How to Become Your Authentic Self

Today’s post is a little bit different, but it’s something that’s been on my mind a lot lately. Something I’ve been talking about a lot with my therapist is how I learned from a young age to suppress who I really was — the things I liked to do; my sense of humor; my opinions — in order to win others’ approval.

The need to be liked is something I still struggle with, and probably always will on some level. But more and more, I am learning how to be not the best version of myself, but the truest version of myself. I have decided that 2021 will be my year of authenticity: of learning to be myself, of embracing the things that make me “weird,” of no longer hiding how I really feel.

Since I was 16, I have lived my life online. I became a blogger in high school, and my blog began to take off halfway through college. By then, I received brand sponsorships, developed friendships with other bloggers, and felt that, on some level, people were invested in my life.

Online, I presented a perfect image of myself, which involved joining a sorority full of inauthentic friendships and spending money I didn’t have on credit cards in order to keep up with appearances. Even though I was struggling, I posted as if I had it all together and was sharing advice to a previous self. But offline, I was struggling with loneliness, depression, anxiety, and dysfunctional relationships.

A turning point occurred when I ended a three-year relationship with a toxic boyfriend. Around that time, I stepped away from my blog and decided to live my life offline. I spent only about a month being single, but in that time, I learned a lot. I discovered a deep yearning for belonging that led me to seek comfort from dead-end relationships with emotionally unavailable men.

Shortly after, I had a breakthrough that led me to assert my boundaries for the first time and brought me to my current partner, David. Then, I ended my relationship with my emotionally abusive father, faced my credit card debt, quit my sorority, and still managed to graduate college one year early. That year, I had far fewer people in my life, but for the first time, I could say that I was truly happy.

Even now, I sometimes feel as if I am playing a role — not by choice, but by habit. I want to be the perfect doctor’s girlfriend, the perfect dog mom, the perfect “future therapist,” the perfect influencer. But perfectionism is inherently at odds with authenticity. Every day, I have to consciously make the decision to be my truest self, not an actress playing a part in a film.

I am still on my journey toward healing from people-pleasing and inauthenticity. But since the years I spent living my life for other people, I have learned a lot about what it means (to me, at least) to be authentic. Based on those experiences, I’m sharing some tips that I hope will help you navigate your own journey.

1. Examine Your Beliefs

If you’re here, you probably feel the need to people-please, to put on a fake smile, or to play a role at least some of the time. But have you ever asked yourself why you feel that way?

To pinpoint the beliefs that make you feel like your authentic self isn’t good enough, start at the very beginning. We all receive messages in our childhood, direct or indirect, that shape the way we think about ourselves. Maybe it’s that I’m an aspiring therapist, but I truly believe that these messages are ingrained in our subconscious from a young age, and continue to shape the way we behave as adults.

Sometimes, those messages are obvious, like only receiving praise when we got an A on a test or won an award. But other times, they’re more insidious: for example, I had a narcissistic parent who used to imply that my friends were “nerds.” As a result, I learned to hide a lot of my interests that were considered “weird” at the time.

The next time you hear a critical voice in your head, it’s worth asking why you believe this thing is true instead of quietly accepting it as such. Sometimes, when we look more closely at our beliefs, we realize they aren’t rooted in the things we truly believe at all, but in the things that someone else taught us.

2. Embrace What Makes You “Weird”

As an Enneagram Type Six, it should come as no surprise that I am self-conscious about feeling “different.” Throughout college, I molded myself into the person I thought I should be in order to make people like me. I joined a sorority, started drinking, and bought a new Lilly Pulitzer wardrobe. But behind the scenes, I was struggling with my mental, physical, and financial health.

Growing up, I heard so many messages that made me feel ashamed of who I was and what I was interested in. In high school, I stopped reading manga or watching anime — hobbies I’ve since picked back up, because I genuinely enjoyed them — after learning it wasn’t cool anymore. I have always liked Harry Potter, but I learned to bury my inner Hufflepuff so others wouldn’t judge me.

So many of us struggle with the compulsive need to be liked — and trust me, I get it. Rejection is painful. However, I’ve learned that when you try to make everyone like you, you don’t make genuine connections. Meaningful friendships and romantic relationships come when you are being your true, authentic self, as people are attracted to others who are like them. People may reject or make fun of you, but at least you will have the gift of friendship, instead of the surface-level connections that are inevitable when you’re trying to be liked by everyone.

3. Follow Your Intuition

I am an INFP, so being intuitive is a part of who I am. (In case you couldn’t tell, I really like personality tests!) But I also spent so long pretending to be someone who I wasn’t that I know what it’s like to confuse what YOU like with what you think you’re SUPPOSED to like.

