Being your authentic self is easier said than done, but so worth it.
What does “being authentic” mean to you? Most people would likely say it means “being yourself, being genuine, not fake.” Throughout the Reaching Higher course, we encourage individuals to bring their best authentic selves to school, to their job, with their families, friends, and peers.
Because as Oscar Wilde once said, “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
In our very first Reaching Higher session we read the “Paint Brush” poem together (excerpt):
“I keep my paint brush with me wherever I may go, in case I need to cover up so the real me doesn’t show. I’m so afraid to show you me, afraid of what you’ll do – that you might laugh or say mean things…”
— Bettie B. Youngs, Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul
Why are we so afraid to take our masks off and let people see who we really are? In my 10-plus years being a mentor and instructor with Reaching Higher, the responses I get when I ask that question are pretty much the same year after year:
– “I’m afraid people are going to judge me.”
– “People won’t accept me for who I really am.”
– “I just want to fit in - it’s easier to go along with the crowd than stand out.”
– “Fear of rejection.”
But imagine what would happen if we took our mask off, or started to remove some layers of paint. During the eight- week Reaching Higher class, we encourage students to really show up and be vulnerable, which allows them to truly connect and feel closer to each other. The “safe coaching” space of Reaching Higher really allows this to happen and the “magic” begins.
It takes courage to learn how to be real, but when you do you set yourself FREE and begin to build a life that brings you JOY and MEANING. When we take our masks off, we create deeper and more meaningful relationships with one another. We have the opportunity for others to love us and accept us for who we really are.
In January 2021, I decided it was finally time for me to peel off some of my own layers of paint and become a Reaching Higher instructor. What had been holding me back all those years? I was afraid of being vulnerable with 25 students – what if I didn’t know what to say or how to say it It turns out I just needed to take my mask off and be authentic with the students and pour into them, no matter what that looked like or sounded like. Becoming a Reaching Higher instructor has allowed me to be more FREE and JOYFUL, and I can’t wait to be back in the classroom this fall.
This past spring, in one of our high school classes, junior Ava said that one of the best things that helped her during the program was “the paintbrush.” She had a lot of different paintbrushes depending on who she was with – friends, younger brother or her parents. But because of her time in Reaching Higher, she started to lower her paintbrush. She said being herself is “undoubtedly scary,” but she said “if people don’t like me without the paintbrush, there’s no point to paint a layer on for them anyway.”
Well said Ava.