In the episode, “On More Myself” from Unlocking Us with Brené Brown, Alicia Keys and Brené tackle the experiences that cause us to “armor up” and self-censor. They talk about how the armor we make can trap us and how we can liberate ourselves through self-belief and self-care.
Read this if...
- You struggle to be yourself around others
- You have a hard time saying no to people
- You feel emotionally exhausted
Alicia Augello Cook, known professionally as Alicia Keys, is a musician, singer-songwriter, actress, and philanthropist. She wrote the book More Myself, recounting her career as a musician and the challenges she faced along the way.
the distilld lessons (extended)
We all wear armors. Not physical ones, but emotional armors. Some do it to protect themselves. Others do it to project a version of themselves others will approve. But wearing these armors can trap us from being ourselves. If we want to break free, we have to understand why we put on armors in the first place. We have to learn where they come from, what they do to us, and what we can do about them.
In this episode of Unlocking Us, Brené talks to award-winning musical icon Alicia Keys. Alicia documents her journey to becoming the woman that she is in her book, More Myself. She also provides the roadmap to living life according to our truth regardless of what others think.
Here are the distilld lessons inspired by the “More Myself” episode of the Unlocking Us with Brené Brown podcast:
1. Beware the “good girl” or “good boy” syndrome.
A glance at her career would tell us that Alicia Keys loves music and music loves Alicia Keys. Her penchant for music began as a child. Even at a young age, she sang well and played the piano. She was already making music that captivated those who heard her. It wasn’t long before the music industry took notice. Not long after her discovery, Alicia was catapulted to stardom.
Alicia’s first big hit was in 2001 when she released Songs in a Minor. The album featured her number one hit Fallin and went on to sell more than 10 million copies worldwide. She even made her US TV debut on an Oprah Winfrey show.
When Alicia was starting in her career, she came face-to-face with an uncomfortable truth. It wasn’t enough for her music to be good. They also had to sell. For music to be marketable, she had to conform to certain industry standards. Conforming means she also had to change.
From the way she looked down to the way she sang, she had to be the “good girl”.
Most of us were told to just be a “good girl” or a “good boy”. Our conforming to expectations as children turns into lifelong habits. We did things because we were told it was how good kids behaved. In other words, to be a “good girl” or a “good boy” wasn’t to bring out qualities within us that we valued. It was to follow strict orders set by society.
We often sacrifice aspects of ourselves to what society finds acceptable. We sacrifice our points of view, our behaviors, and even our ambitions. If we don’t follow these standards, we will not be considered “good” people.
The good girl or good boy syndrome is what leads us to wear armors. We start to armor and mask ourselves with layers of personality that conform. It can lead us to project an image that others like even if they’re not our true selves. We can also do this to protect ourselves from being judged.
2. We can get lost in our success.
Alicia’s struggles with knowing herself didn’t stop when she found success. If anything, it got worse. Before show business, she was told what to do. As a newcomer, she was also told what she should do: follow the dictates of others.
She played show after show, even when she didn’t want to. She worked even when it started to take a toll on her. She endured pain, fatigue, and sadness. Because she was known as a “good girl”, she didn’t want to look selfish and ungrateful. Since she came from a place of struggle, Alicia didn’t want to squander her opportunities.
Alicia shares in an interview that she wrote her empowerment anthems for herself, too. She needed to convince herself that she was strong because she felt less and less in tune with herself.
As we become adults, we start to define ourselves by what we do and what we’ve achieved. We sacrifice much of who we are to fit in. We’re often left with voids where aspects of our personality used to be which we constantly try to fill in with achievements.
Maintaining this image is physically and emotionally draining. It demands so much out of us that it blinds us to our own emotions. We never stop, we never say no. We work regardless of how tired or emotionally drained we are. This is what traps us inside our armor. Instead of finding who we truly are, we just reinforce our armors. We coat ourselves with achievement and the approval of others.
We box ourselves inside our armors. We become alone and stuck with our vulnerabilities that we can’t reach out to others and build authentic relationships.
3. Breaking down can mean breaking free.
It wasn’t a single moment that caused Alicia’s exhaustion. It was a series of moments that piled up. To her, the insecurities and fatigue all accumulated and caught up with her all at once.
Alicia leaned into her vulnerability instead of backing away from it. She took a break from the spotlight. She did nothing, which according to her was what eventually freed her from deep sadness. She said nothing, sang nothing, and did nothing.
In her book, More Myself, she talks about going on a solo trip to Egypt in her 20s. This is where she reflected, breathed, and listened to her inner voice. Her experiences in Egypt empowered her deeply. It made her promise herself that she would never betray her truth again.
When she came back from her hiatus, it’s as if the universe rewarded her for her breakthrough. She got married. She had a baby. She helped write a song that eventually won her a Grammy.
Alicia also freed herself from the idea that she always needed to be the “good girl”. She let go of the urge to live up to what others expected. She took control of her own life. She shed her armor and let her vulnerability shine through.
Alicia’s journey shows us that we’re as much our flaws as we are our successes. We can allow ourselves to be defined by more than our success and our best moments. We can embrace and integrate our vulnerabilities into what we show the world.
Life is hard, and it’s harder alone. That’s why we seek others and try to get along. As much as we want to fit in and be liked by everyone, we have to learn when and how to stand up for who we are. We need to know how to tell people what we want and what we don’t want. Otherwise, we’ll live life trapped in our armor. We won’t be able to connect with others and ourselves.
We deserve to ourselves first before people’s opinions. We’re allowed to embrace who we are, warts and all. When we do this, we can chip away at our armor. Eventually, we can live life in our terms regardless of what others may think or say.
For a shorter conversation, the distilld lessons summary are here.