Monday 22 February 2021

Do you have permission to be yourself?

I have been mulling over the concept to "be yourself" today. How many of us truly feel confident and comfortable in our own skins? Do you?  We can be like chamaeleons. Our skin can change as we move from one setting to the next.  Some situations and friendship groups we can be comfortable with and share most things, others we put the barriers up and share nothing.

As adults we really have little reason to lie to our peers about small things. In a closed repressed society, I can understand that people may feel unsafe in certain matters, but in London, we do not live under such clouds, so we should have no reason to pull ourselves back from personally growing.

That does not mean I always give myself permission to be me. Once I had children, I felt the need to be a 'responsible adult' as best I could. My daughter once told me that when she was at St Michaels a famous musician/author came to speak to the school at assembly. His starting gambit was "I'm the most embarrassing Dad in the world, my kids squirm when friends find out I'm a musician and author and I'm on the telly". She put her hand up and said "My Dad is far more embarrassing, he's a musician and an author and last week he was on Telly sueing the Mayor" (BTW I didn't sue him, I took him to the Barnet Council Standards committee and won, but in family folklaw, I sued the Mayor). The esteemed guest said "He sounds like a great guy, maybe we should have a beer", to which my Daughter said "And he's even more embarrassing when he's drunk".

Funnily enough, I never recognise myself from the tales of my embarrassing behaviour they tell. Generally, as a lazy parent, this worked in my favour, as they'd refuse to let me take them to school, swimming, friends parties etc. Eventually, I formed friendships with the Dads of several of their friends. I was crafty, I somehow chose guys who were even more embarrassing than me. Eventually they realised that having a Dad who owned a recording studio and occasionally popped up on telly was not the worse thing in life. They realised that a Dad who made bad jokes when he was tipsy was far better than what some Dads do when they are drunk.

Work is another area where we often cannot be true to ourselves. I'm lucky that I've worked in a few places where I've made great friends, but I've also worked in places where I had to draw the curtains on my real personality. When I first entered the world of adult work, I worked at a company with a strong drinking culture. Often we'd go to the pub both for lunch and an after work beer. Everyone seemed to be friends and we'd often socialise at weekends as well. Then I changed jobs, doubled my money and went to work for BT for a couple of years in a management position. No one ever went for a drink, apart from leaving do's. No one would socialise with each other and I felt that there was far less collaborative working. People were far more cagey and it was a very big culture shock. It took me a while to realise that this was what the adult world of working was almost always like. We find the same things in all manner of aspects of life. In our Church congregations, our tennis/football/rugby clubs. Even waiting in the queue for the bus, we often find ourselves trying to conform.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Well I always just accepted it and thought it was how things were. I thought most of it was just being polite and making people feel comfortable. But is it? I'm not at all convinced any more. Who are we kidding, who are we trying to make feel comfortable? Certainly not ourselves. It's bad being in a prison, but it is absurd being in one of our own making. I was chatting to a customer who is a member of the LGBTQ+ community last week. They are a talented artist and a customer. I was grumbling about all of the paperwork that is involved running a studio. They laughed and said "Actually it was harder telling my Dad I didn't want to be an accountant than it was coming out, so you have my every sympathy". At the time I just laughed, but then thought "I wonder how many talented artists are living life as bored, frustrated and not very good accountants as they didn't have the guts to have that chat?". Why on earth should we find ourselves lumbered in a profession we hate to keep someone else happy?

About five years ago, I was chatting to a friend in a local hostelry. She is a reasonably well known singer and a successful busiensswoman. She told me that for some time she had felt drawn to the priesthood and asked what I thought of the idea of her becoming a Cof E vicar. I was quite astounded at first, but I told her that we all have to follow our own path and if she felt that was where her path took her, she should go for it. We had a long chat and it was absolutely clear to me that it was something she would do far better than many of the priests I know. I said "If you want to do it and you think you can do it well, don't let anything stand in your way". I'm not sure whether that chat had any bearing on her decision, but for me it was important to support a friend in their choices. She is now a vicar. Due to the situation, I've not spoken recently to see how it's going, but it was a classic example of the biggest obstacle in your life being giving yourself permission. Once she'd given herself permission to become a Priest, all of the other obstacles seemed to melt away. I've seen that so many times. It is only ourselves who hold us back. Do yourself a favour, give yourself permission to grow into the person you want to be.

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