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Home » What Does It Mean To Be Yourself? – Carly Sotas (Transcript)

What Does It Mean To Be Yourself? – Carly Sotas (Transcript)

Here is the full transcript of Carly Sotas’ talk titled “What Does It Mean To Be Yourself?” at TEDxYouth@Granville conference.

Carly Sotas, the author of Illusion, in this TEDx talk explores the complexities of authentic self-expression and the journey to find one’s true identity amidst societal expectations. She shares personal anecdotes to illustrate the struggle of conforming to perceived norms and the courage it takes to pursue one’s passions and dreams, regardless of external judgments.

Sotas highlights the unrealistic portrayals of success and happiness often depicted in media and reality TV, which can distort our self-perception and aspirations. Through her experiences, including a challenging but transformative internship in New York, she learned the importance of resilience, hard work, and the value of embracing one’s vulnerabilities. Sotas emphasizes that being oneself is not about achieving perfection but about being honest and open about our insecurities and challenges.

She advocates for the power of sharing personal stories to inspire and reassure others that they are not alone in their struggles. Ultimately, her talk is a call to action to reject the fear of judgment and embrace the belief that we are enough, just as we are.

Listen to the audio version here:


The Power of Authenticity

When I was a kid, my parents always told me that if I wanted to be successful or to feel accepted, all I had to do was be myself. I never really understood what they meant, but throughout elementary school and high school, all of my teachers and mentors said the same thing: be yourself. We’re told this all the time, right? Just be yourself. And everybody makes it sound so simple, but the truth is that learning to be ourselves is one of the most difficult things we’ll ever do.

When you look at this picture, you see someone who looks happy and confident, someone who you might mistake as a celebrity on the cover of a magazine. I can barely recognize that the person in that picture is me. And that’s because it’s not me. It’s an illusion of me. I’m not anywhere close to as flawless as this person appears to be. But you might not guess that just by looking at this picture. And what you also might not be able to see is that this isn’t a magazine at all.

The Illusion of Self

It’s the cover of a book I wrote, in which I talk about all the illusions we’re told about what it means to be yourself. I grew up reading magazines that looked a lot like this, but nobody ever told me that what I was reading was an illusion. I never questioned why these magazines that were supposed to reveal all the secrets to happiness and success made me feel like more of a failure. I never understood why I was told to love myself and embrace my natural beauty, but at the same time was told not to love myself too much, because if I did, then people would think I was full of myself.

And never once did I consider that the celebrities on the covers of these magazines dealt with unimaginable amounts of pressure, and that their lives weren’t as flawless as they appeared to be. Even if we aren’t on the cover of magazines, we all have this ability to stage our lives and to construct illusions of who we are. And we become really good at it, especially on social media. But the identity that we create and present to the world doesn’t always match what we feel inside.

The Struggle with Identity

And social media and magazines are often blamed as the source of this problem, but they’re really just the surface of a much deeper issue. And that’s the truth, that we’re afraid to be ourselves because we don’t think that we’re good enough. How many times have you looked in the mirror and told yourself, “I’m not muscular enough, I’m not pretty enough, I’m not smart enough, I’m not good enough”? It all comes down to those two words: not enough.

When I was in elementary school, I was bullied because I wasn’t tall enough. I was a late bloomer, and so for most of elementary school, I was the shortest person in my class. I remember the teacher would ask us to line up at the door for recess according to our height, and I was always the last person in that line, and everyone would make fun of me. I didn’t know how to deal with the bullying, so I started by doing what seemed to be the most logical thing, and that was to make myself grow.

Overcoming Challenges

So I started eating my vegetables, I practiced good posture, and I stretched every day, and I thought, maybe if I do all these things, I’ll be tall enough. When that didn’t work, I started fighting back at the bullies and trying to be just as mean as they were to me, but the only thing that did was make me feel worse about myself.

