“All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts…” –William Shakespeare
The distance between our public persona and our private selves defines our lives and relationships in ways that everyone experiences, but cannot always name. The truth of this was written large at the middle school talent show that I attended where I watched my son and his friends impersonate a teen rock star and dance team. They pulled it off big time after hours of practice and some great costume finds. Amidst the middle school crowd there was no impersonation, they are stars at school. They boast to me sometimes on our way home from practice how they will spread out to fill a hallway, just to watch the kids get out of their way. The boys are funny, smart, and athletic and they know it.
Other kids are not so lucky to land in such a sweet spot in school as I witnessed at the show. Of the many kids who aspire to land on American Idol came and went, my heart cracked open when a girl had the courage to get up and sing a song about the rejection and pain of her middle school years. I was overcome by a deep compassion for her courage, the painful memories from my own past on the edge of middle school favor and the intensity that happens when the private self emerges under bright lights into the public sphere.
Most of us learn early to separate our personal dreams and visions from the scrutiny of public view. You only need to be mortified once to learn how to avoid the humiliation of sharing too much with the wrong people. Sometimes the injury is so great that the break between our public and private selves becomes so complete that we divorce our insides from what people see so completely that we can be left unable to see who we are, so busy at constructing who we think we should be.
As we grow, most of us develop a pretty clear picture of the public person we want other people to see in us, and the work of approaching this more perfect version of ourselves goes on for a lifetime. What gets left out is the work on the inside, so afraid of our own feelings, that we construct these huge places to hide them from others, and inadvertently from ourselves. Not knowing what we are hiding from brings blind spots into our relationships that can make success bonding challenging to impossible. We can all think of people who work so hard to project an image that has no substance that all we see and hear is the empty space they fill.
Bridging the space between our public and private selves is at the heart of creating an authentic life and healthy relationships. Learning to witness and share the whole truth of who we are in our intimate relationships is the ground we need in order to move towards our more idealized public self.
In fact, pursuing our idealized version of ourselves within our relationships can bring out the best in us. It can inspire us to improve our fitness, clean up our personal space, and make better food choices. Self improvement between couples who are committed to the same goals carry more than double the power of making changes by yourself. In fact, loving relationships are one of the most powerful vehicles available to us to become the person we aspire to be, by living up to the best that our partners see and expect in us. The work of loving ourselves and others is the single most powerful practice of uniting our public and private personalities into a beautiful and cohesive whole.