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Are You True to Yourself?

Authentic people know their boundaries.

One of the problems many of us have is the inability to say no. We want to please our parents. We want to fit in at school. We want the boss to value us. We learn to say yes even when in our hearts we want to say no. We spend so much of our time pleasing others that we lose ourselves.

I was surprised when I read that Oprah Winfrey had said that it wasn’t until she was 40 years old before she learned to say no. She described how, because of her reputation, she would be approached by all sorts of people seeking financial help, and it was all too common for her to automatically say yes and get out her checkbook. She realized that this was the result of her own childhood, which was abusive and set her up with a fear of rejection, leaving her to run ragged trying to fulfill others’ expectations.

She realized this was what she was doing and that she did not have to prove anything to anyone, but, more importantly, she had to accept herself. She tells of how she wrote a few words that she keeps on her desk:

“Never again will I do anything for anyone that I do not feel directly from my heart. I will not attend a meeting, make a phone call, write a letter, sponsor or participate in any activity in which every fiber of my being does not resound ‘yes’. I will act with the intent to be true to myself.”

Oprah Winfrey clearly has some flexibility in her life to stand her ground in a way that most of us don’t, because she is a powerful and rich person, whereas most of us simply have to do things we don’t want to do. Or do we?

The truth is that many of us are a lot more powerful than we dare to let ourselves know, and we do have the capacity to say no more often than we do. Once we realize this, we can learn to change.

Next time you are asked to do something, give yourself time to reflect on what it means to you and whether it will be consistent with your values. "Thank you for asking me. I appreciate the invitation, but I will have to think about it. I will get back to you tomorrow." "I have thought about your request and I have to say no. It is not something I want to do."

You will find your own words. Yes, your life will begin to change. You may even lose friends. But do you want friends who wish you to do things that you don’t want to do?

Whether it is friends, your family, or your boss, if they are asking you to do things that do not fit in with your values and that you do not wish to do, remember that it is your life, and ultimately, you choose your actions. At the same time, you have to be realistic about the implications of living an authentic life. If, for example, your boss asks you to do something that is completely in keeping with your job description and you don’t want to do it, the bigger choice for you is whether you are in the right job. You might think to yourself: I don’t want to do this, but it is what I’m paid to do, so I either do it or I resign and find something else which allows me to be true to myself.

To be able to be assertive and to say no, we need to be able to listen to our own inner voice to know exactly where we draw the boundaries around us in our lives.

Adapted from Authentic: How to Be Yourself and Why It Matters


Oprah Winfrey (2014), ‘What I know for sure’, Psychologies Magazine UK edition, p. 146

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