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The art of being yourself | Caroline McHugh | TEDxMiltonKeynesWomen

Discovering a True Reflection: Unveiling the Unique Gifts of Roberto Benigni, Eve Ensler and Others

  • The True Mirror is an invention that allows people to see themselves as others do
  • John and Catherine Walters discovered that two mirrors at right angles to each other create this effect
  • Caroline, the speaker, had a disorientating experience when she looked in the mirror
  • She had a flashback to watching her mother put on makeup when she was younger
  • Individuals who are successful have figured out the unique gift they have and use it towards their goals
  • Social reformation begins with the individual developing their own individuality
  • Roberto Benigni, Eve Ensler, and other successful people are larger than life because they use all of their gifts given by the universe.

Exploring the I Complex: Old Age, Children and the Journey to Self-Awareness

  • Jill Scott’s story is used to illustrate the idea of interiority, an uncomparative disposition related to self-awareness
  • Jill reveals that children are often more adept at being themselves without shame or fear, and that old age also brings an increased sense of authenticity
  • The idea of ‘just be yourself’ is explored, highlighting the inherent difficulty in understanding how one should do this as well as the role that life circumstances play in becoming a person
  • The “I complex” is proposed as a way to consider which version of ‘I’ someone may mean when they use the word.

Singer Jill Scott Preps for Stage After Erykah Badu, Caroline McHugh Explores Power of Context and Approval Addiction

  • Jill Scott is a singer about to go on stage and perform after Erykah Badu
  • Caroline McHugh explains the power of context in terms of understanding perception and being oneself
  • She discusses “approval addiction,” which affects women more than men, as well as an “I complex” composed of four parts: what others think of you, what you would like others to think of you, your adaptive personality, and your wish image
  • McHugh advises that the best time to ask yourself such questions is when you are strong, in a job, or loved
  • Finally she poses the question: if one could be the woman of their dreams, who would they be?

Finding Balance: An Exploration of Humility and Equilibrium for Success in a Western World

  • Humility is not thinking less of yourself
  • Rather it is thinking about yourself less
  • The concept of equilibrium is introduced, which is the middle ground between self-congratulation and self-castigation
  • Humility and equilibrium are two key ingredients to building a stable relationship with oneself in order to achieve success in a Western, capitalist world
  • An example of how one can develop this inner state of mind that perseveres through highs and lows regardless of external circumstances is provided through the experience of a singer learning at a young age to perform for her family.

Gandhis Message on Unchanging Identity Explored at Conference

  • The speaker introduces the idea of an unchanging identity
  • They discuss how in India one is taught to think of themselves as a spiritual being in a physical body, while Westerners focus more on the physical body
  • They reference Gandhi and his response that “my life is my message” when asked what his message to the world was
  • They explain that one’s identity should not be defined by their thoughts, feelings, possessions, or actions but rather something underneath all that
  • Finally, they encourage the audience to tap into their inner voice and take advantage of any opportunities presented to them.

