Authenticity is something I have struggled with for most of my life. I am an introvert and I was so shy as a young child that I would have been called elective mute if I was at school now. I have always struggled with my identity and my place in the world. I think part of my shyness came from not wanting to be noticed, not wanting to stand out.
When you are an introvert, social situations can feel crippling. My brain freezes and I feel anxious, I don’t know what to say to people and my fight or flight reflex clamors to be noticed.
I’ve never been able to make sense of it, because sometimes, with some people, I feel completely at ease and comfortable and the conversation flows-but even now, in my 40’s I can’t predict what type of people I will feel that connection to.
When I was a child we moved around a lot; I lived in 4 different countries and went to 3 different primary schools by the time I was 8 years old. For an introvert, that constant starting again was challenging (although ironically it seeded my urge for new challenges and need to keep moving on that plagues me now). Reflecting on it as an adult, I am very grateful for my upbringing, I have had some amazing experiences and got to see parts of the world that many people will never experience. It helped me become a tolerant and open minded person.
As a child though, my background felt like torture. I didn’t want to stand out, I didn’t want to be different, I wanted to be like everybody else. When I moved to England in 1984 I couldn’t help but stand out. I had a Scottish accent that my school mates couldn’t understand and I had spent half of my life up to that point living in Africa-I wasn’t going to blend in. I was also clumsy and a book worm.
At that age, I wasn’t true to myself, I wasn’t authentic. I wanted to hide who I was and just be like everybody else. My Scottish accent disappeared within a few years, which breaks my heart now, I would love to still sound Scottish. This wasn’t a deliberate thing, but I think my need to fit in drove me subconsciously to sound more like everybody else.
The trouble was this then meant that I didn’t feel like I fitted in at home with my family. My brother and sister are both older than me, and have never lost their Scottish accents. My brother, as brothers do, teased me relentlessly about sounding ‘English’. For many years I didn’t feel like I fitted in anywhere. I felt homesick for Scotland until my early 20’s. I didn’t feel English and I didn’t feel Scottish, I didn’t know where I belonged.
It has been a slow process for me, I have struggled with confidence and sense of belonging for most of my life, but gradually I have come to accept myself and like myself. I think I spend most of my life not being authentic, trying to blend in with other people, hoping not to stand out and be different.
When I got towards my 40’s I stopped caring so much. And now, I don’t care if I am different. I am who I am, I am proud of my back ground, it’s good to be different. I don’t care what people think of me anymore-if they think I’m antisocial, so what, I am, I’m an introvert-being social and ‘doing people’ is a lot of hard work. I really like people, I love being around them but just don’t ask me to go to a party, it’s not happening.
I feel like I am finally being authentic, I’m a book nerd, I’m terrible at sport and I hate macho ‘alpha male’ nonsense. I’m just as comfortable in the company of women as men and I’m quite happy to admit that I have an obsession with unicorns and an ambition to be a ‘mad cat man’ when I am old. I’m probably seen as a bit weird by some people but I don’t care anymore. I am finally comfortable in my own skin, finally happy with who I am.
By the way, if people ask me what my nationality is now, I say Scottish. I am proud of my heritage and I’ve come to terms with not sounding like everyone else in my family. I am Scottish but I also happen to love England (which is a rare thing to admit for a Scotsman).