first thought the person I really am had, was “hey! That’s Finn! What’s he doing here, is he on our flight too?!”
But almost immediately, that nasty little voice that tends to keep me down and feeling stuck butted in. It was like one part of my brain interrupted the other and then I started thinking, “That’s probably not him, just looks like it. And he’ll have no idea who I am, and even if he does he won’t remember my name, and then he’ll feel bad and I won’t know what to say anyway and I’m pretty sure he never liked me at all so there’s no way that could be anything but awkward.”
So I didn’t say anything to him.
Eventually, he actually came up to me and said hello right as we were boarding. He was perfectly nice, friendly, and clearly did recognize me (and obviously didn’t dislike me, either).
The nasty little voice that piped up supplied a stream of made-up negative thoughts that I believed — and then I acted as if they were all real.
I felt frustrated with myself afterward, because being closed off to other people like that — not approaching them, avoiding them, assuming they’re thinking negative thoughts about you — is not how an open, confident person with presence acts.
It’s one example of how those fears and ways of being get in the way of me being myself. I do like people. I like being social. I like connecting with others… but I hold myself back.
And that leads me to ways of being that make it appear as if I actually dislike people. I act like I’m shy and unsociable. I fail to connect.
What’s more frustrating is that I did this exact same thing in the airport on the way back home! As we were waiting for our flight back to Boston, I noticed someone who I immediately recognized as Neil Patel.
Again, the voice of my true self was immediately like, “OMG, that’s Neil Patel! He’s content-marketing-famous! Go say hello!”
And again, it was quickly shut down by the other, fear-driven voice that I know is trying to keep me safe but really just leaves me stuck. It interrupted and started up with, “and then what would you say? You’d look so stupid, especially if it wasn’t him at all!”
These were just two opportunities to practice the ways of being I really want to embody, but I failed to take advantage. That bugged me on the long plane ride back home, and I’ve been thinking a lot about it sense.
Use Small Steps and Simple Habits to Affect Big (and Sustainable) Change
The opportunities to grow and become who we really are — vibrant, magnetic, brilliant, and free — are all around us. They are these tiny moments, not massive undertakings, that make a difference and help us become our truest selves.
I’m feeling more motivated than ever to take action, especially after reflecting on both those missed opportunities this week.
I want to hold myself accountable, and I also want to track my progress with this, so I’m sharing some of the little things I’m going to take on:
- Make eye contact with people. Don’t walk around looking at the ground or avoiding people’s gaze.
- Say hello more often.
- Smile, even for no reason.
- Engage in conversation; don’t shut people down or out because I’m afraid at any moment there will be a silence I don’t know how they want me to fill.
- Be curious.
- Speak up, literally (I speak softly because I hate the idea of someone overhearing me and judging whatever I’m saying. Crazy, I know! So I need to work on speaking clearly and powerfully, because what I have to say to the people I’m speaking with is important).
- Be compassionate with myself.
- Proactively reach out to friends to talk and to hang out; don’t just wait for invitations.
- Do the same with family. Reach out and be vocal about how much they mean to me and how I want to spend time with them.
- Practice positive affirmations, and self-care (which includes working out and eating healthy so I can feel my best).
- Return to meditation. Even if it’s just 10 minutes per day of sitting quietly. I’ve been feeling very much called to do this lately, and I think I need to heed whatever voice is asking me to do this.
What I’m Working on: Openness
I shared a little bit about all this with a few friends. I told them that I was working on being myself, without letting other things get in the way. When they asked how I was going to do this, my answer was, “just be open. Focus on openness.”
What does this look like? To me, I want to be aware of things that make fear rise up for me, and then lean into those things. I want to notice what causes me to feel nervous, anxious, or stressed… and then just sit with that thing, be with it, either literally or figuratively, instead of trying to run away or resist it.
I want to practice being comfortable with discomfort and be okay with the presence of fear instead of trying to avoid it.
I’m not really sure what comes next after that, but I know pursuing openness is where I need to keep my focus. From there, I’m eager to see what happens and what I make room for in my life.
Keep up with the conversation as it unfolds.
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