Remember how it felt at school, when a teacher would ask a question that you had no clue how to answer? So many of us have felt the sinking feeling of being picked despite our best efforts to appear invisible. (I’m talking shrinking down in seats, avoiding eye contact with the teacher- the best avoidance tactics we had in our school arsenals). Then there’s the realisation that we might be about to make fools of ourselves in front of the whole class. The awkward silence as we sit frozen, desperately hoping the ground swallows us up. The teacher eventually giving up and moving onto someone else.
I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten older that this isn’t always the case- there were some classes where I felt so much more confident about having a go. So much more at ease with the idea of getting things wrong in front of other people. I’m sure most people had classes at school that they didn’t like so much, and others that they absolutely loved.
At secondary school, I was in the top group for science, but putting it nicely I was definitely one of the less scientifically inclined people in my class. It’s not that I was bad at it, it’s just that a lot of my classmates were incredibly good at it, and I felt slightly less confident about my own ability. I would hardly ever offer answers out loud in front of the class for fear of being wrong and my smarter classmates judging me. I’ve since realised that none of them would, but if you’d have told 15 year old Georgina that, she most definitely wouldn’t have believed you. It’s not like it hindered my life hugely, but when I look back it feels silly that I was so caught up in the belief that people would view me a certain way for answering a question about covalent bonds incorrectly.
Throughout my A Levels, my English Literature class was definitely my safe and happy place where I knew I was okay to say whatever I wanted. I went to a relatively small college, and so we had quite a small group, and it really helped me open up to having more confidence in myself regardless of what might happen. My English Lit teacher was honestly my favourite teacher I’ve ever had- she was so accepting and encouraging, and I know that she genuinely cared. Our lessons were always fun and engaging, but my favourite part was the fact that I always felt like I could answer questions, even if I wasn’t entirely confident in my answer being correct, as I didn’t have the fear of being judged. I didn’t feel like people would think me an idiot for being wrong, as the majority of the small class were in my friendship group. It was such a natural environment, and I think I’ll always look back at it as my favourite aspect of school, as it helped me to feel a lot less concerned about how other people would view me for giving things a go. I’ve always been someone who can easily make friends, but I still worry a lot about what other people think, and whilst I am still conscious of it a lot of the time, I’m working on not caring so much.
‘The older you get, the more you understand how your conscience works. The biggest and only critic lives in your perception of people’s perception of you rather than people’s perception of you.’ Criss Jami
I know that this quote seems like a little bit of a tongue twister, but it’s important to remember. So much of our perception of what people think of us lies within what we assume people are thinking. In reality, we have no real way of knowing unless they tell us outright. The human mind can have a way of assuming the worst. We come up with our own version of what’s happening and rolling with it as if it’s fact. I do it all the time: I’ll be driving down the road singing along to the radio and assuming that everyone must think I’m mad, when in actual fact no-one has even noticed me; I’ll go into Tesco and instantly assume everyone is looking at my slightly scraggly hair, when in actual fact everyone is just trying to remember what they need to buy; whenever I write something, I immediately start worrying about what people might think, about what my writing might reveal about me that people could judge. Even now I’m thinking ‘is this too much? Will anyone even care about what I have to say?’ but the answer is that it doesn’t matter. As long as I’m happy with what I put out there, it doesn’t matter what anyone else might think about it. Besides, who’s to say that people wouldn’t like it? Perceptions and assumptions are such inaccurate ways of looking at the world and those in it, and there’s so much importance in authenticity over acting a certain way to fit a role of presumed acceptance.
We can express ourselves however we choose, so why not have it be authentic? It isn’t always easy to make ourselves vulnerable to people and show them our genuine selves, but it is so worthwhile. I often struggle with who I am, with things I do or say, with trusting myself to do what I feel is right regardless of how I think it makes me look to others, but I know deep down that it’s all me. I’m the person judging myself so harshly, I’m the person pretending to look in from the outside and finding problems with myself, not anyone else. No one else is sitting there waiting for me to do or say things so they can tear it all apart. Even if someone was, who’s to say they’re right?
‘Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be… embrace who you are’ Brené Brown
Choosing to be our authentic selves isn’t an instant change, and it isn’t an easy journey. We are so sure that other people are ready to judge us that we pretend to be what we think they want us to be, when in actual fact it doesn’t matter. Just like me coming to grips with the possibility of shouting out the wrong answer in class, choosing authenticity is giving ourselves permission to be ourselves, and rejecting the idea the perfection is something we need to strive for. I learnt a hell of a lot more at college from being wrong than I did from not voicing my confusion at school, because I wasn’t bothered about what people would think at college, I was just thinking about giving things a go and learning from my mistakes.
It might seem like a strange analogy to use, but it really does apply. By being ourselves in life, we benefit and experience so much more than if we conform to what we think people want us to be. Authenticity is knowing that we are enough, that what we are is a hundred times more fulfilling than what we think we should be. When I start uni, I know that potentially answering questions incorrectly in front of others is still going to be daunting, but it will also be okay. The world isn’t going to swallow me up and spit me out if I get a question wrong. Life will go on. I’ve accepted this. I’d rather be me and get things woefully wrong than be somebody I’m not and just go through the motions of life. I am enough. You are enough. We are all enough.