“Be Yourself. Life is precious as it is. All the elements of your happiness are already there. There is no need to run, strive, search or struggle. Just be” Thich Nhat Hanh.
I’m not a pop music fan. But every time I hear Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful” something moves inside… Not because I think I’m particularly good-looking, what I find so moving is the thought that the song is addressed to every human being, the idea that everybody deserves to feel beautiful. Beauty is not only an external appearance, it is much more.
I often wonder what makes something beautiful. I think it is the capacity to trigger an emotion, which can be simply one of pleasant attractiveness based on shapes and colours, or can go much deeper and touch intimate feelings. I feel a strong sense of admiration for the human ability to translate a simple blob of paint or a succession of sounds onto something that has the power to touch someone else’s soul.
We are all beautiful in our unique, special way, and yet, we spend our lives trying to be like everyone else. No, not really like everyone else, more like “those who are special”. We follow fashion, we accommodate our behaviour to what we think are the expectations. We identify with so many cultural drivers that we end up forgetting to cultivate our own, personal differences. And that’s precisely where beauty lies.
It takes a lot of courage to Just Be. Each time I open an exhibition or show my artwork I go through a deep self-doubt crisis. For some time, I wondered where the uneasiness came from. I know I can’t expect everyone to like what I do, and to be honest this is not my preoccupation. After all, I don’t like all art out there, why would I expect this from others? Why was I still feeling so restless? It is only recently that I figured out where those feelings of insecurity come from. A couple of comments from “friends” made me see what was going on inside me. First, someone said: “Oh, you paint, I didn’t know a lawyer could be creative”. My thought was “What a silly comment, everyone can be creative. I’ve always been creative”. It made me realise that stereotypes are everywhere. Then, someone else came and said: “You confuse people. You can’t be a lecturer, work in leadership and coaching and then show up as a painter. You will lose credibility. Nobody will believe you are good at anything”.
Deep breath. Lots of questions. “Why? What’s confusing about doing different activities if I do them with the same passion? I know the branding pitch story…” Then a deeper reflexion turned up: “I should be grateful to this person. Now I understand the restlessness I’ve been feeling lately!”. It clicked: it was so simple and yet difficult to explain. Pure fear of being judged, not because people would find my paintings are not good enough. I can now give the feeling a name: “fear of not being able to Just Be”. Fear that people would not understand the need to be the whole of me. Because these are deep needs: the need to experiment with thinking and doing, to show up in full, to share emotions and express myself in a way that’s meaningful to me.
There is nothing different about me when I’m working as a lawyer, designing a course, coaching a client, teaching a dance class, painting or cooking. These are all “activities” and I enjoy them equally. They may seem unrelated but in a way they are all the same: experiments that start with a dream, purpose or vision, and flow through a mix of inspiration, connection, and (lots of) preparation. Drafting a contract, advising on a new corporate strategy or painting a new canvas are different ways of following similar mental steps: a purpose, the research and generation of ideas, and an execution through practice, conversations, trial and error.
So now that I have discovered the source of my unrest, I must do something to honour these feelings. And this is what came out of these reflections: the firm conviction that we must not attach ourselves to a fixed identity based on other’s expectations. And a fierce willingness to encourage everyone’s choice to show up as a wholehearted person with diverse, complementary interests.
My clients who appreciate creative insight will not be confused because I am also a painter. They will have more trust in me. I walk the talk. I can explain creative thinking because I live it. People who don’t know I’m a coach and corporate trainer will not think my paintings are less good because I do other things that feed my thoughts. They will just see a painting and feel what they have to feel. My work on Diversity and Inclusion will not suffer because I express myself in different ways: that’s what Diversity is about. It is about daring to Be Yourself. The more we accept each of our facets, the more open we are to appreciate diversity in others. That’s the richness and the basis of an inclusive culture.
My business card has two sides: one is a reproduction of a canvas, the other side has my business details. If I could, I would have a tri-dimensional card, which could show as many faces as I felt compelled to show. Because each side of us is part of the whole, and because it is the same brain that goes everywhere. As the song says, “we are beautiful in every single way”.
It all ties together. Just Be.
Is there anything stopping you from creating the life you want? Wouldn’t the workplace be richer and much more meaningful if we could each “Just Be”? How open are you to appreciating the beauty of difference in yourself and everyone else? Do you have the courage to show up in life with the whole of you?
Photo courtesy of Jehanne Moll.