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Translator: TED Translators adminReviewer: Peter van de VenThe chances areyou've looked in at leastone mirror today.You've had a shave,or you combed your hair,or maybe you checkedyour teeth for spinach after lunch,but what you didn't knowis that the face looking back at youisn't the face that everybody else sees.It's a kind of reversed, distorted,back-to-front image.Some years ago,I was on a flight to New York,and I read an article in the FT,and it was an article about a phenomenoncalled a True Mirror -and for the Americans listening,that's a mirror.The True Mirror was actually inventedby a brother and sister team in New York,called John and Catherine Walters.What they discoveredis if you take two mirrors,and you put them together at right angles,and you take the seam away,the images bounce off each other.What you see when you lookin a True Mirroris exactly what other peoplesee when they look at you.So, I land in New York,and I phone John up,and ask him if I can go and see him,and I end up in his gallery in Brooklyn;it was like beingat a sideshow in the circus.There were True Mirrorsfull length, face sized,all over this gallery.When I walked overto the True Mirror for the first time,and I looked in the mirror,it was one of the most disorientatingexperiences I've ever had in my life.The first thing you noticewhen you look in a True Mirroris that your head's not on straight.Yours is kind of going that way,and yours is quite straight actually,and yours is going that way a wee bit;so apparently most of ustilt our heads one way or another.So when you approach a True Mirror,the first thing you try and dois fix your head,but, of course, because it's reversedyou go the wrong way;so it's very, very disorientating.But more importantly, I had a flashback.I had a flashbackto when I was a wee girl.I grew up in Glasgow -in case you haven't noticed,I am Scottish.I grew up in Glasgow, and my mom,when she was putting her makeup on,I used to love sitting and watchingmy mom putting her makeup on,you know, with my chin in my hands.And I would tell her occasionally:"Isn't it funnyhow one side of your top lipis higher than the other sideof your top lip?"She'd look in the mirrorand she'd say, "It is not."And I'd say: "No, it's onlya couple of millimeters,but that side of your cupid's bowis definitely higherthan the other side of your cupid's bow."She'd say, "Caroline, you're havering."When I looked in the True Mirror,there was the lipthat I had been wearing,at that time, for maybe 45 years,and I'd never seen it.The difference iswhen you look in a regular mirror,you look for reassurance.You look for reassurancethat you're beautiful,or you're young, or you're tidy,or your bum doesn't look big in that.But when you look in a True Mirror,you don't look at yourself,you look for yourself.You look for revelation,not for reassurance.And this was deeply interesting to mebecause what I do for a livingis I help people be themselves.Not in any narcissisticor solipsistic way,but because I believethat social reformation begins,always starts with the individual.When you look at remarkable individuals -and when I say remarkableor successful individuals,I don't mean monetarily successful;I mean people that have been successfulat achieving whatever they set out to do -you'll find that the thingthey have in commonis they have nothing in common.These are people who, you know,work in many of the fields I work in.I work with people in corporations,I work with captains of industry,I work with selected politicians.I've worked with geophysicists.I've worked with chamber orchestrasand ballet dancersand pop star and opera singers,and I've identifiedthe thread that links them.These are individuals who've managedto figure out the unique giftthat the universe gave themwhen they incarnated,and then put thatat the service of their goals.I think that we all come complete.We come complete with one true notewe were destined to sing,and these are peoplethat have managed to figure that out.It doesn't dictate your choice of job;what it dictates is how you do it.When we see these peoplewe invariably call them larger than life.You know, you'll seesomebody like Roberto Benigni,and you'll say, "Oh my goodness."Eve Ensler, she's larger than life,which always makes me smilebecause how could you be larger than life?Life is large.But most of us don't take upnearly the spacethe universe intended for us.We take up this wee space around our toes,which is why when you see somebodyin the full flow of their humanity,it's remarkable.They're at least a footbigger in every directionthan normal human beings, and they shine,they gleam,they glow;it's like they've swallowed the moon.And all the work I've donehas led me to believethat individuality really isall it's cracked up to be.In fact, people who arefrightened to be themselveswill work for those who aren't afraid.Now your job is not to beanything like any of the peoplethat I put up behind me.In fact your job is to be as unlike themas you can possibly be.Your only job while you'rehere on the planetis to be as good at being youas they are at being them.That's the deal.So I want to start today by asking youan incredibly personal question.Not the one that says,"Why are there so many syllablesin the word 'monosyllabic'?". No.Not even the one that says,"Did you know that Britney Spearsis an anagram for Presbyterian?". No.