- Julius de Jong
How to Find and Be Your Unique Self (Episode 15-39)
Through trial and error, and by expanding ever further we find ever more of ourselves
Society, family, friends, and lovers. They all pull at us, to more or lesser extent. Generally, all have their expectations of what and how we should be. In their eyes. Societies and cultures all have certain expectations on how we should behave and be. What our goals should be, what is considered important, and what is not. We can learn and grow from this. But similarly, this can take away, or keep us away, from who we are, or are becoming. Or, who we might just dare to be.
I believe that it is very important to find you own tune to which you dance the dance of life. This might not be the same tune for everyone. To be more exact, it probably won’t be. Even when different people share love for a particular song, chances are that different parts of that song appeal to different people, who still all love that same basic song. And that’s good. That’s what makes life and people interesting. Their diversity and uniqueness. Some people even like very different songs, and that’s okay too. In this post, I’ll try to share some learnings and insights regarding the process of finding and being yourself.
Let me start however with a disclaimer; don't expect a roadmap or clear answers. I am not always very sure, as to who I am. This happens, from time to time. It happens mostly in times of chaos, when my mind and my calendar are full, and I have limited time for myself, for reflection, and for silence. When I’m carried away by the demands of life, friendships, relationships, at times I lose track of that primary relationship with myself. In those moments, it’s easy for me to get carried away by emotion, or by whatever is present and triggering in those moments. There are also moment where I have a deep awareness of who I am. Interestingly, that happens mostly in moments where I am not there. Or in simpler terms, when my ego is not there. For example, when I’m focused on giving without expecting anything in return. Or when I’m just being kind or helpful to someone. In those moment, I feel full, grounded, and strong. I am. Without actively being anything in particular.
Contrary, in those other moments, where I am led by external events, or my internal responses or interpretations of those events, there is less of me. I know I’m there, somewhere in the background, but mostly under shadowed by the prevalent emotions and triggers of that moment. Again, this brings me back to my talk with Dr. Faye Mandell, with whom I spoke about being present. As she articulated, we need to move though our experiences to come back to the present moment where we can just be and become. This post will function as an invitation to do just this. To experience, and experiment with what it means to be, and become you; your unique self.
My talk with Pravin Shekar about becoming and being your unique self provides some beautiful tools for this. Pravin is an expert on marketing; outlier marketing, to be precise. This form of marketing builds on the premise of standing out and being unique. The only real and sustainable way to do so, is by doing so authentically. Meaning, through being your real, unique, and genuine self. No masks, no roles, no expectations. Just you, and what you offer and need. Apart from being a marketing expert, Pravin is also an expert through experience on finding and articulating ones true and real self. We spoke about his unique approach to marketing, and more importantly, about Pravin’s individual journey that underlines his work.
Explore the edges, and beyond
To discover who we are, we need to experiment. Trail and error. We need to explore the edges of what’s accepted, and then breakthrough, and go beyond. We need to learn to become shameless. Indifferent of other people’s opinions and expectations, so we can become free from them, and navigate independently. ‘Your ‘locus of control’ is either self-governed or externally shaped by events and other people’ (Mitchell, 2019). These people and their opinions are important and can help us learn a lot. However, our journey should be based on a self-governed locus of control. Thus, we need to find and walk our own path, irrespective of the expectations of those around us. We need to dare to be unique. There need be no shame in being who you are and standing for what you represent in your unique way. As Pravin mentioned, it’s ‘find you, be you’ (Shekar, 2021). This is an interesting statement to me, as society and social media teach us what is desirable and what is not. It is therefore very easy to get tempted into a copy pasting of the identity and personality of the people around us, or those in the center spotlight. Instead, we have to be present to make the journey of self-discovery, and find out who we are, and what inside of us wants to come out and show itself. By finding out who we are, simply by doing that, we will be unique and different (Shekar, 2021).
Becoming our unique self: three phases
We need to experiment to find out who we are, and where our strength lies. We therefore will continuously need to struggle to show people who we are (Shekar, 2021). In the process of becoming our unique selves, we have to break out from conformity. In order to do so, we have to maneuver ourselves to the edges of what’s accepted in society. While being at the brink, we come back to conformity from time to time. We’re touching the water so to speak, with being more explicitly our unique and different selves. We do this until we realize it’s not enough anymore, says Pravin. Then we start crossing the border of conformity into being our true unique selves (Shekar, 2021). This process comes with its ups and downs and resistance from society and the people close to us. Shekar shared his personal experiences growing up in traditional India during our talk. In this process he identifies three phases, the beaning phase, the finding yourself phase, and the being yourself phase.
