I was having dinner with a friend of mine the other day and we were talking about our experiences at the company we used to work for, WeWork, and about how we both had gotten feedback on our personalities not 'fitting' and how we had to change. She could be a little blunt, and I could be a little cold.
It really made me think about what it means to 'change' your personality. There's a baked in assumption about ourselves that at our core, there's some unchangeable thing about us and it's something very unique to us, something so special and unique that we could be the only person in the world with it.
I'm not so sure about that anymore
I don't think we're as special as we think. I think we are much more of the same than we are different. I think we're all just riffs on the base template human, but we take different experiences, lessons learned, and paths and jumble them all up.
I watched a film recently called Everything, Everywhere, All at Once. In it was an average woman running a laundromat, and she was dealing with money, finances and taxes. Later in the film there's an event that suddenly reveals to her a multiverse of different paths she could have taken.
In one, she's a chef, in another she's an actress, then a singer, then a woman with hotdog fingers (watch this movie, seriously). Seeing all these shifts made me think, "Is she the same person? Are all of these just flavors of the core of her personality? Could each be considered an entirely different person?"
If you met me when I turned 17 years old, back when I was just an ignorant kid, you might not have liked me all that much. I was sort of a jerk, and self-righteous, and more than a little foolish. If you met me now, at 29, though, you might like me a lot. Some of my old friends wouldn't though, they might even hate me. That's because, just like the saying goes, you can't go home again.
I grew up. I learned stuff. I was shaped by the things I experienced and made many of the same decisions and choices. But I'm not the same.
Go back far enough, and we're all different people.
In a way, we sometimes use authenticity as a sword and shield. A sword to protect ourselves from having to change; a shield to defend ourselves from the scrutiny of others. We pick up the weapon of 'authentic self', and we put it up to protect ourselves from the hard work we might have to do to make ourselves better. We say, 'Hey, I'm just being me. Why are you picking on me?'
It's a neat trick if you can pull it off. You just put yourself in a bubble, or a cage, or a straight jacket to protect yourself from having to grow and change. Hence, the "I am who I am". You can go on stumbling through interactions with people, stepping on conversational landmines, and convince yourself that the sole reason you can't connect with others is because they don't 'get' you.
I think this is a lot of what's behind that 'stuck' feeling people have. If we're just one personality that is static, that means that we're not really changing that much, we're just going through different permutations. So we could argue that we're "frozen" in time as the same person.
I'm not sure I buy that. I think that we can always choose to be a different person.
I think for us instead of using authenticity, or this mistaken notion of self, as a way of protecting ourselves from change we can instead open ourselves open to the potentiality of growing into different people entirely. We can see ourselves as more fluid. We are the ocean, changing, expanding, and contracting but not really any one thing.
“The meaning of the river flowing is not that all things are changing so that we cannot encounter them twice but that some things stay the same only by changing.”
― Heraclitus, Heraclitus: The Cosmic Fragments
When you take this approach you can adapt yourself to those around you without feeling that you aren't being 'authentic' or being 'fake'. You become a collage, a collection of experiences and potentials. You're not so much a single obvious person anymore. You're not a 'grumpy' person or a 'bossy' person or even a 'bubbly' person, you are everything, all at once.