“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” – Fredrich Nietzsche
If I asked you right now to tell me about yourself, how do you think you would respond? Would you tell me about your job, your family, your home, your appearance? Or would you think to dive deeper into the depths of your heart and answer me with what you are feeling, what you are thinking, your beliefs, your hopes, your dreams.
When you ask children questions about who they are their answers are often so much deeper than what we would expect. Where we might have an easier time sharing the things that lie on the surface, the things that people can discover simply by scrolling through our Instagrams and Facebooks, for children its what they feel inside that seems to speak to them most. They share what they think and what they feel. They share their happiest moments and their biggest disappoints. They share about what they love, what they hope, and what they need. Just in giving children the same few questions we might give to an adult, for some reason we can learn so much more.
So why is it that children are so much more willing to open themselves up to others? What makes them so capable of showing who they truly are to the world?
In working with children one of my greatest joys has been to see the way that they embrace who they are so fully and honestly everyday. In my time as a teacher there has yet to be a day where I don’t see a child running around in their underwear with dirt smeared across their chest or a child crawling on all fours meowing or attempting to lick their friend holding an imaginary leash. In fact, I don’t think I could count on both hands the amount of times I’ve had to tell a child “It might not work to be a cat, dog, goat (etc.) right now.”
Every day I come to work I am inspired by these children because in spite of how odd we may see these things through our adult eyes, or how surprising we may think it is to see a child hiding under a table with their underwear on their head, the still embrace that beauty of childhood-the permission to be who you want, when you want, regardless of what anyone else things about it.
When I watch children live this truth I am always in awe at the confidence they display and unwavering faith in embracing all the things that connect to their souls. They lean in to life and in doing so live in the most authentic way. But at the same time there’s also this sense of envy that creeps in as my nostalgia reminds me of what it was like to be that carefree, unburdened by the stress and responsibility that so often plagues our adults lives. As I watch the children embracing themselves I start to miss the days when I too could live that way.
But why can’t we still live life this way? What keeps us as adults from living as openly and wholeheartedly as children do?
Once I let my nostalgia pass and ground myself back into reality it’s easy to start to understand why this is. Ideally it would be incredible to be able to live so carefree, unafraid of judgement or criticism, comfortable in our own skin. And while running around in your underwear may be pushing it (although some people may argue that even that’s still okay), why can’t we still embody the same confidence that children at my school display from the minute they walk through our doors?
Unfortunately the answer to that I think is one we are all familiar with, and one that likely poses many barriers to our own authenticity; societies expectations of us. One thing that I realize that stops me when I start to imagine myself letting go and embracing life the way children often do, is the image that might create for me in the context of society as a whole. I mean if we think about it, its much harder to be out-of-the-ordinary when we are constantly being fed the idea that we need to fit into a certain type of mold. Through society, social media, advertising, (etc.) this idea is being reinforced that there is one way act, one way to be, one way to live. And how much harder is it to take risks, open up, and be yourself in a world that tells you people will judge you for that.
We are adults, we are professionals, we are parents, teachers, and on an on. All of these labels being used against us as reasons why not instead of a foundation upon which we are encouraged to figure out how to.
But how do we change this image and make space for ourselves to live with that same freedom?
The great Beyonce once said, “Your self-worth is determined by you. You don’t have to depend on someone telling you who you are.” This is the beauty of what children have and what we as adults need. It’s not necessarily about changing other people’s image of you, its about not waiting for permission. It’s embracing who you are in the moment regardless of the pushback you may get. It’s about finding the best possible spaces, people, and outlets for you to express that person inside of you. Its about you channeling the confidence and self-love of your inner child and allowing yourself to be a little “weird” in pursuit of being you. It’s about simply being yourself, always, and never apologizing. Because it is who you are and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.