The beaning phase is the search for who you are and what you represent. This happens through exploration and discovery, and time spent at the edge of the accepted in society. This phase is generally filled with a lot of confusion, self-doubt, and seeking and questioning. This phase is filled with ‘should I…?’, and ‘should I not…?’ In the finding yourself phase, you’re beginning to become comfortable with this part of you which stands out from the crowds, and which acts in spite of societal norms and standards. Then lastly, there is the being yourself phase. This is you being your full self, with comfort and confidence, living based on your own standards and norms first, instead of those expected of you (Shekar, 2021). In this phase, you’re acting from an internal locus of control, instead of reacting based on what happens externally.
Finding your metamorphosis ambassadors and cheerleaders
The process of finding your unique self is as a metamorphosis. It involves actively training and engaging with your environment according to Pravin, and making them aware of what you’re experiencing. For this process, he recommends finding the key influencers in your circles, such as your family and friends. There, find the key influencers in those circles who believe in you. They can and will help you stay at the edge, and help you cross over when you’re ready. They can help you persist on your journey and can become advocates for your development and change. A lot will go wrong in this process. However, by persisting and sticking to your journey, by connecting the dots as Pravin calls it, it will become easier, and you will overcome the hardship and resistance to your transformation (Shekar, 2021). ‘Speak about your goals and read the responses of the people around you. Those who encourage you and are supportive, bring them closer. Those who do not, cut them out of your creative circle’ (Shekar, 2021). We need an honest sounding board, as this helps us grow further and develop. We therefore need to share ourselves and our ambitions, and filter those around us based on their responses.
In addition to identifying the ambassadors and cheerleaders around you to help you grow into your true being, Pravin also suggest forming a mastermind. This is a group of likeminded people all in search of finding and improving themselves. These are people with similar questions, but different backgrounds and objectives. When sharing the journey and their individual challenges together, everyone learns when discussing their unique cases together. Even though the problem at hand might be different, there is always a learning to take home which applies to your unique situation (Shekar, 2021).
Learn-, master-, and then break the rules
Shekar shared a very practical approach during our talk for developing your own style and being your unique self. As he mentioned, we have to learn the rules, master the rules, and break the rules. What this means is that we must first learn and understand how things function, what’s expected and what particular rules apply. From there, mastery comes where we can maneuver with comfort and confidence. At this stage, when you know who you are, and you can act with confidence and elegance in spite of your surroundings, you can start breaking conventional rules. From there, one can create new standards for being and acting. As you’ll see, people will follow you beyond the boundaries of common accepted practice. But it takes a prior understanding and mastery of the rules. When we simply break the rules without any awareness of them, we tend to end up simply adding to the noise (Shekar, 2021).
Phases of exploration and being
Once you’ve committed on this journey, one can distinguish between the ‘finding you’ and the ‘being you’ parts (Shekar, 2021). On this journey, we experience different phases. We go from being a pacifist, accepting all, to being a butterfly, trying and being all, changing from one moment to the next as if we were trying on different roles, figuring out who we are. Then according to Shekar there comes a phase of continuously reinventing yourself every five years or so, making big shifts in one’s activities after having grown one’s expertise in one field, moving on to the next. The last phase is one which he calls the ‘big tree model’, where one focusses on one particular horizontal area of focus and being, and from there vertical branches spread out all over (Shekar, 2021). The further down we go, the greater the depth of experience will be, both for ourselves, and the people we share these experiences with.
Daring to be different
‘There is no way anyone can survive without getting noticed’ (Shekar, 2021). We need to dare to stand out. We must dare to be vulnerable and show our true selves in order for people to be able to connect with who we really are. This takes courage but is essentially important. Life is too short to hide ourselves. Whether it’s finding a partner, a new job, making new friends; we are always ‘selling’ ourselves. In this context, it is always better for someone to approach you instead of you approaching them. Being noticed for that reason is very important. To be noticed, we have to stand out, and dare to be unique. Especially in a world full of noise, it becomes ever more important to stand out and to be noticed (Shekar, 2021).