(Laughter)Something a wee bit more pivotal.In fact, this is a question that's beenlooking for you your whole life.It's probably the simplestand the most complicatedquestion you'll ever ask.Yet how many times in your lifehas somebody offered youthat well-meaning piece of advicethat you should just be yourself?How many times have yousaid it to somebody else?One of your kids comes to you,or one of your team comes to you,and they tell you they're nervous,they're scared.They have to go and do somethingand their bold goes,and you say to them,"Darlin', just be yourself,because when you'reyourself, you're fabulous."Now it always resonatesbecause it's all we want to do.If you tell John to be himself,he doesn't want to be Mary.He's quite happy being himself,but it's the use of the word"just" that I find interestingbecause it would imply two things.Number one, that that wasan easy thing to do.Number two, that it wasan original piece of advice.You know, John had neverthought about it himself.When it comes to being yourself,when it comes to being in the world,the minute you showed up,the minute you incarnated,you were given a life sentence.Now, you don't know how long you have.Maybe you have 70 years, and I have 62.We've no idea how long we have.Although, where you're born,when you're born, to whom you're born,all these things have a certain influenceor impact on how youbecome who you become.If you're born in Switzerland,chances are you've got a long timeto figure this shit out.If you're born in Zimbabweor some parts of Glasgow,and I'm not kidding,you've got significantly less time.So what I want you to think aboutis not what your life expectancy is,but what do you expect from life?And what does life expect from you?Those are more interesting questions.And the two places in lifewhere you are awesome at being yourself,you're fantastic at being yourself,one of them is when you're a kid.When you're a kid,you're fantastic at being yourselfbecause you don't know how todisguise your differentness.That's why you see kids on the beach,you know, naked up until the age of five,and then suddenlyat the age of six or seventhey want a bathing suit,they want a bikini.Who's got a four-year-old boy?Anybody's got a four-year-old boy?I'll take a three-year-old.Jose, you've got a three-year-old boy.I want you to imagineI go into Eduardo's class in school,and it's a class of three-year-old boys,and I say to the boys,"Who's the strongest boy in the class?"What's going to happen?Every hand, right?Every single hand in the class will go up.They'll be competitively strong.If I go into the same class,but it's full of seven-year-old boys,and ask the same question,they'll say, "Him," because theyknow by time they're seven.He's the strong one,he's the fastest runner,he's the funny guy,he's the bully.Society archetype emergesaround about the ageof five, six, seven, eight.That's why the Jesuits say,"Give me a boy until the age of seven,and I'll show you the man,"because that's the birth of consciousness.And from then onyou become more self-consciousand by default less goodat being yourself.The other place you're fantasticat being yourselfis when you're a wrinkley,because you can't be arsed.You get to that stage in your lifewhere you realizethere are more summers behind youthan there are in front of you,and everything intensifies.You become more honest;you become less compromising.So you're going to tell people,"I don't want the spinach,I'm not going to eat it, I don't like it.And I don't like jazz,so you can shut that noise off.And while I'm at it, I don't like you!"