There is a terrible affliction that affects almost every human being – and that's the fear of being yourself.
It's incredibly sad, because humans are wonderful beings with the most interesting personalities, yet we rarely get to see people for who they truly are.
We invest a great deal of energy into engineering our appearance and personality to portray ourselves in the way in which society deems acceptable.
We engineer stories, censor our personalities and conceal the full spectrum of our identity, out of fear of being judged.
I've battled with this for many years. I've always been a bit, OK, a lot different – almost every aspect of my life is unconventional. I've been bullied in the past, judged, called crazy and made to feel awful on numerous occasions throughout my life for being different.
As a result, I've spent many years worrying what other people think, trying to conform and restrict my personality.
Guess what? This made me feel even worse! The excruciating pressure of worrying about what people think, mentally screening everything you say or do in order to appease other people, is totally overwhelming.
Learning to be yourself, and not caring what anyone else thinks of you is one of the most empowering journeys you can embark on. It's not easy, but it is within your reach.
Caveat: I'm no expert. However, here are the four lessons I've learned so far.
1. Accept Yourself For Who You Are
This is really tough. If your goal is to be completely comfortable in your own skin, you absolutely have to accept yourself completely.
This means accepting all of your quirks, bad habits and all the things about yourself that you may not like – perhaps you're out of shape and hate your body, or you're ashamed about something you've done in the past or you can't accept your sexual orientation. Whatever it is, you have to go through the (lengthy) process of accepting yourself for who you are before you can even begin to dismiss what other people think of you.
Yes, some aspects you can change and improve – if you're out of shape – join the gym, but accept yourself for who you are right now and work towards becoming a better version of yourself. Don't provide yourself with conditional acceptance based on something you will change in the future.
There are some things you can't change: if you've done something in your past that you regret, you can't change that, but you can change how you feel about it. You can choose to cling onto regret and let it ruin your life, or you can choose to let it go, move on and become a better, more informed person. You can even choose to leverage your own mistakes to help other people avoid them.
This is all easier said than done, of course. Discovering the things about yourself that you don't accept can be a lengthy process; and it requires a lot of commitment to start studying yourself on a daily basis.
The Process of Self Acceptance
Start by making a commitment to becoming more aware of your own thoughts. Give yourself some down time every day to quietly sit and observe and analyse your thoughts – over time you'll begin to notice patterns and corresponding emotions when you think about yourself and things you have said and done. Some feelings will be positive and some will be negative.
For example: you might think "Oh god, why did I talk about UFOs to that guy/girl at the party last night? They will think I'm so weird."
With the above example, it would be evident that you're uncomfortable talking about your interest in UFOs, and that might simply be the case – but you should dig a little deeper.
It's also likely that you're holding onto a fear that other people won't approve of you and accept you. In fact, many of your personal issues may lead back to this root fear.
Once you become aware of these parts of yourself, you need to begin the process of self-acceptance. It's not going to happen overnight; and it's going to take some effort.
Your most effective method for doing this is to replace your negative self-talk with positive self-talk.
So, "Oh god, why did I talk about UFOs to that guy/girl at the party last night? They will think I'm so weird."
"I really enjoy my interest in UFOs and it's great that I can confidently share my hobbies with other people. If they don't feel the same – that is fine, everyone is different and I accept that."
"I'm so overweight. I hate the way I look."
"I accept the way I look and I am taking one step closer to having the body I desire, every single day."
Combine this with positive action (e.g. sensible eating choices and an exercise programme) – and you will begin to accept the way you look now, while also improving your appearance and working towards the body you want.
The key here is to become so aware of your own thoughts that you catch yourself in self-defeating thought patterns as soon as they begin, and immediately change your thought to a positive, self-serving thought.
It really helps if you write down all your regular negative thoughts, and then write a positive alternative next to each. Memorise these or write them on post-its and stick it on your bathroom mirror.
Make this a habit and do it repeatedly over time and you will begin to replace your old thoughts with new ones.
This might sound like airy-fairy nonsense, but this is called neurolinguistic-programming, a technique which has been used for decades by psychologists to reprogramme human thought patterns and alter negative behaviour.
Surround Yourself with Great Friends
Like many people, I've battled with self-acceptance issues in one form or another for much of my life, but in the past few years I've progressed leaps and bounds and right now I'm investing heavily in getting past them for good.
