Earlier this year I came across a rap artist who goes by the name BigKlit. She’s covered in tattoos, including her face, and the most recent single I listened to when I found her featured a chorus about which bodily fluids she wanted to emit into her lover’s mouth. Her confident energy is infectious; her absolute joy in performing and her embodied movement flow through her so naturally and effortlessly, it almost seems like it would be more difficult for her to reign them in than to express them.
A bit of a scroll down her Instagram led to a video of her as a teenager, free of tattoos and hair dye but decked out in face paint and what looks like a dance team outfit, moving around in her kitchen with the same infectious energy, mugging for the camera and talking up how great she is. She’s not engaging the same degree of shock factor with the use of profanity or overt sexuality – naturally, as she’s a teenager in the video – but the confidence and edge she displays have the same quality.
Her caption for the video reads: “I don’t think people ever really change…”
While I’ve built an entire business around my belief in people’s capacity for change, I understand what she meant by that and I agree with her. Somewhere, in each of us, there are inherent characteristics that are simply as natural to us as breathing, and modes of expression that come to us more effortlessly than holding them back.
Once we’ve reached adulthood, we’ve often been conditioned to hold back much of our natural expression. Criticisms, judgments, and any negative experiences that made us feel it was unsafe for us to fully express ourselves can pile up and unconsciously affect our comfort with being ourselves. If we’re autistic (like me), this tendency can express itself as masking, i.e., learning and performing neurotypical traits in order to foster a sense of belonging instead of tuning into our authentic expression. Oftentimes masking can even disguise itself as authenticity – it did with me, anyway – when our mask feels safer to us than our natural expression and we end up defending it as a part of our safety.
Later in life we might then attend personal development or business coaching seminars that ask us to go searching for our natural gifts, the things we take for granted about ourselves. I’ve heard multiple coaches prescribe the exercise of asking twenty different people in our lives to tell us what we’re naturally good at and then to look for the common denominators among the answers. This is a useful exercise for sure, and anyone who does it will doubtless learn something from it. But I also think that asking other people for their opinions on our adult, usually fear-conditioned selves is a rather roundabout way to get there. Truly, we just need to start thinking about who we were when we were fourteen, and what we did then that was so natural to us.
I had a friend at that age who had the soul of a 45-year-old, who called up the local radio station at age 12 to disprove the dj’s casual theories on time travel, who ate Vienna Sausages straight from the can during lunch at weekend speech tournaments. Today he’s a tenured professor, geeking out on science with his students, still happily acting far older than his age, making bratwursts and homemade kimchi, and wondering what foul-smelling foods he can cook up for his daily lunch when he finds out his university has banned ordering food for meetings.
I think far too often we take our own flow zones for granted in our quests for belonging. We look to others who seems to have it all together and attempt to imitate them, when our own genius is sitting within us, covered up and sometimes even forgotten.
It’s not easy to have the insight to remove that covering, given how many safety triggers can be involved in keeping it up.
But once we start to recognize it in others, I believe we can also recognize it in ourselves.
This year I’ve written more songs than any other year before, and it’s only half over. I stopped trying to sound like other people and remembered that I’ve been writing rhymes and belting money notes for as long as I was alive and capable. I started remembering my inner tween, who naturally gravitated toward creativity and performance, and meditating on bringing her back untarnished. And as a result I’ve started hearing lots of reflections from my peers about how prolific and dedicated I am in my music, all while it’s taking me almost no effort whatsoever.
A little remembrance can go a long way. Who were you when it was easier to be so? How can you harness that same ease today?