(Laughter)We call these people "eccentric."We call our oldies "eccentric."In fact, what they're doingis being authentic.So it's kind of like an hourglass effect:when you're youngyou're great at being yourself;when you're oldyou're great at being yourself;but the bit in the middleis sometimes the most problematic.That's the bitwhere you have to socialize;you have to accommodate;you have to adapt.So I've developed the "I complex,"and the "I complex"is a model to help you figure outwhich "I" you mean when you say "I."You're very familiarwith the superiority complex.If you have a superiority complex,you pretty much thinkyou're the most importantperson in the room.If you've got an inferiority complexyou suffer froman over-modest self-regard.These are both signs of a fragile ego.One of themis about delusions of grandeur,and the other onedelusions of insignificance.There's a third way of being in the world,and I call it "interiority;"this is one of my made-up words.The word "interiority"describes a particular disposition,and there are two reasonsit might be useful to you.Number one, it's completely uncomparative.If you have a superiority complexor an inferiority complexyou need other people around.For a superiority complexyou need other people to be smaller.For an inferiority complexyou need to sufferfrom the I'm-gonna-be-found-out syndrome,so somebody needs to find you out.Interiority is entirely unrelative,so to operate from thisposition of interiority,it's like a perceptual vantage point.It's a sensibility.It's an orientation.And it's the only place in your life,the only place in your life,you have no competition.Try and find a comparison to yourself,and you'll draw a blank.I could talk to you about interioritytill my tongue bleeds,or I could just show youwhat it looks like.So I want to introduce youto a woman called Jill Scott.You might have her on you iTunes playlist,but Jill's a singer, and she's just aboutto go on stage and perform,and in case you missed the question,there's a French filmmakerwho's filming her.She's going on stage after Erykah Badu,and he says to her, "Are you nervous,you know, going on after Erykah?"And I want you to listen to what she says.(Video) Jill Scott: That chick right therehas definitely led the way for meand a lot of other sisters.You know, I appreciate it.Interviewer: Are you nervousyou're going to perform after her?(Laughter)JS: Have you ever seen me perform?I am the lady Jill Scott.I am a poet, and a singer,and a lot of other things.We all have our own thing,that's the magic,and everybody comeswith their own sense of strength,and their own queendom.Mine could never compare to hers,and hers could never compare to mine.Caroline McHugh: See, you didn'teven know you had a queendom.That's what it looks like.When you figure out how to be yourselfit's an incredibly liberating,untragic way to go through life.You don't develop an identitythat's predicated on beinga patchwork personality.You're not a composite, an amalgam,of all your experiences and influences.You're not just somebody's boss,or somebody's mom,or anybody's anything.You're yourself.However, the chances are,there are at least four of yousitting in each of those chairs,so let me introduce yourselves.The most visible "you"that you represent to the outside worldis what everybody else thinks of you,and there are as many opinions of youas there are people.I want you to imagineyou're like a big USB stickthat you plug into the world.You show up on the desktop of the world.That's the power of context.If you don't understand that bit,being yourself can bean ill-advised strategy.So of course it's importantthat you understand perception,but one of the things I've noticed,in terms of gender,and I'm terribly,untragically woman by the way.I don't find myself tragically woman.I describe myself as a womanist,rather than a feminist,but I'm also a card-carrying feminist.There are very few thingsthat I think are gender-specific,but one of them is somethingI call "approval addiction."The need to be liked,the need for approbation,or recognition, or for somebodyto tell you it's okay.I find more woman sufferfrom that affliction than men,and I think it's oneof the most debilitating things.When it comes to being yourselfneeding other people's approval,loving sombody else's opinion,and mistaking it for your ownis one of the most debilitating thingsyou'll do on the road to being yourself.You will never, ever be perception-less,but it's important to be perception-free.One of the things that is goingto help you to be perception-freeis to tune into the next circleof the "I complex."This is your wish image.This is what you would likeeverybody else to think of you,and it's not about being fake,or fad, or pretending.It's about moving; it's about possibility;it's about potential;it's about supposition.So, whilst there's a part of youthat's like your backbone,this part of you is like your wishbone.This one is your adaptive personality,your construct self,and even that's uniquebecause nobody in the worldhas had the same experiencesor influences that you have.But this is the you that keeps moving,that keeps changing all the time.And it helps you avoidbeing one of those people ...You know the people that say to youthey have 15 years experiencewhen they mean one year, 15 times?They literally repeat themselves,year, after year, after year.What I want you to think aboutis with every passing year,your job is to be better and betterat being who you already are.This is not a cosmetic exercise.You're already