I've become much more open in the past 12 months; I've started sharing things that I've kept a secret for much of my life.
I started confiding in my best friends and when they didn't judge me and still accepted me, I realised that a lot of the things I'd kept locked away in my mind actually aren't even bad, and if my friends can accept me, then I can too.
One person, who came into my life last year, continually pushed me every single day towards mastering self-acceptance. She highlighted all the issues I was having that I was unaware of, pointed out the people who were hindering me and provided me with the support I needed.
Never underestimate the power of surrounding yourself with friends who accept you and help you on your journey, but be aware that this is not the solution - ultimately your acceptance needs to come from within you.
2. Stop Seeking Validation From Other People
The world fears the person who doesn't need the validation of others.
When you don't care what other people think of you, you can't be manipulated or controlled by other people. You are in command of your own life and you can do whatever you want.
Society has constructed the perfect prison to keep everyone in line. The prison is guarded by the fear of what other people will think of you. Few dare to step outside of it's walls and be different (be themselves) in case other people judge them and this keeps everyone conforming to perceived societal norms.
Society doesn't want you to become a self-accepting, confident individual who doesn't care what other people think, because then you become a loose cannon who can't be controlled.
When you start to become more self-confident and you start putting yourself out there, you will naturally start gauging how people react.
Maybe you start wearing different clothes, or you start posting some unconventional thoughts online, observe people's reactions without judgement and never let it define you or make you change something about yourself. If people don't like your new clothes, wear them anyway.
You don't need anyone to tell you what's OK and what isn't. Do whatever makes YOU happy. Once you can do that, you're in a very powerful position.
Meet the Resistance
The more comfortable you become being yourself and doing what you want; people are going to think that you're weird, crazy, and losing the plot. You don't have to be like David Icke and talking about giant space lizards controlling planet earth for people to think you're insane.
I've recently been writing and talking about travelling around the world while running my business from my laptop. Wanting to see the world isn't really that crazy, right?
"You're having a mid-life crisis"
"Oh God, Kyle is losing the plot on Twitter"
"I can't understand why you'd want to do this"
"You think it's hard being you, try being your mother"
And that's mostly just friends and family responding to me going travelling. It can be stressful listening to people you care about voicing their concerns, but it is harmless and I am grateful to have people who care about me.
It can get much worse though.
I've shared personal stories with people, who have flat out rejected parts of me and made me feel bad about myself.
And then there's the frenemies. People who pretend to be your friend, who are always there on the sidelines to cheer you on, but who tear you down in the same breath.
This sounds like a lot to deal with, but the secret is – the stress of listening to this stuff and ignoring it is MUCH less stressful than having to conform and live your life to other people's ideals and standards.
It's much easier to just let it out, be yourself and let people diss you, hate you and criticise you because you learn that it's just not worth the energy to care.
If you come across someone who can't accept you for who you are, then remove them from your life. You deserve better. No-one should ever make you feel bad about who you are.
And the truth is, people are always judging you anyway no matter what you do or say, so you might as well do what you want regardless.
3. Say What You Really Think
Ever met a really successful, self-assured person? You probably thought they were quite blunt, maybe even a bit rude or maybe you thought they were a bit of an a**hole.
They probably weren't intentionally trying to make you feel bad, but self-assured people will often just say it like it is and if you're in any way insecure, you may take it personally or even be hurt by it.
I've had my ideas torn to shreds by many people over the last few years, including successful Silicon Valley multi-millionaires and investors. At first, it really bothered me, but over time I realised they weren't being mean or trying to put me down, they were just giving me their honest opinion in a direct manner and I've grown to respect people who do this.
Once you have a positive opinion of yourself, then other people's opinions about you don't really matter. It's just a differing of viewpoints and there doesn't need to be any negative emotion involved. You can learn from other people's opinions, or you can disregard them, but you can never learn anything from someone who just tells you want you want to hear.
Speaking Your Mind
Adopting a "say it like it is" attitude isn't a bad thing.
It is perfectly fine to be honest and say what you really think. No-one will ever respect you for lying or concealing the truth.
It's inevitable that at some point, you will offend someone, but it's much better to speak your truth and offend one person and whilst gaining the respect of 10 others than it is to sit on the fence and have no respect from anyone.
I'm not suggesting you should go around and personally insult people, but don't hold back on saying what you believe in because you think other people won't like it.
Unless you are attacking someone on a personal level, anyone who is offended by who you are or what you say; the problem is firmly within them, not you.