Trying to be liked over being authentic stifles your intuition. You learn to ignore the gut feelings that draw you toward certain people, objects, and experiences if there’s a risk that those things may create conflict or cause others to reject you. That’s why it’s critical to authenticity to get in touch with, and listen to, those gut feelings again.

Take the example of clothing shopping. When you buy clothes, are you looking for clothing that fits a certain “aesthetic?” Or are you picking up the items you are naturally drawn to and attracted to? The key to authenticity is doing less of the former and more of the latter. Listen to your gut, not to what society has to say about what you’re supposed to like.

4. Contradict Yourself

Despite what high school cafeterias may suggest, most people can’t be boiled down to a single “type.” We aren’t nerds or jocks or goths or band geeks. People are more complicated than that. Instead of trying to mold yourself into a stereotype, don’t be afraid to be your unique self! You don’t need to simplify yourself into a certain stereotype (or, these days, “aesthetic”).

We tend to do these things to make others feel more comfortable, since cognitive dissonance — the psychological term for making sense of contradictions — feels weird and, at times, wrong. But it isn’t your job to make everyone around you comfortable. If just existing as yourself makes someone uncomfortable, that’s THEIR problem — not yours!

So, where to start? To begin with, stop saying “or” and start saying “and.” You’re allowed to be soft AND tough. You’re allowed to like the color pink AND have a black belt in karate. You’re allowed to study science AND have an Etsy shop on the side. You don’t need to be girly OR strong; logical OR creative.

You’re allowed to exist as you are, even if parts of who you are seem to contract one another. As human beings, we’re tempted to make people fit neatly into boxes. But it’s okay to be messy. Embrace the parts of yourself that make you say “and.”

5. Give Yourself Permission to Change

As important as it is to accept yourself as you are, you also deserve permission to change. Growth is an inherent part of being human. We aren’t meant to stay the same our entire lives — otherwise, we wouldn’t get wrinkles or gray hair!

Sometimes, we cling to old interests because they’ve been part of our identities for so long, we don’t know what to do without them. Pursuing a career in social work, I sometimes worry if I made a mistake by abandoning marketing. I knew I wanted to study communications way back in high school, and I fear I’m not listening to my instincts by changing my mind.

But the thing is, you’re allowed to change your mind. People outgrow careers, friendships, relationships, and hobbies the same way that they outgrow their clothes or shoes. It doesn’t always feel comfortable — in fact, a friend breakup might be the worst thing I’ve ever been through — but it always happens for a reason.

And, if it helps, you can always change your mind again! Remember that girl you knew who changed her major ten times in college? Schools LET students do that — because they know that it’s in our nature to be indecisive. Just remember that, with the exception of tattoos and pregnancies, no decision is permanent. You can always pick up and move, quit your job, or learn something new.

Give yourself permission to make those mistakes. Mistakes are the business of living, after all — and if nothing else, you’ll always learn from them.

How to Start a Bullet Journal in 2021

What’s your New Year’s resolution? Me, I’m not sure I believe in New Year’s resolutions — but I do believe in goals. One of my goals for 2021 is to keep up with my bullet journaling, especially when it comes to my Instagram (@journalwithhaley) and my Youtube channel of the same name.

If you’re someone who is goal-oriented with a mile-long to-do list, then a bullet journal might be just the thing for you. I started bullet journaling because it was the perfect way to combine my interest in art with my love for planning. But despite what you see on Instagram, there are many ways to bullet journal: you don’t need to be a collage artist or an influencer to get and stay organized.

Some people are fans of the fuctional bullet journal, lovingly referred to as “ugly bullet journaling.” Others, such as me, prefer the more elaborate spreads featured on Instagram and Pinterest. Whatever your cup of tea, bullet journaling can serve an important purpose in your life by helping you keep track of your appointments, habits, and goals. (I like to think of the bujo as a planner on steroids!)

Bullet journaling doesn’t need to be complicated, but there are a few things you should know before you dive into it. Firstly, you’re going to want to stock up on supplies. Below, I’ll talk about some of my favorites — and then walk you through the process of setting up your first bujo.

Bullet Journal Supplies for Beginners

Before you start bullet journaling in earnest, you’re going to need a few supplies to help you get started.

Bullet Journal

The bullet journal itself is the most important ingredient in the recipe for bujo success. What’s most important is finding a bullet journal that suits your personal tastes and style. If you aren’t happy with your bujo, you aren’t going to want to use it as often. The best thing you can do to get and stay organized is to choose a bullet journal you love — even if it means shelling out a few extra dollars for a higher-quality product.