different.Your job is to figure out how,and then to be more of that.Now, there are certain times in your lifethat lend themselves to change,that make change quicker, deeper.I call them intervals of possibility.Now, they're not alwaysas well sign-posted as this one,but you know those times in your lifewhen you cometo a bifurcation on the path,and you sense that the potentialfor change is heightened.You meet a stranger in a bar;you have to decidewhat you're going to do.Your boss comes to youand offers you a new job.What do you want, you wantto keep doing the same thing,or do you want this job?And you know that if you make that change,the speed of your life will change.Unfortunately,some of these interventions,some of these intervalsof possibility, are catastrophic.In fact, most of them are catastrophic'cause most of us would rather sleepwalkuntil something happens to wake us up.And what will happen issomebody you love will get sick,or you'll get sick,or you'll get fired.Or maybe it's something impersonal.Maybe 9/11 happens,or the tsunami happens,or the Kashmiri earthquake happens,but something happensthat rocks you back into that inner self,and makes you ask the questionI asked you at the beginning of this talk.The problem is when ithappens catastrophicallyis you're vulnerable, you're weak.And my question is,why wouldn't you ask yourselfthese questions when you're strong,from a position of health?When you're in a job,when you're loved:that's when the questionsbecome most useful.So the question on this one is,"If you could be the womanof your dreams, who would you be?"And my tongue's nowhere near my cheekwhen I ask you that question.The thing that might stop youbeing the woman of your dreamsis the next circle,and that's what you think of you.So now you've gotwhat others think of you,what you would likeothers to think of you,and this is what you think of you.And you have good daysand bad days, right?There's days where you wake upand you think you're the bee's knees.And other days you wake upand you can't even say your name.Even your cellphone feels too heavy.On the days when you wake upand you feel like the bee's knees,it's not even like you've got a reason.It's like free-floating joy in your bodyjust looking for a target,and you know how it feels on those daysbecause (sizzling sound).You just think, "Somebody giveme an audience; I'm on fire!Quick, point me somewhere!"And your hair's fabulous,and everything just works,everything works on those days.But the other days nothing works.Your legs don't work,your mouth doesn't work.The word thief comesand steals your entire vocabulary.Those are two extremes of your ego,and one of themis about self-congratulation,and the other oneis about self-castigation.Now your entire life,I don't care who you are,I don't care how old you are,your entire life, from birth up until nowhas been about buildinga stable relationship with your ego.You need an ego to livein a Western, capitalist world.If you didn't have an ego you'd be toast.But your challenge is to take the egofrom its dominant positionand pull it back, so thatit's in service to yourself.That's when it becomes useful,and in order to do thatyou've got to find the still pointright in the middle of those two extremes.That's what I would callequanimity, or equilibrium,and it's the kind of state of mindthat cannot be perfumed in any wayby anything that happens outside you.This kind of confidencethat comes from thereis like the confidence of the sky.Right now it's dark outside,but you know if you went up in a plane,even in the stormiest of days,the sky's brilliant blue underneath.When you look at the sky,and it's made a rainbow,and it's absolutely gorgeous,there's no questionthat the sky's up there going,"Ha, did you see my rainbow?"Or when it's a terrible, bleak,you know, gray, gloomy day,that the sky's going to apologize.No, the sky just is,because the sky seesthe impermanence of the clouds,and the impermanence of the rainbows,and you have to developan inner state of mindthat's as impervious to all the good shitand bad shit that happens to youas the sky is to the weather.We would also call this,in a Western context,we would call this feelinga feeling of humility,and one day last weekwhere I got to work with UK Sport,and particularly, I got to workwith the amazing coaches,who worked with the amazingOlympic athletes,who got all those amazing resultsat the Summer Olympics.It was incredible to be in the same roomas 400 of these people.The woman who runs UK Sportis a woman called Baroness Campbell,and she gave me a definition of humilitythat's as good as any I've ever found.She said, "Humility is notthinking less of yourself;humility is thinking about yourself less."And I remembered learningthat lesson when I was a wee girland probably no more than seven or eight,it was the woman with the squinty