Why Do We Camouflage Our REAL?

April 11, 2017

Honestly, I don’t fully understand why as humans we feel the need to change who we are to fit a mold or to fit another’s expectation of who we should be. However, I understand this is ever-present in our world today. In fact, I know it all too well. 

When I was a little girl, I lived a pretense of who I was. I’d lie to my teachers about bruises; it was for my “protection.” I’d defend my family and tell stories that were nowhere near the truth because I thought that was what I should do. After a while, lying about the reality became easier than telling the truth. In fact, it became apparent I was doing everything within my power to “live” a life that was nowhere close to the REAL me. At eighteen years old, I moved out of my home, and it hit me like a ton of bricks! Being authentic was not a part of my character. Was I still my spunky, silly self? Yes. But, at the core of my being, I lived a facade. 

Then, doubt set in. What if no one would ever accept me based on my past? Have I become so good at pretending that I don’t even know who I am? I was very aware of my weaknesses–knew those well. However, I wondered, do I have strengths? If I do, how do I discover them? During this soul-searching moment, I remember thinking, “I have to retrain my brain; that seems daunting.”

Immediately after these thoughts, came a desire to defend my actions. “I had to do it; I didn’t have a choice. I was just a kid. It was for protection.” Then, my heart-felt heavy and raw. “I don’t have to live a lie any longer. I’m on my own. I need to discover WHO I am and embrace it. No matter how awkward it might be. No matter how others might perceive me.” 

Honestly, the process of being REAL with myself and with others was not easy. In fact, it was incredibly difficult. It’s not easy to unlearn eighteen years of behaviors that have become a part of what “defined” you. But, being REAL can be a learned behavior. It isn’t impossible to learn (or relearn) to be YOU.

While this might sound silly or irrelevant to the world of education, it’s so very connected. I see educators all around the world camouflaging their REAL when they meet with particular individuals of status, or maybe they are afraid to share their unique characteristics in certain settings because it wouldn’t be accepted. How about those of us that focus so heavily on beefing up our weaknesses to try to impress others, be it administrators, community members, politicians, students, and teachers? Are we insecure? Is it money or a “name”? Fear? Fear of failure? Have we practiced this behavior for so long that we have forgotten who we REALLY are? Are we in defense mode? Or, just like I did as a child, do we think we have no choice? Is it for our “protection”? Do we bury the thoughts of unlearning this behavior and just consider it to be our new norm? 

Back to my birth of REAL. While it was difficult to intentionally tell the truth about my whereabouts or my fears or thoughts, I learned that others accepted me–just the way I am. They may disagree with me, but it was ok. I began to understand that being open with my concerns and voicing my ideas about a decision was empowering. Many times my voice was valued and included in the decision-making. In fact, I began being honest with others about my weird, quirky characteristics, too, and we would all giggle and carry on with life. I even shared my huge mistakes and how I would do it differently next time. Much later in life, I shared parts of my story as a little girl, and surprisingly those I told didn’t shun me. In fact, they seemed to appreciate our relationship more. The REAL–good, bad and ugly–is what makes us unique and valuable. Do some people think I’m a weirdo? Yes. Do others think I’m a freak? Most definitely. And, guess what? It’s ok. 

All of that is simply to say this, as educators we can’t hide our REALness from those whom we work for and with, and we certainly can’t model this behavior for students. My favorite face-to-face encounter with educators from Twittersphere is when it feels like I literally leapt out of the computer screen and began having lunch with them. No difference. They are WHO they say they are whether it be awesomeness, flaws, quirkiness, passion, sarcasm, frustrations, desire to change the educational experiences for students–the good, bad and the ugly! I’m instantly connected to these types of individuals. I love the authenticity; it’s inspiring.

On the contrary, when others are one way with one set of individuals and another with a different group, I lose trust. I wonder, “Do they live what they are saying today?” “Which mask are they going to wear for this meeting?” It’s a sad realization this behavior is named in education. I think our students, educators, and the school community deserve better. 

Side note: Don’t get me wrong, I’d never share all things that float through this never-stopping mind of mine. NO way! That’s ridiculous. 

I am going to leave with this last thought; I had a district administrator call one of my references for a job interview screening. While the comment from my reference may not have seemed glowing, it resonated with me in a REAL way. They simply said, “Tara Martin? One thing is for sure, what you see is what you get. If you like it, that’s what she will be. If you didn’t, that’s what she will be. What you see is what you get with Tara.” I’ll take it. In fact, the administrator calling said, “That’s all I need. We want what we saw. Thank you.”

Why do we camouflage our REAL? 

If you feel you are guilty of camouflaging your REAL, it’s not too late. We can learn to be REAL. 

Be YOU! That’s what the world not only wants but needs.

I wrote this in a REAL moment yesterday but was inspired to publish it today when my VERY REAL superintendent shared his transparency with our Leadership Academy this evening. Thank you, Kyle Hayden. You model the leader I hope to be.

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