In high school I had a serious problem with exaggeration. Since I was always a bit awkward, I would often try to impress people by seeming cooler, sterner or smarter than I actually am. I twisted and turned my actual interests to project an image I wanted other people to accept. Frankly, I did not believe my actual self to be acceptable.
I was aided in the transition to college by a gap year where I worked abroad. I was able to work, roam around and get a better image of my “self” – whatever that is. So after coming to college I was no longer afraid to say and be who I was, or what I was feeling.
Two things struck me immediately. The first was that my notions in high school were right – I made far fewer friends by being myself. A good friend of mine quipped that I am the only person who can win a Nobel Prize and be convicted of a crime on the same day. A former dormmate, upon seeing me last month, remarked that I look like less of an asshole this year, and so I must be hiding it well. Those are probably pretty accurate depictions.
However, the second thing that struck me was how little I cared about the first. I no longer wanted to make friends by being someone else. It’s true: I’m probably not the best person to sit down and eat lunch with. Yet I would rather eat lunch alone than show up and make friends by pretending to be someone I am not.
It reminds me of my confirmation. I was confirmed in the Lutheran church, much to my chagrin. Not that there is anything wrong with the Lutherans – it’s just that I did not feel anything for the religion. Why should I go through an elaborate ceremony lying to myself and the congregation? I remember crying that night because I should have felt something and did not. I knelt next to an altar and lied to God himself because it was something other people wanted to see. That is how I feel when I fake a personality, so I have made it my mission to stop.
You may now be wondering how my stories are applicable to life at Stanford. We all know what a fake personality is because we have all been fake at some point. During sorority rush, I am sure you feigned interest in plenty of things. I hope what you did as a fraternity pledge was against your will. Have you ever met someone and felt like they just handed you a beefed up résumé? Have you ever been the one shilling out said résumé? And, of course, Stanford’s most common lie: “Your student group is my top priority!”
It could be a symptom of today’s society or our hectic lives or some other fond scapegoat we blame to compensate for our shortcomings. Either way, it’s harmful. If you want real interactions then you have to be your real self.
On my end, I am done with the soothing balm of fakeness. People will come and go out of your life; only you will remain constant. Be able to look at yourself in the mirror and accept your daily decisions. Your acceptance is more important than their acceptance.
Moreover, if you ever meet me, know that if you come as yourself I will accept you. Straight, gay, trans, queer, black, white, Latino, political, apathetic, athletic, lethargic, jock, nerd, bro, boss, prude, slut, rich, poor, techie, fuzzy, busy, bored, happy, sad or undecided – I will listen to anybody who comes to me as their whole self, ashamed or proud.
My late grandmother once told me that there is good in my heart, and I should bring it with me wherever I go. She was wrong in number, not sentiment. We all have good in our hearts, and we all should bring it with us. Get better every day.
Nosce te ipsum – know thyself.
Contact Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org.