How to Give Yourself Permission to Be Who You Really Are


When I packed my suitcase to head to a women’s leadership retreat in Mexico, bringing the tarot cards was a given.

A month later, when I was tearing the “checked bag” stickers off and packing the same suitcase for a trip home, bringing the tarot cards was a more complicated decision.

In Mexico, I knew I’d be around other women like me, and I was right. It was all crystals, skinny dipping, meditation, and hanging out with baby sea turtles as they hatched.

Going home, however, is a slightly different environment...and historically, a slightly different me.

I’ve been on a long journey of reclaiming the spiritual parts of my identity, and tarot and oracle cards are currently a part of that journey. Like most people, I was given a spiritual identity by my parents at birth: Christian. My parents are Christian, their parents are Christian, and their parents before them were Christian. That’s the tribe I was born into, and my family’s particular type of Christianity isn’t super down with the tarot and crystal life, so I have some complicated feelings on going home while still being myself, which leaves me waking up at 3am to wonder:

Is my tribe of origin the tribe I WANT to be in?


And then, of course, the existential crisis comes: If I’m not in that tribe any more, WHO EVEN AM I?

For me, it's not just about spirituality. It's about careers, relationships, what I eat, what I wear, how many curse words I include in my every day speech, etc. I know I'm intimate with the identity I was given from birth: the self that was created by my parents, teachers, and childhood experiences, but it takes a lot of effort to conform to that self, and I'm not even sure that's who I want to be. 

Which is how I found myself packing my suitcase and deciding who to be. And how much of that self was safe and appropriate to share. And with whom.

When it comes to battling the should's and supposed to's, I am far from alone. I don't think I've worked with a single client who hasn't felt some tension between who they’ve been told they are and who they want to be.

We all create rules of who we’re allowed to be. Some of those rules are incompatible with the selves we’re truly meant to be.


The cold, hard truth here is that who you believe you are creates your reality—and how you move through it. If your true self is meant to live a sovereign, shiny life filled with meaningful experiences and impactful work, you might need to change a few of the rules you have around who you are.

A "who" rule is a belief you have about your identity, skills, or personality that informs the way you move through the world.


This could come from your childhood, like "I am a typical oldest child; therefore, I tend to make responsible choices on autopilot because 'oldest child syndrome' is so ingrained in me—it's just who I am."

"Who" rules can be positive and helpful, like "I am really I’m confident about my grad school application."

Or less helpful, like, "I am awkward when meeting new I avoid networking events at all costs."

And while your identity markers are who you are to some extent, it gets dicey when those identity markers are all you're ever allowed to be. In that case, overly strict "who" rules can seriously limit your personal growth. Or like my little sister says, "When you really think about it, labels are just dumb."

Here's what limiting "who" rules sound like:

  • I’m not good at putting myself out there (so I could never start a blog)
  • I’m a responsible, dependable person (so I can’t sell my place and spend a year traveling)
  • I really love giving back (so I shouldn’t ask for a raise)
  • I’m a creative (so I just can’t manage my time)
  • I’m extremely authentic (so I can’t have a business where I’d have to make sales)
  • I’m a Millennial (so I just can’t afford it)
  • I’m in my 50s (so I’m bad with technology)
  • I’m a woman (so I have to build my career around my family)
  • I’m a generally positive person (so I can’t display anger even when I really feel it)


When limiting beliefs mix with the voice of your inner critic and crystallize into rules about who you are and what’s possible in your life, of course you’re not where you want to be!

But what would change if some of your “who” rules weren’t true? Or at least needed an update?


How to Update Your “Who” Rules

First, understand the pieces of your "who" that you've inherited.

To really update who you’re allowed to be, we first need to figure out who you’ve been told you are. For example, I'm the oldest of four children, two of whom are much, much younger than me, so "responsible" and "helper" were labels slapped on me as soon as I could walk. Am I actually super responsible or was I just programmed that way? Who knows? The point is: not every single piece of my adult identity was consciously chosen; a lot of it—even the good bits like "responsible"—came from programming: from my family, cultural narratives, early experiences, etc.

What identities have you inherited?

You don't have to toss them out and start from scratch, but at least build some awareness around what these inherited identities truly are: someone else's version of you that you can accept—or not—as you please. When it comes to my inherited identities, I've chosen to keep responsible, hard worker, and bossy because I like them, and because I can. What identity pieces do you choose to keep?

Next, honor the pieces of yourself that you've acquired and toss out what's not working.

When we have “who” rules that limit us, like “I’m not good at putting myself out there, so I can’t start a blog,” what we’re really saying is “I’m scared I’ll fail...or be judged...or have my new identity as a blogger mocked by people who want me to get back in my box."

But if you really, really, really want to start a blog, you can just choose to be the type of person who starts blogs. It really is that easy. You'll still feel fear, of course, but you'll feel fear in your life no matter what you do, so you might as well chase the fear with a shot of enjoyment and lust for life.

Start by naming the identities you've acquired over the years. For example, at some point in your life, you probably embodied "student," especially in college or high school. When you were a college student, you probably did the stereotypical college things: pulling allnighters, partying, microwaving ramen in your dorm, making questionable fashion decisions and consuming so. much. alcohol. Chances are, when you left the identity of "student" behind, you probably left some of the "student" behaviors behind, too (no shade to ramen).

So instead of making New Year's resolutions in a month to toss out the behaviors that aren't working, simply toss out the pieces of your identity that aren't working. For example, if you want to work out more in 2018, give yourself permission to be the type of person who values feeling fit. If you want to finally launch the business you've been dreaming out, act like the type of person who believes they're successful and savvy in the working world.

It can feel strange at first to embody the "who" you want to be because we usually expect to feel a certain way first and then take action...but really, we have to play the part of who we want to be in order to feel worthy of it.

What identity pieces aren't working out for you right now? How can you trade them out for something more empowering and supportive?


Finally, name the pieces of yourself you're afraid to show and create a safe space for them.

For me, it's the tarot card piece. That spiritual exploration part of my "who" is there, but she's tender and new. She's been through a lot, so I don't bring her around to just anybody. Partly because she's still new and tender and partly because not everyone has earned seeing that part of me. And that's okay.

Which pieces of your "who" would you be ashamed, embarrassed, or a bit rueful of exposing? What are the top three things about you that you'd feel a bit silly and shy to share with the world?

Those are the pieces that need the most loving. Those are also the pieces that could be really, really amazing if given the opportunity to bloom.

Because they are newer and more fragile, don't bring them out around naysayers yet. Create a sacred space for them to grow in a nurturing container before you're ready to expose them to the world. If the new, timid piece of your "who" wants to start a blog, this could look like creating a secret Pinterest board where you pin inspiring blog ideas. If the new piece deeply cares about social impact, trade interesting articles with a like-minded girlfriend for a while before pitching a service project to your boss. Or if the new piece involves tarot cards, give your deck a special place on your desk and pull one each morning as a reminder of who you really are. The particular container itself doesn't matter so much as the practice of exploring.


Regardless of whether all pieces of yourself are ready to come out into the world, you get to choose which pieces of yourself you love, grow, and pay attention to. And only you can decide how to use your "who" to create your life experience and your impact in the world.

As for me, well...spoiler alert: I chose to bring the cards.

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