Why you should let your freak flag fly
I decided to do something very different this New Year’s Eve: I went to a conference by myself in a city I’ve never been to.
When I signed up, it sounded like a fabulous idea. What fun it will be to meet new people, explore an unknown place, and have some solitary time for reflection! Indeed, all of these things happened, though I wouldn’t call the experience fun; in fact, it was slightly terrifying.
There wasn’t anything scary about traveling alone (I’ve done it many times, internationally and otherwise). The part that made my heart race and my insecurities rise was walking into a pool of a thousand people who, at least on paper, are truckloads more successful than I.
I began mounting a mental case for my unworthiness. I’m not as smart as these MIT and Harvard scholars; I’m not an entrepreneur whose company has been acquired for millions; I’m just a regular person who loves learning and wants to build a successful career… It didn’t seem like enough.
I rode that negative train of thought one-way for two whole days. And then on day three, something happened: I took a break from the conference and went out on the town. I talked to strangers everywhere and had the best conversations. I got inspired and inspired others…it was a grand old time. Easy. Fun.
I dove into my hotel bed and asked myself, “What was different about tonight?”
(Cue epiphany music.) I was being myself—fully. I wasn’t trying to fit in or be someone that I thought other people wanted me to be.
Intellectually, I know that “letting it all hang out” is THE key to success—and I swear that I’ve gotten to a place where I’m doing it much of the time—but yet I am human and occasionally forget this sage wisdom.
At the conference, I had been playing it safe. Blending in. Not rocking the boat. Avoiding potential rejection. That isn’t the real me at all.
The next day, it was my turn to moderate a panel discussion and then join up with the big group again for a New Year’s Eve Gala. I took the previous night’s lesson with me. I said what I wanted to say; I acted how I wanted to act; and I dressed how I wanted to dress—baring my tattoos and a lot of skin to a crowd I wasn’t sure was ready for it.
The response I got was incredible. More people approached me, I had better conversations, and I truly connected with some amazing people. It felt so good being my bold self.
Of course, when you’re being yourself (and not a people pleaser), you’re not going to get along famously with everyone. But it really doesn’t matter, for the connections you will make will be strong and genuine—people who like you will like you for who you really are. Oh, and bonus: socializing is a lot more fun when you don’t care what other people think of you.
Let your freak flag fly, my friends. This will help: Almost Cut My Hair, Crosby, Stills & Nash