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Acting Fake May Be a Good Indication You’re Growing
Lodged as criticism by someone whose opinion you value, this statement can rock you back on your heels. Its delivery has the effect of a light beam piercing your eyes at midnight — it’s jarring, and it’s blinding. It may leave you not knowing where you stand.
You’re on notice that you are acting outside your station. In other words, someone, who thinks they know you, has informed you that they don’t recognize you. Back in the day, you were too big for your britches; today, you’re acting brand new. Often a judgment on how you’re managing some new terrain of your life — new job, new relationship — it’s an accusation of your insincerity. It’s not how you were before, they may say. The branding iron aimed at your forehead threatens to label you “fake.” It’s appalling, the whole idea.
Your best defense is blind deflection: “No, haven’t! I have not changed!”
Knee-jerk denial may be the only response you can muster — even before you clarify what appears to have changed. The thought of being unrecognizable is alarming because our identity provides security for us and our loved ones. We want to be who we think we are, and nobody wants to be a flake. But if you live long enough, change is going to come.
The assumption is that the people who know us well can pinpoint who we are, regardless of the circumstances. They should be able to recognize — predict even — our responses to life. And, because we feel anchored in our personalities and social circles (friends, family, religious and professional groups), most of us would like to think we know ourselves, too. In fact, personality psychologists Paul Costa and Robert McCrae theorized that once we are adults, we’re stocked and locked with everything we need to show up recognizable and consistent forever.
Yet other researchers, such as Dr. Monika Ardelt, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Florida, have collected data showing that as time passes, personalities do shift. Ardelt also concluded from her research in 2000 that when it comes to how we show up in the world, our social environment and experiences play a role.
However, there’s another aspect related to how we interface with the world; we don’t hear much about it. It’s our stage of development. Stated another way, how we put our lives into context at 16 will likely be different from when we are 26, 36, or 46 — even if nothing about our personalities changed. To be clear, though, it’s not an age thing. It’s the filter through which we see the world.
Change Makes Sense
As I look back over my couple of experiences of being charged with the crime of change, I realize a flaw in my response. I denied it when countless other comebacks were more fitting. I could have kept it classy and said, “Of course I’ve changed. Haven’t you?” Or, with less restraint, I could have led with a solid screw face and finished with a mildly vulgar, “Damn straight.” And because less is more, a blank stare might also have sufficed.
I mean, if you have seen me cross the threshold into adulthood, more so if we have done it together, yes, I have changed. If you have seen me traverse relationships, parenthood, professional opportunities, or changes in health status, now hear this: I have changed. Hopefully, my friend, so have you.
But I don’t think it’s so much that my personality has changed. I believe it’s more about my way of seeing the world and myself in the world — my filter. Susanne Cook-Greuter, independent scholar and expert in mature ego development and self-actualization, conducted a study in 1999 called the “Nine Levels of Ego Embrace.” Her method used responses from over 4500 Americans of mixed backgrounds on a sentence completion test. Her efforts revealed evidence that our evolution is a relatively predictable process of unfolding into greater consciousness. And it includes advancements in our thinking. The growth patterns she found highlight our tendency to oscillate between navigating life as individuals and as part of the whole. Sometimes I’m all about me; sometimes, I’m all about us.
So, maybe at one point in my life, deeply entrenched in family culture, I made life choices we all understood. Then as an individual overcoming illness, I needed to make some choices that were outside of cultural norms. Maybe no one else got me at the time, but I couldn’t be bothered to care. Then, upon discovery that my unconventional response to healing worked and could work for the masses, I returned with a clarion call. I shared my new information about health and wellness. I had the group in mind. Through it all, I was still fundamentally who I have always been. But the lens through which I made meaning out of my experiences plus the range of my insight is where change was taking place.
As another quick example, I have always been a foodie. I savored the home-cooked meals that came out of our kitchen. I grew up eating food for the soul — fried chicken, fried pork chops, BBQ ribs. We ate pasta — spaghetti with meatballs and Italian sausages, and macaroni and cheese. We ordered our pizza with double pepperonis. And of course, we had our vegetables, fried cabbage, fried corn, and smothered potatoes (which were first fried). Those vegetables that were un-fried got their flavor from hog maws and salt pork. Not only did I love our delicious lifestyle, but I also carried the culture into my own kitchen. I prepared my childhood tribal foods for my own family in my earliest years as a mom and wife.
However, as predicted by Cook-Greuter’s theory of Ego Development, eventually, I started moving into a new stage. My values began to shift from collective ones to those distinct to me. I became more self-aware; and, I became willing to stand on my insights as an individual within my culture.
Change is a Catalyst for Emergence
From my new vantage point, I began to see nutrition differently. It led to my becoming conscientious about what I fed my children. I was concerned with where our food came from and my cooking methods.
My love of food meshed with my new healthful approach.
Even my prayers as a kid included me thanking God for “eyes to see and ears to hear.” My innate understanding that a healthy, able body was a gift had found a place to thrive. So, with an appreciation for health, I became more concerned with nourishing my body than fitting in, less concerned about being rejected by friends and family for my weird choices, and more concerned about standing on my principles.
To see me passing up my dad’s lauded BBQ ribs for a meatless version of ribs had to have looked ludicrous. And to be clear, I took my fair share of ribbing. In my low-pressure family environment, it was easy enough to endure. But it might have been equally easy for any one of them to conclude that I had changed because I believed I was better than the rest. The assumption could have been that I was suppressing my fun, food-loving personality to be someone I wasn’t. Not so. I saw the world in a new way. Through that lens, I was still indulging and exploring the passions I had always possessed.
As we grow as adults, we learn to choose our lens and our responses. That shift in my way of being in my 20’s was not the last. Since then, thirty years later, I have evolved through many new vantage points that have informed how I see myself in the world. It’s ongoing, and appreciate how I used to see things. There’s no disdain “old” me. Now, I use all that I am to decide how I will respond to current experiences.
I am aware that the insights and perspectives currently informing my actions may change. I don’t necessarily see things today as I may come to see them tomorrow. It’s all good.
If you know me, you’re never surprised to find me different. If you know yourself, you will welcome all the changes you are constantly becoming. Have mercy. In a perfect world, we will appreciate this about one another.
Be free. Love, Peace.