By: Alisa Tanaka, IATG Contributor May 21, 2016
“Please stop texting me.”
These were the words that I wanted to say when an old college friend texted me close to 10 pm a few nights ago. My eyes had just drooped shut, and I didn’t appreciate the obnoxious buzzing that forced them back open. Ignoring my better instincts, I felt blindly for my phone, grasped it, and opened the message. As I read those little words, I was overwhelmed by the desire to give in to my annoyance.
The next day, I responded. I congratulated this individual on her recent success, and indicated that I would be open to speaking sometime before dropping the bomb. Maybe the phrase “dropping the bomb” is overdramatic. Rather than saying something more authentic, I told her that as a general rule, I wouldn’t respond to texts or calls after 9 pm. I had preceded the thing I had wanted to say with nice things; I had watered myself down.
The reason I had watered myself down was simple: I was terrified of being disliked.
I wanted to tell her that I didn’t care about her old workplace drama, that some things that she said occasionally came across as rude. But I didn’t tell her any of that because I wanted her to continue to like me, to see me as a “nice” person.
I don’t remember how old I was when I picked up the idea that you had to be “nice” in order to be accepted. I could point to a lot of things (such as my East-meets-West cultural background, the bullying I experienced as a child, and my first solo trip to Japan at 15), but it’s difficult to put my finger on one single moment and say, “That was it.”
Somewhere along the line, I learned that being nice was essential to being accepted.
Although I remembered where pretending to be someone I wasn’t in middle school had gotten me, I continued to act even after I graduated to high school and college. Continuously performing metaphorical backbends for validation left me completely spent. I was working myself into the ground, and I wasn't getting recognized for it. I was becoming a doormat.
I was constantly disappointed. People would act like my friends, ask me to do something, and I would go above and beyond. They would proceed to pull a classic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde maneuver when the finished product was presented, choosing to walk away without so much as a “thanks.”
By constantly seeking validation and approval from others, I lost track of what made me unique.
The line between my standards and the standards from my friends, family, and society had blurred so much that I couldn’t tell who I was anymore. The familiar is comforting because it affirms what you believe. Even if you understand how the thing you’re doing is adversely affecting you, it’s difficult for some of us to just stop. Stopping means stepping into the unfamiliar, even if you are enticed by the freedom on the other side of fear.
Sometimes it takes time for you to decide that enough is enough. I’m not saying that you should wait until you break, but making the conscious choice to change and maintaining it takes time and effort.
Being authentic is a daunting thing. We are social creatures, and acceptance was key to our survival way back when. In some ways, it still is. Since I’ve begun this journey, I’ve learned that acceptance and approval are great, but the most important thing is to learn how to accept and approve of yourself. That takes time.
Are you putting on an act for friends, for family, for YOU? How can you better tap into your “true” self? Why do you think girls are encouraged to “be nice” rather than being real? How can we change the conversation and bring a more authentic “self” to the world?
Alisa Tanaka graduated from Lewis & Clark College with a B.A. in Communications in 2012. When she’s not writing her blog, she can be found reading, volunteering, dreaming of traveling the world, trying to master the 5 languages she speaks, or playing with her puppy.
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