An exclusive extract from 'Live Your Best Life: A Guide to Authenticity, Confidence and Resilience'.
‘As long as you are not causing harm, you should be free to do whatever brings you genuine happiness and fulfilment in life’ (Ben Wardle, Live Your Best Life)
If there’s one thing that makes both my heart break and my blood boil in equal measure, it is seeing people feel like they have to apologise for who they authentically are. Because of the utterly irrelevant and uninvited opinions of other people, so many of us feel like we have to go through life apologising for our appearance or personal identity. This is nothing short of an absolute scandal!
Fears of other people’s opinions, criticisms and judgements leads to many people limiting their self-expression as human beings. So many of us stop ourselves from wearing certain outfits, for example, because we are afraid about what people in the street might say. We try to change or ‘tone down’ certain aspects of our personality because we are so anxious about what other people - perhaps in the playground or in the workplace - will think about us. Fear of being rejected paralyses us and leaves us desperate to blend in or, at the very least, avoid being ridiculed by others.
As a result of our fears, we make a habit of apologising for who we are. I have lost track of the number of times that I have caught myself apologising for my personality. Over the years, I have started hundreds of sentences with the words ‘I know that I’m probably too much for you...’ or ‘I’m sorry that my personality is so flamboyant but...’
I endured a childhood of being picked on for being ‘gay’, ‘so over-the-top’, ‘dramatic’ and ‘acting like a girl’. As a result, I always felt that I needed to apologise for my personality. I always wanted to get my apology in before someone else had the chance to start picking apart my personality and brutally assassinating my character.
Now that I am so much more confident in my skin, I can finally see that this was utterly wrong! Why on earth should you ever feel ashamed of being the best version of yourself? Why on earth should you ever apologise for doing the things that make you genuinely happy?
The truth is this. As long as you are not causing harm to anybody else, you are free to do whatever you want. You are free to express yourself in whatever way makes you genuinely happy. I see it like this. Suppose you are not causing anybody else any kind of harm. In that case, there is no reason for you to apologise for who you authentically are! Of course, that doesn’t mean that everybody has to like me, but it does mean that I don’t have to apologise to them if they don’t! As you’ll find out a little later in this book, I passionately believe that ‘what other people think about you is none of your business’. As long as you aren’t causing harm, then you shouldn’t be worrying for one single second about what people are thinking about you! Here’s how I like to see it: If they can’t cope with your fabulousness, then that is their problem and not yours!
As we read in the New Testament: ‘Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way as you judge others, you will be judged, and with the same measure you use, it will be measured to you’ (Matthew 7:1). People have no right to start judging your appearance, interests or personality - as long as you are not causing anybody any harm, you do not have to apologise to anybody! Back in the 19th century, the liberal philosopher John Stuart Mill encapsulated this idea in his ‘non-harm principle’. According to Mill’s principle, every human being is free to do whatever they please as long as they are not causing harm to anybody else. People have no right to interfere with the choices that you make in your day-to-day existence! He writes in ‘On Liberty’, first published in 1859, that ‘the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others’. I’ll say it for the one-hundredth time: as long as you are not causing harm to anybody, you are free to do whatever makes you genuinely happy in life!
You - just as much as anybody else - have a fundamental right to live a life free from persecution, abuse, exploitation, bullying or any other kind of intentionally-caused harm. As John Stuart Mill wrote in the 19th century, anyone who commits ‘acts injurious to others’ (anything that causes damage to other people – either directly or indirectly) must face moral reprobation and – in the gravest of cases – punishment.
This means that, as long as you are not causing harm to anybody else, you should be free to live your best life and to do more of the things that make you genuinely happy. And you should never feel ashamed, embarrassed, anxious, or apologetic about doing so! According to Mill, the secret to finding true happiness in life is escaping from the prison of public opinion and choosing to start living life on your terms. Nothing is more important than choosing to take control of your life as an autonomous individual! And that begins with refusing to apologise for who you authentically are!
It is genuinely heartbreaking to see just how many people spend their whole lives feeling terrified of being mocked, labelled, or singled out. This was the way that I lived my life for so many years! To say that I was terrified of people’s nasty comments and rejection is an understatement! I was paralysed by a fear of being told that someone didn’t like me. As a result of this desperation for acceptance and approval, so many people go through life battling to suppress their authentic identity and trying to hide who they are. Instead of taking control of their lives, these people try to conform and live their lives in fear of criticism from others. They try and become someone they think other people will approve of, failing to realise all this will create is a life of sadness, frustration, fear, and alienation.
Of course, it does always feel a lot safer to be a sheep and fit in. It is a lot safer to conform rather than to take the risk of putting your authentic self out there and daring to be different. And, of course, if you genuinely enjoy blending into the background and living a low-key life, then there is nothing wrong with that whatsoever. Indeed, if you have chosen to live this way because it’s what makes you genuinely happy and fulfilled, then you are living your best life, and I salute you for it! But (and that is a very big but!), if you are only conforming because you are terrified of rejection, then you need to know something: taking comfort in conformity will never bring you true happiness in the long-term.
Suppose your life is being driven by a desire to avoid rejection. In that case, your life is going to become nothing but one long struggle against your authentic self! The truth is this: the more that you try and hide who you are, the unhappier you will become. Suppose you chase conformity rather than cultivating individuality. In that case, you will never fulfil your true potential or find genuine happiness as a human being. In the New Testament, Jesus teaches his followers this: ‘No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand so that those who come in may see the light’ (Luke 12:33). We need to recognise that we are each a powerful and precious light - you have an extraordinary opportunity to become a beacon of positivity, love and authenticity in this world. So stop hiding away and desperately trying to blend in! Instead, choose to live a fearlessly authentic life! It could not be more precise: to live a happy life, you need to stop chasing conformity and start cultivating authenticity.
Indeed, you can only live a genuinely happy, fulfilling and enriching experience when you are fearlessly living as your most authentic self. It is only when we dare to express ourselves as unique that we can fulfil our potential and start thriving through life! As John Stuart Mill says, ‘it is only the cultivation of individuality which produces, or can produce, well-developed human beings’. Remember that being an authentic individual is nothing to apologise for – your uniqueness is, in fact, a cause for celebration! I cannot stress this to you enough. The only reason that anybody is ever justified in criticising or rebuking you is if you are actively causing intentional harm. As long as you are not hurting anybody, you do not have to apologise to anyone. Whilst people do indeed have a right to pass judgment on every single aspect of your appearance, personality or identity. You do not have to take their decisions to heart! Do not give other people’s narrow-minded and judgmental opinions about you one single second of your attention!
It is one of my golden rules in life to never take criticism from someone who I wouldn’t take advice from. We all need to stop holding back because we are scared of what other people will think of us. Stop apologising for being ‘too much’ or for being ‘different’.
Start realising that your uniqueness is something to celebrate, not something you have to apologise for! If someone cannot accept you for who you authentically are, it is their problem and not yours. If someone cannot accept you for living as your authentic self, then they do not deserve to be in your life. Don’t be afraid to show them the door and send them on their way! In life, you only get what you put up with - and you should never put up with being judged or attacked for being who you authentically are! Remember that as long as you are not causing anybody else any harm, you have nothing to apologise for. Hold your head up high and know your unconditional worth. This is your one life – and you deserve to live it to the absolute full! You - just as much as anybody else - deserve to experience the genuine happiness that comes from cultivating individuality and fulfiling your unique potential.
So stop apologising and start thriving! Dare to unapologetically live your truth. And dare to be genuinely proud of who you authentically are.