A favorite in the bullet journaling community, and my personal pick, is the Leuchtturm 1917 dotted journal. This is a great bullet journal for pros and beginners alike because it’s already equipped with page numbers and a table of contents to help you keep track of your spreads. It also comes in a variety of colors to help you express your bright personality!

Some people prefer lined or gridded pages, but I am a fan of dotted because they let you draw neat lines without adding too much clutter to the page (or requiring a ruler). However, my favorite thing about the Leuchtturm is the quality of the paper. It’s neither too thick or too thin, and your fineliners and mildliners won’t bleed through to the next page.

Pens

Most people prefer to use pen (vs. pencil) in their bullet journals — and many bujo fanatics have strong opinions about their favorites. It can feel like listening to a foreign language if you aren’t familiar with the vocabulary. Here are some different types of pens you’ll want to know (and get your hands on) while bullet journaling:

  • Pigma Micron pens. A black artist’s pen is a must-have for any bullet journaler. Pigma Micron pens, made by Sakura, are fine-tipped artist’s pens perfect for drawing — or bullet journaing. The ink used in these pens is known for being incredibly long-lasting and pigmented.
  • Mildliners. Zebras Mildliners are pastel dual-tipped highlighters that won’t bleed through paper and aren’t as harsh on the eye as your typical neon school highlighters. They have a thick end and a thin end, making them perfect for detail work in your bujo.
  • Sarasa Clip pens. Zebra Sarasa Clip pens are extra-fine pointed gel pens that come in a rich variety of colors. The Milk set, made up of pretty pastels, is a favorite of bullet journalers the world over. If you can only choose one, go for the white, which is great for adding highlights to your hand-lettering.
  • Staedtler Triplus fineliners. Fineliners are extra-fine felt-tip pens used for adult coloring or bullet journaling to create incredible artwork and colorful accents. The extraordinarily fine tip of the Staetler Triplus fineliners allows for rich detail work in your bujo.
  • Pilot FriXion pens. Using pen makes many people nervous, since it cannot be erased. Enter the Pilot FiXion pen. Its innovative ink disappears with friction, allowing for the world’s first “erasable” gel pen. These are perfect for new bullet-journalers who worry about making mistakes, or for filling in your tasks and other items that might need to be changed in your spreads.

Washi Tape

Washi is a traditional handmade paper from Japan that has since been turned into decorative tape. One of the hallmarks of washi tape is its thin and delicate nature. Because of the lightweight texture of washi tape, it can easily be hand-torn to use as an accent in your bujo spreads.

You can find washi tape in thick or thin, and solid and printed, varieties. Every bullet journaler wants a diverse collection of washi to ensure that no two pages are exactly alike. Etsy is my favorite place for decorative, printed washi tape, while Aliexpress is a great place to find thin, pastel solids for accenting your everyday spreads.

Stickers

Stickers are the flair that makes every bullet journaler’s style unique. They allow you to easily theme your bujo pages, without needing to sketch out every detail. While some people, like myself, occasionally like to draw in their journals, the ultimate purpose of the bujo is functionality. Thus, there always comes a time when you want cute pages without expending a lot of energy — hence why stickers come in handy!

There are so many great places to find cute and unique bullet journal stickers. I like to support small artists on Etsy whenever possible, but you can also find stickers at your local craft store or online at retailers like Amazon or Aliexpress. If you’re on a budget, you can also create your own stickers by sketching or printing free clipart on adhesive paper, which can be bought for $10-15 at Amazon and most craft stores.

Tools

Other useful (and optional) tools to keep on hand for use in your bullet journal include:

  • Ruler. Dot journals allow you to connect lines freehanded, but rulers can still be helpful for neatness’ sake.
  • Compass. If you don’t feel comfortable hand-drawing circles, a compass can come in handy.
  • Scissors. Cutting up bits and pieces to glue into your bujo adds your own unique touch.
  • Glue sticks. Glue allows you to save ticket stubs and other memorabilia in your bujo. I like Elmer’s Craft Bond.
  • Scrapbook paper. Sometimes, you want a more interesting backdrop than plain dotted paper.
  • Stamps. Stamps can either be decorative or functional, preventing you from needing to freehand details.

How to Start a Bullet Journal

Once you’ve gathered your materials, you’re ready to get organized. If this is your first bullet journal, here are the steps you should follow to set up your bujo for 2021:

1. Create an index.

Some journals, like the Leuchtturm 1917, come with an index already made, but others require you to draw your own. An index is basically a table of contents for your bullet journal. Feel free to make it as functional or creative as you like. Check out the examples below for inspiration!

