I was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii. It was an awesome place to grow up. As the youngest of three with two older brothers, by all accounts, I had a good childhood.
But somewhere along the road, I got the message that being “appropriate” was more important than being me.
My parents, especially my dad, indicated that I should be careful about how I was presenting myself. I needed to be aware of what others thought of me and should do my best to fit in.
There was a specific interaction with my dad that I'll never forget that really brought this home for me. It was a small moment and I took away a powerful message.
I was chewing gum, and my father said to me, “Don’t chew gum, it makes you look cheap.” He said it with a smile, and playfully - and yet - I think he meant it.
Apparently, there was an expectation of what I should do and how I should look and gum-chewing did not fit into that picture! Who knew?
I became a student of how to be appropriate. I became masterful at tuning in to what was happening around me, noticing how others were responding to my presence and behavior, and then molding myself into who I thought they wanted me to be. In almost any setting I could quickly figure out how to be appropriate.
Looking back on the gum-chewing incident, I believe my father meant well. He wanted the best for me, and as the only girl, surely I should be aware of how I was being perceived as others. I mean, that was my job, right? To look good for the family….
And there were ways in which my dad was old school. For example, when I was choosing which college to attend, he told me that surely I should enroll at Stanford because I would likely be meeting my husband there. But that’s another story.
My point is, that he likely didn’t realize the impact of his message - that this focus on nudging me to fly below the radar, to be a good girl, and to pay attention to what others thought of me would not serve me in the long run. Don’t stand out. Don’t upset people. And for goodness sake, don’t look cheap!!
Now there was a payoff to this. I was a good student, didn’t get in much trouble growing up, and I can really read a room! But there was also a cost.
The cost was my authenticity, joy and full self-expression. I tempered the real me. I held her back and closed her down in places where she was too much, too big, or not appropriate.
So, I had to relearn how to be who I really am. I had to figure out what it is that I want in my life and how I want to be.
That is likely why I am so passionate about helping others do the same and to find more aliveness, voice, and authenticity.
And it’s true, it can feel vulnerable to be yourself. Sometimes it feels easier to fit in.
Being myself feels risky because if I'm being me in all my inappropriate and appropriate ways and I get rejected, that hurts.
And yet, the price to pay to be appropriate for me was greater and was no longer serving me.
What are the places where you feel like you have molded yourself to meet someone else's expectations? What are the beliefs that are no longer serving you?
As you explore these places, I invite you to be brave in your exploration and to be kind with yourself.
Katie is a Certified Dare to Lead™ Facilitator and Executive Coach.