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  • Ann Yeong

Why can't I just be ME?



I remember catching myself in "performance mode" once. I was in the presence of someone who was charismatic, sophisticated and eloquent, and I found myself trying to sound more intelligent and worldly than I actually was. I think I did a pretty good job of faking it because at the end of that encounter, that was exactly how I felt - fake. I don't know if I had impressed my conversation partner, but I had most certainly not impressed myself.


These were the only identities I knew and I needed to fulfil them in order to have a sense of who I was. Unfortunately, the more I succeeded at playing these roles, the more hollow I felt.

All throughout my teens and twenties, I moved uneasily in and out of such "performance mode" moments. The model student, responsible older sibling, academic achiever, good Catholic, capable leader, loyal friend - these were all roles I often performed without knowing. These were the only identities I knew and I needed to fulfil them in order to have a sense of who I was. Unfortunately, the more I succeeded at playing these roles, the more hollow I felt. Something nagged at me that I am not the role I play, no matter how brilliantly I might at times be able to perform. But who was I then? I didn't know.


On occasion a casual remark would surprise me. Such as the time someone said to me when I was still living in Toronto, "You are such a different person when your brother's not around!" I asked the person how I was different, and the reply was, "You're more relaxed, and carefree, and fun!" I had not even realised that but when I heard it, I knew immediately that it was true. And I even knew why.


It was NOT a fun thing to do but I took it very seriously because I thought that was the right thing to do. I hadn't even realised that I didn't feel free to just BE myself...

When I was around my younger brother, especially while we were living abroad on our own, the role and responsibility that was foremost on my mind was being "responsible older sister". I had to be a "good example", a "role model" and I felt that I was responsible for keeping my brother's grades up and his conduct reflective of what my parents would approve of. It was NOT a fun thing to do but I took it very seriously because I thought that was the right thing to do. I hadn't even realised that I didn't feel free to just BE myself when I was playing the role of "big sister" until I heard that remark.


I felt like I was walking on a tight-rope - wanting to be accepted on one hand by my peers and on the other, needing to enforce school rules and serve as a "role model" on the other.

Throughout my growing up years, that there was often some role I felt I had to excel in which kept me from just being me. When I was made school prefect (and then Head Prefect - both in primary and secondary school), I immediately felt that my behaviour needed to be perfect. In fact there used to be a joke among some of the students in my school that you had to be perfect to be a prefect and that the Head Prefect had to be the most perfect of all. I felt like I was walking on a tight-rope - wanting to be accepted on one hand by my peers and on the other, needing to enforce school rules and serve as a "role model" on the other.


Between these very different needs and demands, my young self did not feel that I had the latitude to just be myself. So I kept my focus on performing the roles other people seemed to want from me. I played the roles that earned me smiles and pats on the back, awards and praise and which brought happiness to my parents. I doubled my efforts to prove my loyalty and availability to friends in order to excel at the role of "friend".


The more I succeeded, the further it took me away from knowing who I was without the accolades and affirmation from others. I kept feeling that I did not deserve to do well because I did not really care about what I was doing.

There was a personal cost to performing these roles well: The more I succeeded, the further it took me away from knowing who I was without the accolades and affirmation from others. I began to think that if I could do well in something, that's what I should be doing. But the problem was that I felt like a Jill-of-all-Trades - I could do well enough in many different areas but not truly excel or specialise in any of them. I ended up feeling stuck. Perhaps it was easier to just go along with what other people thought I should do since I don't know who I was or what I should be doing anyway! But then I realised THAT was no solution either, because my unhappiness grew when I did well. I kept feeling that I did not deserve to do well because I did not really care about what I was doing.


Whenever I received the validation I sought, I felt more like a fraud because there was a silent scream from some place deep inside me - a scream of protest that"This is not who I really am!"

I was caught in a double-bind. I needed to keep performing in order to receive the external validation I craved because my self-worth was almost completely dependent on that. But whenever I received the validation I sought, I felt even more like a fraud because there was a silent scream from some place deep inside me - a scream of protest that "This is not who I really am!"


In the last decade of my life, I have begun to experience the healing I needed to break free from that double-bind. As my self-worth became less dependent on how others perceived me and more rooted in self-love and the unconditional love I receive from God, I learned that I could choose NOT to perform. I could choose instead to ground my actions in my True Self and to live out the roles I need to play in my life with authenticity and freedom.


I find that being real gives me an authority and power to speak and act out of integrity. In this place I will never lose myself because I know who I am and my life proclaims that truth.

I am who I am whether others can accept me or not. I am who I am whether it draws praise or criticism. I am not perfect and neither do I seek perfection, except to be more perfectly myself as I grow more whole.


As I become more rooted in my True Self, I find that being real gives me an authority and power to speak and act out of integrity. In this place I will never lose myself because I know who I am and my life proclaims that truth. I can finally begin to live my life simply AS ME. I am an imposter no more!

Listen to Episode 15 Help, I'm An Imposter! on the Becoming Me Podcast from Wednesday 17 February, 2021. Spotify: https://buff.ly/34vZRf1

Apple Podcasts: https://buff.ly/34rFkIu

Google Podcasts: https://buff.ly/3n9MHgh

Website: https://buff.ly/3kzUylB



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