2. Optional: Create a key.

If you use symbols in your bullet journal, you may want to create a key to remember what they mean. The original bullet journal system had its own set of symbols with their own prescribed meanings, but many people are making it their own with color-coding and additional details. Others, like me, don’t use symbols at all and skip creating the key altogether! Below, you can see what the OG symbols and their meanings were:

3. Optional: Create a future log.

A future log is essentially a master calendar for 2021. Some people like to add lines where they can make note of important future events, such as birthdays and vacations. Personally, I usually don’t include one in my bullet journal. Because I also use a regular paper planner and Google Calendar in addition to my bujo, I don’t really need it. However, if you’re someone who’s constantly planning ahead and wants to rely exclusively on their bullet journal for planning, I highly recommend it!

Creating a future log can be time-consuming and frustrating. If you’re hand-drawing and numbering every month, it can take hours to get it exactly right. Plus, pen is an unforgiving medium. To make it easier on you, I would consider using a stamp or printable to create your future log. You can also check out the layout ideas below for inspiration.

4. Create a monthly cover page.

Here is where bullet journaling starts to get fun! After setting up your bullet journal for the year, your next step is to get ready for the month ahead. This typically starts with a cover page, which can be as simple or as creative as you like. The design is completely up to you! Some people choose to theme their cover pages and coordinate their weekly or daily spreads with the cover page, while others prefer a minimal style.

5. Create daily or weekly spreads.

Whether you prefer a daily or weekly planner layout, your next task is to set up your monthly pages the way you like. Some people choose to set up their bujo for the entire month at once, while others like to go one week at a time. For me, Sundays are my bullet journaling day, when I set up my weekly spread for the week ahead. As with anything else in bullet journaling, it’s up to you. Just remember that this is the area where you’ll be listing tasks and events for the week, so be sure to leave at least a little bit of blank space while you’re decorating! Check out the spreads below for inspiration.

6. Optional: Create collections.

If you’re ready to stop there, then go right ahead. Remember, this is YOUR bullet journal, and you make the rules! (Taylor Swift reference slightly intended.) But if you’re looking to get more creative or add more functional pages for tracking habits, logging your reading, categorizing your mood, or anything under the sun, that’s where collections come in. “Collections” is the name given to these miscellaneous pages that each serve their own purpose. Some people create collections for memories, like ticket stubs or polaroids, while others use them for further tracking and planning. Keep on scrolling for some examples of collections that might serve a purpose in your life.

7. Update your index.

Anytime you add a new page (or set of pages) to your bullet journal, don’t forget to go back to your index and update it! (Depending on your bullet journal’s style, you might need to go in and add page numbers by hand, too.) This is an ongoing task, but it’s essential to organizing your bujo and staying on top of your life in 2021.

Tips for New Bullet Journalers

  1. Don’t worry about it being perfect or looking like what you see on Instagram. Everyone’s bullet journal is unique — and everyone has messed up pages they’d rather hide from the universe. As Bob Ross said, there are no mistakes; just happy little accidents 🙂
  2. That being said, there are a few tips and tricks I’ve learned for fixing mistakes — namely, covering them up! A strip of washi tape or a strategically-placed sticker can help you hide a smudge or scribbled-out word in style.
  3. If you aren’t confident using pen, try drawing in pencil first and going over the lines in pen. Eventually, this will help you become more confident in your ability to draw freehandedly using pen!
  4. Use the dot grid as guidelines to help keep your handwriting neat and straight. If you’re using a blank journal, I recommend using a ruler to align your handwriting so it stays even.
  5. Resist the temptation to over-decorate your bullet journal pages. As much as I love stickers and washi tape, I’ve occasionally impacted the functionality of my journal by failing to leave myself enough blank space for tasks, events, and to-dos!
  6. Make your bullet journal your own. You don’t need to follow the exact rules of the so-called “bullet journaling method,” or create every page you see in your favorite IG-er’s journal.
  7. Learn from previous months’ layouts. If something about your past spreads hindered you from using your journal or finding it helpful, try changing it this month, until you find one that works for you. Bullet journaling is supposed to help you stay organized — and the minute it stops doing that is the minute to start reflecting on why.
  8. Last but not least, take the pressure out of bullet journaling. Keeping up with a bujo can be exhausting, especially if you feel the need to make every spread pretty and perfect. Not only should you forget about perfection, but you should also feel free to take breaks or choose more minimalistic layouts on weeks when you’re too busy or stressed for an elaborate journal spread. Remember: bullet journaling is here to help YOU!