In ‘The Power of Understanding Yourself’, author Dave Mitchell writes about metacognition. This refers to the process of thinking about our thinking (Mitchell, 2019). By turning our focus inwards, we can learn to understand ourselves better. By reflecting on our thinking, and what drives this, we can become aware of what is leading us. Is it the outside world, or is it the center core within us that drives our behavior and decisions? By analyzing the reasons for our behaviors, we can gain control over our being. ‘Metacognition enables you to develop a deeper understanding of what makes you different and special and of what holds you back’ (Mitchell, 2019). ‘Th[is] power of understanding yourself is not a moment in time – but an elaborate process spanning your entire life’ (Mitchell, 2019). It is a continued process of discovery and rediscovery, extended over years and years. In our talk, Shekar shared that for him personally, it took him close to a decade to find out who he is, and where his strength lies in what he has to offer the world. From there, it took another decade to really own this shamelessly, and to fully be himself, both in person, and through his business and work (Shekar, 2021).
Shame and fear
In many cases, we hold back because of shame. We fear shame, rejection, and judgement, and we fear what other people think of us. It is because of this that in many cases we dare not to fully show ourselves. We attribute way too much value to what other people think. What we need to realize instead, is how little people pay attention and bother with what we do and who we are in general. For people are very much self-centered. Therefore, holding ourselves back because of some possible and perceived judgement is simply a waste of time and potential. Instead, discover who you are, and what you want, and learn to ask for it without shame or apology (Shekar, 2021). This is not an easy path at times, but it’s a path worth taking, without question. The fear underlying all this is the fear of not being good enough, and not being loved. It’s a fear we all share. This should however not be a reason for us to reject ourselves. Instead, as Pravin exclaimed, let them reject us if they must, and let us learn from the experience and grow (Shekar, 2021).
Suspension of belief
There must be a suspension of belief of all that could happen when we embark on a new path. When we embark on the journey of discovering and being ourselves. We then need to imagine a world without inertia, without friction, where anything is possible (Shekar, 2021). We have so many self-limiting beliefs, which hold us back and prevent us from getting into motion. Pravin Shekar calls this speculative inertia; our imagining of all that could go wrong. Instead, we must learn to eliminate all speed breakers and obstacles from our thinking and imagine a world without them. Then ask yourself, if these speed breakers and obstacles wouldn’t be there, what would I do? Go right ahead and do it and find that all the imagined impediments will not be there (Shekar, 2021). Real obstacles will come, but you’ll have the confidence and speed to deal with them, as a being in motion is very hard to stop. We should not let our thoughts and limiting beliefs halt us even before we get into motion. Instead, we need some suspension of belief, and shift our focus from what we think isn’t possible, to what could be possible, to what needs to be.
Thus, let us engage with courage, and through trial and error, expanding ever further. Through this laborious and turbulent process, we will ultimately find and discover more of ourselves. And when we’re lucky, we’ll forget all about it in those moments when we’re fully being ourselves.
Image: 'Being Different', acrylic, pencil on paper by Elena Parau (2020).
Interview Pravin Shekar
To learn about being our unapologetic and true selves, I’ve talked to Pravin Shekar from India, founder of Pravin Shekar, The Outlier Marketer. Pravin is the author of 8 books and an expert on marketing. Especially, marketing in your own unique style. Standing out from the crowd.
Apart from being a marketing expert, Pravin is also an expert on finding and articulating ones true and real selves. We spoke about his unique approach to marketing, and more importantly, about Pravin’s individual journey that underlines his work. We’ve had an incredibly interesting conversation on finding and being yourself, and how to navigate this process with zest and joy.
There are some great nuggets in there for those who want to stand out from the crowd and walk their own path. I surely enjoyed our talk and learnt lots, I hope you will do so to!
Website of Pravin Shekar: https://pravinshekar.com
Johnson, Amy, 2016, The Little Book of Big Change. https://amzn.to/3Gyrara
Mitchell, Dave, 2019, The Power of Understanding Yourself. https://amzn.to/3Bj5j3n
Shekar, Pravin, 2020, The Ghatotkacha Game: Marketing Lessons from Mythology. https://amzn.to/3nArOM9
Shekar, Pravin, 2021, Throne Wars: Marketing Lessons from the Art of War. https://amzn.to/3nFLEFJ
Tan, Chade-Meng, 2012, Search Inside Yourself. https://amzn.to/3pJKbB9