When my parents found out what was going on at school, they got in touch with the mother of one of the boys in my class who teased me, and they arranged for us to all sit down together outside of school to talk about what was going on. I was furious at my parents for going behind my back and thought it was only going to make the situation worse. But when the boy and his mom came over to our house, I saw a side of him that I’d never seen before.

He was embarrassed, and by the end of our conversation, he was crying at my kitchen table. He apologized to me and said that he only teased me about my height because everybody else did, and said that he just wanted to fit in. When I saw someone who I only knew as a bully show his vulnerability and cry like that, my whole world changed.

I realized that if someone who seemed so invincible didn’t feel like they were powerful enough, and was just as afraid of not fitting in as I was, then there were probably a lot more people dealing with the same insecurities that I didn’t know about.

The Journey to Self-Discovery

Bullying is something that many of us experience in school, but it also takes place in our adult lives. All the hurtful things that we say and hear about each other behind our backs, all the hateful comments that we read and post online, and even if we’re kind and caring to the people around us, we still end up bullying ourselves, telling ourselves that we’re not good enough, and that we’re not worthy of success.

When I was in high school, I started trying to overcompensate for all of my feelings that I wasn’t good enough by trying to be the best at everything I did. I became the student council president of my high school, I got good grades, and I went to parties every weekend with my friends. But no matter how hard I tried and pretended, I still never felt like I was good enough.

I grew up on a farm in Manitoba, and the town I lived in only had 700 people. So even though I did all these things to try and fit in, I never had the opportunity to meet people who were passionate about the same things as I was. I was interested in architecture and theater, and had dreams of traveling the world and living in a big city. But nobody around me wanted the same things.

And after years of being told that my dreams were too far-fetched, I began feeling really discouraged and hopeless about my future. I didn’t feel as though I could share my dreams with anyone. And so I started to isolate myself from everyone around me. I reached a point where I could barely bring myself to get out of bed and go to school in the morning. And so I started sleeping through my morning classes, and I stopped taking care of my health and well-being.

But at the same time, I tried to keep a smile on my face, because I didn’t think I had a good enough reason to feel the way I did, and hoped that my family and friends wouldn’t notice that anything was wrong. But by the time I reached my senior year of high school, I knew that something had to change, and I realized that I was the only person who could take responsibility for my future.

A teacher encouraged me to apply for a scholarship, and I ended up receiving the Loran Award, which would allow me to fulfill my dream of studying architecture outside of Manitoba. That year, I also made the decision to graduate from high school a semester early and move to Winnipeg, which was the closest city to my hometown.

Embracing New Beginnings

My sister and her roommate had been living there for a few years. And so I asked if I could live in their storage closet to save money on rent, which they thought was crazy, but I saw it as the perfect solution. And so, I cleaned out their storage closet, and I got settled in, and I found a job serving at a cafe in the downtown. And I went in, excited for my first day of work, but little did I know I would end up getting fired within my first hour on the job. When my manager asked how long I intended to work there for, I made the mistake of telling her that I only saw the job as temporary, and she fired me on the spot.

I was devastated, and I spent the next several weeks moping around my sister’s apartment, beating myself up, and watching a lot of TV. I watched all these reality shows set in cities like New York and L.A. about people who had these amazing careers in design and real estate. I couldn’t stop myself from daydreaming about what it would be like to live that kind of lifestyle, and to work with people who were so passionate about their work.

And one day when I was watching the show, I started thinking about how incredible it would be to work for the star of my favorite reality show, who was a real estate agent in New York City.

Taking a Leap of Faith

I found his contact information online, and so I considered emailing him to ask for an internship, but I realized that someone as successful as him probably received hundreds of messages a day. So instead, I decided to cold call his phone number, and I somehow managed to convince him and his business partner to give me an internship with them in New York City. And when they offered me the position, I was really excited.

But then reality set in, and I was like, wait a minute, what did I just do? I don’t know anyone in New York. I’ve never been there before. I don’t know anything about the city other than what I’ve seen on TV.

