I don’t know whether high school yearbooks are around anymore, but when I was in school, the annual Spring ritual of signing yearbooks was a pretty big deal.
I remember carrying mine home with nervous anticipation, then sitting on my bed with the door closed devouring the messages my classmates had inscribed. It’s stunning to me now the weight these hastily jotted notes carried in my world. They were key to my sense of belonging. And if I were to now read what was written, one word would stand out because it was so often said about me. Nice. Not clever, brave or interesting, but nice.
It probably didn’t bother me too much then. It was certainly better than boring or annoying! But today I don’t want to be nice. I want to be true. More accurately, I want to stand in my truth. Don’t get me wrong, my truth includes being kind. But kind and nice are two different things. Nice feels like people pleasing. Kindness is action based on compassion.
“To stand strongly in your own truth…you need to know exactly who you are, know your own worth, know what you stand for, know your own important values and know your true nature. To have the courage to be authentic enough to stay true to yourself, assertive enough to speak up when it is needed, and brave enough to withstand the discomfort that sometimes comes with that,” says Sue Osborne a New Zealand-based blogger writing for Linkedin.
I couldn’t agree more, but that discomfort part is what makes it difficult. Or the fear of discomfort. Last weekend, I got a chance to test myself on this. A friend, who was bringing her young son over to ride a horse thought it might be fun to also bring a few of his friends along. And it would have been. But I was tapped out. My daily life includes holding space for a lot of people, and I truly love doing it. However, sometimes I need to hold some space for myself in order to replenish. What at first felt like a nourishing visit from a friend had the potential to turn into me holding space for a bunch of kids.
My first reaction was to be “nice” and make the day a fun time for everyone who wanted to be a part of it. But my truth was that it felt like too much energy going out and not enough energy coming in. I was worried about disappointing people, but I had to let go of that fear. I had to tell my friend that only she and her son were invited. Luckily, I have amazing friends. She totally understood. My apprehension about discomfort was for naught. The afternoon was as fulfulling for me as I had hoped it would be, and I think it was for my friend and her son as well.
This may sound like a no-brainer, but it was a big step for me! Like so many of us, I was raised to be nice. Somewhere along the line, my niceness morphed into me often putting others’ desires before my own. That can build resentment, which is definitely not a kindness. And it was not just my family of origin that discouraged me from speaking my truth. Truth-telling women have not generally been well regarded in our culture.
Standing in one’s truth requires knowing what that is, and if you get in the habit of always being nice, it’s sort of hard to see outside of that box. It’s weird. You can get to a point where you think you are being peaceful and loving, but in reality, you’re denying your own needs.
Lately, I’ve been practicing the yogic principle Satya–truthfulness–being honest with oneself and with others. The requires me to be very accurate about what my truth is. To do this, it’s imperative to slow down and intentionally assess how I feel. Not every response has to be given immediately. I’m not responsible for how other people view me. Being true to myself reminds me of my worth, and I cannot fully serve others if I don’t value myself.
I’m not big on reunions, so short of my best childhood friend, I haven’t seen any of my high school classmates in a very long time. I wonder what it would be like to spend some time together and then write in each other’s yearbooks again. What would my classmates say about me now? My hope is that the word “nice” would be replaced with the word “real.”