I, like most adults, spend a lot of time telling the children in my life (my own and my students) to 'Be themselves'. We stress the importance of this in every day life. The choices you make need to be your own and trying to be someone else will never lead you where you want to go. I wonder, however, if this is entirely true. Yes, you need to be yourself, love yourself, respect yourself, and accept yourself. We aren't self-contained little worlds, though, so it stands to reason that the people around us influence us and make us want to emulate them. Big sisters, little sisters, friends, moms, dads, activists: we have reason to want to be like some of the people that inspire us. So yes, we want to be ourselves, but we also need to decide who influences the selves we shape.
The other aspect of the 'Be yourself' philosphy that can get a bit confusing is that you are an ever changing thing. We are influenced, molded, and changed by the experiences we have and the people we let in to our lives. As a writer, I think the influence of others is vitally important. I cannot be the self I was at 20, nor would you want me to be. Who I am is, undoubtably, a part of the experiences and people in my life that have shaped me. This comes across in my writing. I want to be Robert Munsch, Mem Fox, Margie Palatini, and Kevin Henkes; but I'm not. I am charmed and influenced by them, but I am also charmed and influenced by Nora Roberts, James Patterson, and J.K. Rowling. The same 'me' that loves romantic suspense novels can't stand a sad ending or the unknown. So, how do you (I) reconcile all of this into the writer I want to be? I hope you weren't looking for an answer because the truth is, I don't have one.
It's the question that haunts me constantly when I try to think of how I want to establish myself as an author. Actually, if I'm being completely honest, it's the question that haunts me as a person. As my children get older, I think more and more about who I am, who I want to be, who I want them to be, and what matters to me. I haven't narrowed all of this down yet, but I do know that I want authenticity. To me, that means feeling good about what I write, what I say, and what I do. I don't always feel that way and when something I've said, written, or done sits wrong with me, I am open enough to accept that, to self-reflect, and to re-evaluate. I suppose that's all we can do as authors, parents, and people. So maybe, being 'yourself' is being true to what feels right and good to who you are at any given moment in time.
I tell my girls that when they are in a social situation at school that if they don't agree with the choices others are making, they will feel it. We call it instinct and I think it's present from very early on. Being yourself involves trusting that instinct, even when it's hard to face what it's telling you. For this week's quote of the week, in my classroom, I chose Winston Churchill's words: Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen. It takes courage not only to be yourself, but to be willing to take the journey to find out who that self really is. At the moment, I'm pretty sure that journey is endless.