Authenticity & Being
Authenticity. Being. Being true to "who you are." These are ideas I've struggled with. Like - what does that even mean, "to be authentic," "to be yourself?" Which self? In which context?
Who I am in my head, as I'm writing this, is the same and yet different from the person who sits in a conference room full of people picking apart a weird use case trying to squeeze it into a very structured format (or... maybe not so much actually, lol!), is very different from the person at lunch making awkward small talk.
I often feel way more comfortable in a situation if I have a specific role. If I go to an event and know that I have some specific role to play other than milling around socializing. It comes along with social anxiety, I suppose. Without a specific role, I would rather observe from a quiet-ish vantage point. I want to have been there, but also I want to not be overwhelmed by All The Things Going On.
Sometimes I think about how easy it can be to get trapped in a role - where one is valued for the role they play rather than the person they are. I feel like I trap myself in this often. I play the role and it's the role that is what is appreciated and not necessarily me as a person separate from that role, and once I step outside that role, once I'm outside that context, I'm always rather afraid that people won't like me. As if being liked is everything it's cracked up to be (I suspect not).
And I'm getting to an age where... I don't want to care if people actually like me or not... at least not as a reason for trapping myself in boxes. And just like I'm not everyone's cup of tea, not everyone is my cup of tea either - it doesn't need to be so.
I was listening to Brené Brown talk about Why Your Critics Aren't The Ones Who Count, & she said something (well, 20 minutes worth of things)... she said, I guess, two things that have stuck with me this week. The first thing was, "If you aren't in the arena getting your ass kicked with me, I'm not interested in your feedback." Which resonates. As much as having a box is a comfortable place for me, the truth is, my boxes don't fit me very well anymore. There are parts of me that have been breaking past the confines and realizing that I cannot be all roles required of me, nor do I want to be. I... will never be a conventional business woman. I have neither the attitude, the hair, nor the patience for it. I tried, I really did. And I felt lost for years. I encountered terrible burnout. I was... sufficiently competent. Ok. Some would say I was very competent and others would wholeheartedly disagree. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Whatcha gonna do. Haters gonna hate. And management has a big. huge. target painted on their backs. As do women. And women managers. And again - if we're talking about authentic being... neither the attitude, the hair, nor the patience for it. And I took a lot of contradictory, impossible to reconcile, feedback from people whose butts were not in the arena with me. And also from those who were. I'm still picking that time apart. Separating the meat from the bones and stirring those bones around in the pot.
The second thing she said is that if you don't care at all, you cease to be vulnerable... the whole quote:
When you are thinking about the arena or preparing to go into the arena, there is fear, self-doubt, comparison, anxiety, and shame. When people know this, they armor up and when they armor up from the vulnerability, they are cutting themselves off from the birthplace of love, joy, belonging, trust, empathy, creation, and innovation.
Shortly after I read this, a friend quoted something else to me that resonated at a similar pitch - something about 'truth and cruelty sometimes being wound too closely.' When you (and by you, I mean I) close your (my) self off and try to be come invulnerable, sometimes what happens is that the truth becomes a weapon. Rather than using the truth to build trust and belonging, love, joy, empathy... truth becomes a steel cold boundary that cuts in both directions, isolating and cutting any who dare to cross too near. And I sometimes use this cold truth as my protection - "But it's true." Though it is neither kind, nor compassionate, and really it is only serving the purpose of separation.
All of which is a long way of getting to - what does it mean to be authentic to yourself - not lazy, not mindlessly "because I want to", but to the seed, the core, of the person that exists beyond the boxes, and the roles, and the mere 'purposes served'? And in that, may I use truth, cut free from unnecessary cruelty, as a knife to cut myself free from the boxes and roles so that I can choose when I step into a role, if I step into a role, so that I am acting knowing I am in alignment with that "authentic" me - open to "love, joy, belonging, trust, empathy, creation, and innovation," and yes, even some (maybe calculated) vulnerability, and the courage to show up and step into the arena of authenticity time and time again.
To that end - from a beloved story:
“Real isn't how you are made,' said the Skin Horse. 'It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.'
'Does it hurt?' asked the Rabbit.
'Sometimes,' said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. 'When you are Real you don't mind being hurt.'
'Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,' he asked, 'or bit by bit?'
'It doesn't happen all at once,' said the Skin Horse. 'You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.”
― Margery Williams Bianco, The Velveteen Rabbit
With love, (compassionate and accountable) truth, and curiosity,