I’m not mature enough or smart enough to actually go there and try and fit into the professional world. And I started coming up with all these reasons why I wasn’t capable and shouldn’t go. But at the same time, I knew that if we only focus on all the reasons why we aren’t good enough and only continue to do things inside of our comfort zones, then we’ll never have the opportunity to grow into the people we want to be.

So I went to New York for the internship, but when my new bosses realized how young and inexperienced I was, and that I was from a farm and didn’t know how to use the subway, they were not impressed.

But even though I was so young and inexperienced, I was really determined and eager to learn. And so I worked as hard as I could, and I tried to speak up and ask them questions to show that I was engaged and wanted to contribute to their work. And as the weeks went by, they began giving me bigger responsibilities, asking me to meet with clients and come to important press events. And they began inviting me to spend time with their team outside of the office.

Finding Common Ground

And despite our backgrounds and differences, as we got to know each other better, it turned out that we actually had a lot in common. From behind the scenes, they weren’t as intimidating or secure as they had appeared to be on TV. They got nervous about big business deals and TV appearances. And all these things that I had assumed came naturally to them. And so even though I had gone to New York chasing this dream that I had seen on TV, I realized that so much of reality TV isn’t reality at all. It’s just another illusion, where people are portrayed to be someone they’re not.

So a few years ago, I began writing and reflecting on some of these experiences and all the illusions that keep us from being ourselves. And I’d always enjoyed writing as a hobby, but I could never find the courage to share my work with anyone, because again, I was afraid that my writing wasn’t good enough.

But as I was writing and trying to find the courage to publish my work, I found a book by a first-time author named Adam Braun, who wrote about the lessons he’d learned and the challenges he’d overcome starting the organization Pencils of Promise. And even though we’d come from very different backgrounds and were at different places in our lives, I could relate to so many of the experiences and emotions that he shared in his book.

Embracing Vulnerability

And when I finished reading it, I found an article online in which he talked about the process of publishing his book. And what I found really surprised me. Even though he’d been so successful, he said that he had been afraid to share his work just the way I was. He said he’d pictured thousands of people reading the personal story he’d written and judging him. And I thought, that was one of the most inspiring books I’ve ever read. How could the author ever have been afraid to publish it?

And in that moment, I realized that if you have a story that has the potential to inspire someone, or to let just one other person know that they are not alone, then you have a responsibility to share that story. We have the ability to inspire other people simply by being who we are. And it doesn’t mean we have to be successful or have all the answers. We just have to be honest and open about our insecurities.

The people who have inspired me the most in my life are not the people who pretend like they have everything figured out, but those who are willing to share their insecurities and talk about the challenges that they are facing in their lives. Whether it’s a bully, a TV star, a best-selling author, or a friend, every single person we encounter in our lives has dealt with heartache, failure, and has doubted themselves at some point in their lives.

And I’d be lying if I stood up here and told you that I’ve learned how to be myself and feel like I’m good enough. I still beat myself up about things I did years ago, and I’m always worried about what people are thinking of me.

Overcoming Fear of Judgment

And since publishing my book, I’ve had to confront a lot of these fears that I’m not good enough by dealing with criticism that I’ve received on my work. I had a woman laugh at me and ask what a 21-year-old could possibly have to say that would be worth reading. And I’ve had friends look at the cover and tell me that I’m narcissistic for writing a book about my experiences and putting my face on the cover. And to be honest, I would probably think the same thing if I were judging the book by its cover.

But the first time that someone read it and told me that it helped get them through a difficult time, and a stranger told me that it was one of the most inspiring books they’d ever read, all those fears of not being good enough didn’t matter anymore.

What I’m starting to learn is that there’s no real reason to be afraid of other people’s judgment, because at the end of the day, the meanest critic you’re ever going to face is the person you see when you look in the mirror. So what if we shifted our focus from thinking, “I’m not enough,” to “I am enough”? What if we recognize that we don’t need to do anything to prove that we belong? We already do.

As I said, I’m still trying to figure out what it means to be yourself, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever get it right. But it’s a challenge that I don’t think any of us should have to go through alone. Thank you.

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