Every week my youngest has preschool. It’s only for a couple of hours and occurs three days a week. Every time I pick her up from school, you would think that she had been a tour around the world that latest months because of how much she tells me about her day. I hear about the “job” that she had that day (and apparently “line leader” is the most coveted responsibility whereas “napkin passer” isn’t as glamorous), the friends that she played with, the letter she learned, the stories her teacher told and the craft she experimented with. For less than three hours, she sure does a lot.
Anyway, these little chats that we have are more than just post-preschool babble with a five year old. They offer me a glimpse into what she find important and interesting. They tell me what gets her blood pumping and that she loves to learn new things. They show me her inner world at a level that I wouldn’t get otherwise. Because I’m listening.
Last week, she said something really interesting. I picked her up on Wednesday and on the way home she announced, “I think I’m going to be a little shy on Friday.”
This really threw me because Emma is not a shy child. She introduces herself to new children and offers to be their friend right away. As we drive to the library she wonders out loud what new friends she will make when we get there. That’s just the way she is. I wonder if I was that way and I became an introvert over time, but I don’t remember those days and I’ll have to let my mom fill in that blank.
Anyway, her announcement was unusual. I try to be very careful about how I position and phrase things as I’ve gotten burned by my kids not understanding sarcasm or rhetorical questions. So I paused for a second and then said, “Well, there’s nothing wrong with being shy. But I wonder why you think you’re going to be shy because you’re usually not.”
She sat in her car seat thoughtfully and replied, “I just think I’m going to be nervous.”
The rest of the drive home was pretty uneventful, all four and a half minutes of it but my brain stayed stuck on this idea that she had posed to me. This idea that a personality is something you can try out for a day or two or that a certain situation requires a different state of being than one would normally find themselves in.
Obviously we all do that. I act one way with my best friend and another with my neighbor that I’m still getting to know. I act one way in casual social settings and another in professional environments. Most of us have this chameleon ability, to blend in and out of certain circles and relationships, to change ourselves even temporarily to “behave” when the stakes are high and “cut loose” when we can just be ourselves.
But this, of course, got me thinking even further. Who am I really? Which of these variations of “me” is truly ME? I began to run my mind in circles to identify what attributes truly defined me and which ones were something that I would just put on and take off as the situation demanded it.
I came up with an answer that works for me at the moment: the real me is the one that exhausts me the least.
Keeping up a facade is exhausting. Juggling the appearance balls is ridiculously overwhelming and can wear me down faster than any exercise I’ve ever tried in my life. But just being me? That’s almost effortless. I don’t have to watch what I say, walk on egg shells, or second guess every decision because what I’m doing feels right and goes fairly smoothly. The older I get and the more I pay attention to these things the easier it is for me to identify when I’m being authentic. I am more introverted than extroverted so any kind of interaction with people can wear me out, but it’s not as bad when I’m just being myself.
As I write this, I’m now thinking that maybe this has been why I’ve been so tired lately. We got a new puppy, so yes, that’s probably also contributing to the issue, but it still feels more tiring than usual. Am I really being myself? Am I really being authentic? If not, what areas of my life can I infuse with more “me” to bring myself back to center? Definitely something to think about.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, my youngest did not act shy last Friday at school. She actually forgot her plan and was just herself that day. And she had a very good day.