Shades of You

color swatchesMy son once corrected me on something I had no idea about. I referred to pink as a colour and he was quick to share that pink was actually a shade of red, not a colour itself. Although I passed it off as semantics, as shades are also colours, it did make me recognize the association of pink with red more. Pink, maroon, rust, and garnet, are all connected by its base colour: red.

At this point, you might be wondering why I am delving into this topic. Here’s the connection: our identities are like colours. How we present ourselves to different parts of the world should be shades of our base identities. However, I know that many of us have tried to present ourselves as completely different colours in different situations. Blue at work, orange at home, yellow in the community.

Are you a chameleon?

The issue with presenting a variety of colours causes us to disconnect from our authenticity. We essentially become chameleons- and chameleons don’t get seen. If you feel like you aren’t being valued, it’s possibly because you are inadvertently camouflaging yourself. In our struggle to find out where we belong, we can end up blending in and settle for fitting in. We don’t figure out how to shine or thrive in our environment. When you are presenting an inauthentic identity, your actions might seem basic, average, or mediocre. You aren’t that great at the task, but you can complete it if instructed to do so. For example, you have the task of getting ready for your dinner party. You might naturally be great at social connections, but not be a detail-oriented person. If you try to live up to what you think others expect of you and ignore your own strengths, you might be making basic name cards, decorations are a few lit candles, and finding a descent Google Play station for background music. If you focus on your natural traits, then you are calling everyone to remind them, and when they arrive you are connecting with each one of them and bringing the vibe of the party up. Now, imagine the roles being reversed. You would have Pinterest worthy hand crafted name cards; you’ve have amazing wall hangings to match the dinner theme for decorations, and you’ve curated a play list for the event, but send a quick mass email reminder of the details. Either way, if you stick to your natural colour, something from that dinner party will be memorable. If you focus on another, inauthentic, colour, then, well, you’ve camouflaged yourself.

Camouflaging ourselves also requires work that covertly drains us. We have to put effort into presenting ourselves inauthentically. We begin to resent any colour that doesn’t match our real self, and the people we feel we have to present this way to. Think about it. Do you change who you are when talking to your boss, your in-laws, even some of your friends? How do you see those relationships? Do they run smoothly? Do you have to prep yourself, or give a pep talk before spending time with them? Do you feel comfortable being around them? Let’s be honest, we have enough work on our plates already with the roles and responsibilities. Doing these things inauthentically is like cooking your family dinner in heels (assuming heels are not comfortable for you).

I am not suggesting that we should just be red, or blue, or green all the time either. That would make us one dimensional, boring, and not adaptive. Of course, we have to adjust ourselves based on the environment we are in.

Having Your True Colour Shine Through

There is a difference between having multiple identities and having different facets to one identity. If you expect yourself to be blue at work, orange at home, and yellow in the community, your true colour will never shine through, and Cyndi Lauper’s song will make you sad. However if your base colour is purple, let’s say, then you can be lavender at home, fuscia at work, and grape in the community. Something that defines you, say your sense of humor stays constant, but you might have age and situation appropriate humor at home and work. Or your ability to have compassion might be stronger at home and in the community, but in the workplace could look different; instead of hugging your coworkers, you make a validating statement to them, or even give them an “I empathize with you” look.

Here are some tips to consider when finding your colour and shades:

  • When you feel uncomfortable or unnatural, what are you doing/how are you behaving? What are you trying to do? These are not your colours; drop them.
  • What are your strong character traits? Ask your friends, take a personality assessment, do your research. List them out.
  • How do the character traits you’ve found contribute to your different roles?
  • How could you adjust them to meet the needs of the environment?

Once you find your colour, now you know how to shine. It is true our society needs a variety of colours to thrive, so figure out how you specifically contribute. For the colours you don’t have, make connections with people who have these traits, and help each other out.