Ranjana TN

Exploring self-expression

What is the meaning of self-expression? I looked up the definition online and there were a few different variations:

Dictionary.com defines self-expression as: “the expression or assertion of one’s own personality, as in conversation, behavior, poetry, or painting.”

Lexico.com, which is powered by Oxford defines it as: “The expression of one’s feelings, thoughts, or ideas, especially in writing, art, music, or dance.”

Merriam-Webster has a broader definition: “the expression of one’s own personality.”

Clearly, at the core of self-expression is the expression of one’s individual personality. The outlets can be multiple. When I think of self-expression, a few people who spring to mind are Oprah Winfrey, JK Rowling, Tim Ferriss, Steve Pavlina, Tom Bilyeu, Marie Forleo, Elon Musk, Eminem, Andy Puddicombe, and even the infamous Donal Trump. They come from a variety of walks of life – singers, artists, politicians, authors, bloggers, CEOs, monks. The common theme that runs amongst all of them is that they share who they really are. You just know that they are being themselves. There’s no pretext. Nothing put on. They are uniquely themselves. That’s what makes them so captivating. You can love them, you can hate them, but you can’t ignore them.

My story

Like all other stories, my story comes with its own highs and lows, twists and turns, moments of laughter and tears. My twenties were pretty intense. I stepped into my twenties as quite a timid person who was taught to keep her head down at all costs and learn to be a good daughter and student. I had grown up in the cocoon of my middle-class south Indian family and the big bad world outside scared me. Going through two years of MBA program was a harrowing experience. It uncovered some deep anxiety issues and I had panic attacks nearly every night.

With a stroke of luck, I stumbled into a job in sales that pushed me to step outside my comfort zone under the guidance of a kindly boss. I blindly followed his guidance on how I should navigate sales and life in general. The next five years were a roller coaster ride the details of which I won’t go into here. Suffice it to say that I was tested in every possible way emotionally, physically, mentally, and even spiritually. I changed jobs a couple of times before finally starting my own company with an ex-colleague. At each step of the way, I was learning skills that were helping me become a valuable worker. However, at each step, I was also following the lead of someone else. I was conforming to someone else’s idea of what I should be, what my goals should look like, and how my life should be sculpted.

Apprenticeship is critical because it helps you become skilled. But what if you could never grow out of being an apprentice? Would you be happy being an apprentice all your life? What if breaking free meant hurting those very same people who’d helped you get to where you were? These were some tough questions I had to battle at the end of my twenties. I recognized that as I stepped into the next decade, I was also stepping out of being an apprentice and into my own person. It was exhilarating and scary at the same time. It involved a fair bit of mourning too.

Stepping into your own person

At the heart of becoming you is self-expression. Self-expression is important because if you aren’t expressing who you are, you don’t feel whole, you don’t feel comfortable in your skin, you are living life as a mere shadow of yourself. It’s also a way to give wings to your purpose and touch others. If you aren’t expressing yourself, how do you hope to share your gifts with the world? Self-expression does as much for the world as it does for you. Not convinced? Take a look at the lives of some of the people I mentioned above. You’ll get what I mean.

As with everything else in life, self-expression needs concerted effort especially if you have a history of holding yourself back. It might also take you a whole bunch of experimenting and dabbling to figure out what your best avenue of expressing yourself is. You might also find that it takes you a bit of time to get on the path of self-expression. Case in point – I knew that I wanted to express myself in the written word for years and years. I knew that I wanted to be a writer, blogger, and author. It took me more than half a decade to finally muster the courage and willingness to set up my own website and start writing regularly. Hopefully, it doesn’t take as long for you.

I’ll deep-dive into ways in which a person can explore self-expression in a different post this week. For now, I’ll leave you with this quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson, another one of my favourite poets (you might’ve guessed by now that I love poems and quotes!):

“Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can offer with the cumulative force of a whole life’s cultivation, but of the adopted talent of another, you have only an extemporaneous, half possession.”