IN LEWIS ANDREWS' EXCELLENT BOOK, To Thine Own Self Be True, he says, "To
the extent we compromise our integrity to make an attractive
image of ourselves, we lose contact with our natural enthusiasm.
We become contrived, artificial
bored." I thought that
was rather interesting and then I went on about my business.
But one day I comprehended how it works.
Trying to make an attractive image is not as unusual or rare
as I thought. We do it a lot. People expect you to be something
in particular, and you expect yourself to act a certain way also
often. The trouble with that is: It leaves you with no
flexibility, no freedom, and thus no enthusiasm for living.
People used to comment on my attitude
I was so cheerful and full of life so often. After my first book
was published, people began to expect me to be in a great mood
all the time. After all, I wrote a book on how to improve your
I didn't want to disappoint them. I wanted
them to think well of me and my book. I wanted to prove the stuff
was good. But every moment I spent trying to live up to an image
ruined my attitude. It sapped my enthusiasm. It was stressful
and it made me resentful of those people for their unrealistic
expectations of me. That's when Andrew's meaning hit home. When
you try to live up to an image, he said, it kills your natural
enthusiasm for living.
After I realized that, I deliberately started
doing what I wanted, and had the determination to make sure I
didn't do anything to live up to someone else's expectations.
And you know what? I was in a great mood. That very day, for
the first time in a long time, someone commented on my great
Opera singer Rise Stevens had a lot of
poise and confidence onstage, but she wasn't comfortable hanging
around with others. "My discomfort came from trying to be
something I was not," she said, "a star in the drawing
room as well as onstage. If a clever person made a joke, I tried
to top it and failed. I pretended to be familiar with
subjects I knew nothing of
But then she had a personal revelation.
She says, "I realized that I simply wasn't a wit or an intellectual
and that I could succeed only as myself. I began listening and
asking questions at parties instead of trying to impress the
guests. When I spoke, I tried to contribute, not to shine. Almost
at once I started feeling new warmth in my social contacts. They
liked the real me better."
Whenever you feel yourself harden into
a fixed persona, break out! Whenever you lack natural enthusiasm
for living, find out where you're trying to live up to someone's
expectation (including your own) and break out of it. Start creating
your life again right from that point, as an artist would take
down a painted canvas and put up a new blank one.
The price you'll pay is that you will,
in fact, disappoint people more often. And you aways have the
choice: Live up to someone's expectations or have a natural enthusiasm
for living. Choose one and then the other for awhile, just to
get a feel for the difference in results. Eventually you'll settle
on freeing yourself from trying to live up to an image and you'll
relax and be yourself.
Don't try to live up to an image.