The Case for NOT Acting Normal and Finding Your Authentic Self

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→ Live mindfully Do what makes your heart sing

If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.” – Maya Angelou


Can you remember the first time you tried to change yourself just to fit in?

Maybe you pegged your jeans or popped the collar on your polo shirt to look cool.

When I was in junior high school, I had a closet full of Girbaud jeans because that’s what the others girls were wearing.

But when I was 21, something traumatic happened that made me change the entire way I spoke…just to fit in and be normal.

The year was 1997, and I was interning on Capitol Hill for a U.S. senator.

Washington, DC seemed immense and intimidating to me at the time, because I was born and raised on a farm in rural South Dakota.

I lived on the campus of George Washington University for the summer with legions of other interns coming from all corners of the country.

At my first intern social gathering, I felt light years away from my family’s farm. I thought I was fitting in until another intern said to me, “You talk just like Marge Gunderson.”

“Who?” I said with furrowed eyebrows.

“The local police chief from the movie, Fargo.”

My stomach turned to ice as I recalled the newly released crime drama and the sing-songy, “Minnesota nice,” regional accent that Frances McDormand portrayed.

I said nothing in response as the intern said, “Don’t cha know,” and chortled.

And so went the rest of my summer. About every other week, perfect strangers would say to me, “You talk just like the characters from the movie Fargo.” And each time, I cringed harder.

Then one day I woke up and vowed to rid myself of my accent.

I erased clean any long “ōh” sounds. I said, “yes,” instead of “ōh yah.” I jettisoned from my vernacular words like “okeedokee” and “pop (in reference to soda or Coke).” And I no longer said “roof” to sound like a dog’s “ruff.”

After that summer, I pursued a career in international affairs and went on to live in eight countries on four continents. In time, I shed my Fargo accent and adopted a standard American accent.

In short, I spoke with the normal accent of the average American.

But in recent years, something odd has happened to my accent as I’ve been living and working in a multi-national environment: I’ve adopted a kind of international, British-style English.

For starters, I can’t seem to ask a question as an American anymore. I sing questions as the British do and put inflections at odd parts of the sentence.

I’ve replaced “while” with “whilst.” I don’t “take vacations” anymore, I go “on holiday.” I now turn “anti-clockwise” and not “counter-clockwise.” Indeed, I no longer “stand in line,” I “queue.” And yes, I now ask for the “loo.”

The changes in my speech have forced me to ask the question “Who is the authentic me?” I’ve lost the accent of my youth, but even I get annoyed when phrases like “I daren’t say that,” roll off my tongue.

In searching for the answer, I realized how often in my life I’ve changed my behavior to be considered “normal.” But what is normal?

If you assume that normal is what the majority of your peers find acceptable, then what happens if the majority of your peers are masking their authentic selves to fit in with the majority of their peers? Wouldn’t that make normal a lie?

Finding your authentic self is simply about finding your truth. The authentic you is feeling comfortable in your own skin, not changing to please others, and accepting all parts of yourself – accent and all.

Take action! Here are 7 do’s and don’ts to re-discover the authentic you:

→Do what feels natural. If you love writing, but at times lose the will power to work on your novel, that’s natural. But if you force yourself to write because others expect you to be a successful writer, then you’re denying the authentic you.

Don’t do things consistently to please others. If you don’t like Shakespeare and attend your community theater’s production of Hamlet because your neighbor has the lead, that’s being supportive. But if you consistently take an action that’s not in line with your core belief system to please others, then you’re denying the authentic you.

→Don’t lie to people you care about. If a friend cooks a bland dinner that you said was tasty, then you’re being kind. But if you’re hiding your true interests, beliefs, and desires from the people you are closest to, then you’re denying the authentic you.

Don’t care about what other people think. If you’re seeking out constructive feedback on a creative project from people you admire and respect, that’s a smart practice. But if you’re worried about being judged and change yourself to appease others, then you’re denying the authentic you.

Don’t spend too much time on social media. If you’re on social media a few minutes a day to connect with friends and family, that’s staying in touch. But if you’re falling into the trap of “Facebook inflation,” whereby you overly exaggerate how fabulous your life is online to family and friends, then that’s denying the authentic you.

Do what makes your heart sing. If you spend part of your day doing the things that literally make your heart feel as though it’s singing, that’s joyful. If you’re always doing the things that the other people in your life enjoy, that’s denying the authentic you.

Do vow to discover and be the authentic you. If you take inspired action that brings joy to your day, you are being the authentic you. If you are taking actions solely to appear normal before your friends and family and to appease others, then you’re denying the authentic you.

My different accents have taught me a huge lesson on finding the authentic me. I’ve learned that the authentic me lies beyond words, accents and expressions: it’s simply finding the truth about who I am and sharing that truth with others.

And if anyone ever accuses me of talking like Marge Gunderson again, I’ll have only one response: “Yah, you betcha.”

Your thoughts? When have you ever masked the authentic you? Post a comment below.

4 replies
  1. Jen Rolston
    Jen Rolston says:

    Great story and advice, Allyson! And, congrats on your new path of becoming a life coach — I think you’ll be great!

    I’m often trying to reconnect with my authentic self which can be especially trying as I try to negotiate being a responsible mom, wife, and business owner. This past weekend, I took another step to that end by not celebrating the Easter holiday. I am not religious in that manner but once I had my son I felt the pressure to do the commercial bit of baskets and candy which always made me feel icky. This year I asked my now 12 year old son what his expectations for the holiday were and he said he just wanted to play basketball. Perfect! Instead of stressing about Easter gifts we celebrated spring by enjoying the day outdoors and having a lovely meal with family. Although I still felt some pangs of guilt from not giving my son a chocolate bunny It was such a major release to be my authentic self and know that I can now celebrate these major religious holidays in the ways that best fit our family. Small steps!

    peace + love, jen

    • Allyson
      Allyson says:

      Hey Jen, Thanks so much for this comment – how fantastic! I think many, many people can relate to what you’re saying. It’s wonderful that you gave your son exposure to the holiday traditions and then asked him what he wanted to do when he was old enough to make a rational decision for himself. I had a similar experience on a MUCH smaller scale in that my brother, sister-in-law, and nephew recently came to visit me in Belgium. I wanted to give my 11-year old nephew a nice gift for Easter, but I couldn’t find anything that wasn’t stuffed with chocolate. I’m a bit of a health nut, so I wanted to find something else. I settled on a small chocolate bunny and a nice t-shirt from where I work with several European flags embroidered on it. Luckily for me, the t-shirt was a bigger hit than the chocolate! Peace and love back, Allyson

  2. Luci
    Luci says:

    Congratulations on your decision to become a life coach, Allyson! I look forward to learning more about how things are going in that regard! You will do well!

    I loved your post. Since i have the same accent with which you were raised, I often get told I “sound like that movie, Fargo” and I kind of revel in it. If I can make someone’s day with a twangy “Yah, sure…” or a “you betcha” so much the better. People seem to think the accent is a good thing. Either that, or they’re just being kind, hoping I’ll share a soupy midwestern casserole recipe with them.

    Whatever you accent, please keep posting!

    • Allyson
      Allyson says:

      Hey Luci, thanks so much for the fabulous comment! I really appreciate it. I LOVE the fact that you can relate so well to what I’ve been through, but I love even more that you embraced your accent with such aplomb. I wish I had done that when I was 21!! Mmmmm, a soupy midwestern casserole is my favorite!!!

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