If you're worried about this happening or someone arguing with you, remember: you don't owe anyone any justification for your actions. If you observe how many famous people deal with haters and trolls, you will notice they simply ignore them.
That's Crazy Talk
You may be thinking that people will think you're crazy if you start speaking your mind, but those people probably think you're already crazy anyway and the truth is, everyone is a little crazy. Most people are just too afraid to put themselves out there.
I say a lot of weird things all the time. Do people think I'm nuts? Absolutely, but I've made much better friendships with people who are interested in the same topics than I would have had I kept these things to myself.
Remember, all the greatest people throughout history who changed the world or did anything meaningful, were all thought to be crazy by someone or everyone. Being a little crazy is a good thing. If you can see the world differently to everyone else, relish in the fact because you can capitalise on all the opportunities that other people can't see.
4. Own Your Own Weirdness
If you're a little bit weird or crazy, then build this into your own personal brand and use it as a positive tool to make yourself stand out.
Everyone is different. Some people call it weird, but I just think of everyone as a unique and interesting human being.
Thinking of people as weird (in a bad way) because they are different to you is a really narrow-minded view on humanity and you shouldn't make time for people who think like this; they will only judge you and try to make you feel bad. You don't need that kind of negativity.
All your weird hobbies, interests and your own way of looking at the world is what makes you INTERESTING. Never be ashamed of it; it's who you are.
While I'm writing this, my business partner is telling me that he used to take part in medieval re-enactments.
Is that unusual? Maybe.
If you're at a networking event, who are you going to remember speaking to? One of the many people talking about Brexit, or the guy who wears a suit of armour at the weekend and re-enacts a scene from Braveheart?
But Weird People Are Creepy
You may have met some weird people in the past who creeped you out.
I've met a few myself and I've also creeped out plenty of people by talking about weird stuff, but then I realised:
The difference between weird people who are cool and weird people who are "creepy" is that the cool people OWN their weirdness. They are comfortable being weird; they embrace it and display it with CONFIDENCE.
The people who come across as "creepy weird" are not comfortable or confident with being different. However, they still deserve respect for not censoring themselves.
If you present someone with something they are unfamiliar with, they will look to you or others to see how they should react. If you're uncomfortable, then they will feel uncomfortable.
Imagine a guy who loves wearing pink shirts, but maybe he's a little uncomfortable about it and afraid that people will question his masculinity. Other people will pick up his awkwardness and they will feel uneasy around him. If someone teases him about it, he may respond badly and those around him will feel even more uncomfortable.
Now, imagine a self-assured guy who doesn't care what anyone thinks; he wears his pink shirt with confidence. People might make jokes or tease him, but he doesn't care and banters back because he's centred and self-assured. Others won't feel uneasy, in fact they will be drawn to his confidence.
I'm a pretty weird guy by many accounts, and most of my friends would agree, but for many years I lacked the confidence to be different.
Now? I LOVE being weird. Do you know how much more interesting the world is when you see everything differently to everyone else?
Yes, sometimes it can be hard to relate to people, but when I do connect with someone, I connect with them on a much DEEPER level. I hate small talk, but I can sit for hours on end discussing business, personal development or the law of attraction because it feels much more meaningful than talking about what happened in insert name of latest TV show here.
I have some wonderful friends who are all comfortable being themselves and I have great relationships with them. I'd never of met half of them or have the quality of relationships that I have if I was too afraid to be myself and I hadn't put myself out there to meet people interested in similar things.
Don't believe me about any of this? Go look at most of the world's most famous celebrities – most of them are pretty weird - some are insanely weird but they're confident, they own their weirdness and people think they're cool, not weird.
Lady Gaga can wear a dress made of meat and people think it's cool because she's confident and doesn't care what anyone thinks.
A shy, insecure person doing the same thing would be called all sorts.
There's Really No Such Thing as Weird Anyway
I've used the word weird a lot, but I really don't believe anything is weird. It's a completely subjective word.
Someone who enjoys medieval re-enactment might think it's weird that you collect stamps and play chess. Someone who loves spiders might think it's awesome that you love collecting stamps.
Everyone is different and has different interests that's one of the beautiful things about life and meeting other people. So don't censor yourself and try to be like everyone else because you will never stand out and make a mark on the world.
Just be yourself, enjoy it and stop caring what other people think about you.