mouththat taught me the lesson.She had no idea, my mother,what she was doing to meas I was growing up,but when I grew up in Glasgow,particularly working-class,steel-industry Glasgow,nobody had any money,so nobody could affordto go out and be entertained.Everybody's social lifehappened in a house,so at the weekends,all the wrinklys and all the kidswould show up at people's houses,and they would drink'til their kneecaps were on backwards,and all that kind of stuff,but everybody at some pointin the evening had to perform.And it was a riot, because these peoplewere bus conductresses,and welders, and carpenters by daytime,but then they'd show up at nighttimeand come and be Frank Sinatra,and Dean Martin, and Sarah Vaughan,and Billy Eckstine.They were all... in my houseit was like a star-studded affair,living in my house,and all the kidswere taught to perform as well.And so, I'm the oldest of four girls -my mother had four daughters.So did my father, interestingly enough.But we were brought upfrom any age to perform,and we'd be wheeled outat these family parties,me with my guitarand my sisters around me,and we'd have to sing.We'd be literally positioned,Jose, like the Von Trapps.You know, my father would say, "Beneda there, Louise there,"and then we would sing,and we were terrible.We were absolutely rubbish.One night my mother came up to get usand we were having pillow fightsshe showed up and she said,"Right lasses, everybody's ready.Go down and give them a song."And this night I was just overcome.I said, "I don't want to sing."She said, "Why do you not want to sing?"I said, "I'm shy."She said, "What're you shy for?"I said, "Well, everybody'sgoing to be looking at me,"and I'll never forget her face.She looked at me, she said, "Caroline,don't flatter yourself, darlin'.(Laughter)You think anybody downstairsis interested in you? They're not.Your job's to go and makethem happy, so go and sing."I said "okay", and I picked up my guitarand I picked up mysisters, and you know what?That advice has never left me.But what it has left me withis spectacular disregardfor where my abilities end,and spectacular disregardfor being the center of attention.In fact, since that day, I have neverbeen the center of attention.You're the center of mine,and that's a very different feeling.So last, the last you,and the opposite of least,is the ever-present unchanging you.This is the you that you've beensince you were seven,and the you that you'll bewhen you're 107, please God.I spend a lot of time in India,and in India you're raisedwith this feelingthat you're a spiritual beingwho happens to be in a physical body,whereas we in the Westare much more into our physical bodies,and then if we get old enoughand long in the tooth enough,we kind of get interested in spirit.But, if you've ever beento the Gandhi museum in Delhiyou'll know that this isthe line that is above the door,and it was actually a response by Gandhito a question from a journalist.Gandhi was getting on a trainand the journalist called after him,"Gandhiji, Gandhiji, what'syour message to the world?"And Gandhi turned around and said,"My life.My life's my message."And your life is your message, too.It might not be as biga message as Gandhi's -mine certainly isn't -but your life has to be your message.Otherwise, why are you here?It's not like you've got a spare.So when you think about your identity,when you think aboutwhat it means to be alive,when you think aboutwhy you deserve to exist,you're not your thoughts,because you think them.And you can't be your feelings,because otherwise,who's the you that feels them?You're not what you have;you're not what you do;you're not even who you love,or who loves you.There has to be somethingunderneath all that.When you look at peoplewho have managed to transcendall these judgmentsthat we put upon them -You know, this man here,he couldn't be judged as a man,or a black man, or young, or old,or Democrat, or Republican,nor a gay, or a straight.It really, really wouldn't have matteredbecause he knew why he was here.Yes, we can.So you see, he seemed to be a verb.Even when you're bornwithout many of the attributesthat some of your peers may have,even when you're born in a waythat may lead you to feel impotent,if you can tap into that voice,if you can tap into that inner voicethat I've been talking about,you might just end up being,at 12 years old,the youngest person ever calledto the National World Champion Swim Team.You might even end up at the age of 13being the youngest Olympiangold medal winner, ever.You might even end up at 14being the youngest personever to get an MBE.That's what happens when you dial into the personal pronoun.So if you can do this,not only will the speedof your life get quicker,not only will the substanceof your life get richer,but you will never feel superfluous again.(Applause)Thank you.