I need to be authentic. That’s what I’m told anyway. When I first heard this, I really had no idea what it meant. Am I authentic? If not, how do I become authentic? Oprah Winfrey is talking about it. My yoga teacher is too. And now Brene’ Brown is telling me I need to be authentic. I think it’s time for me to figure out what this means to me.
I think being authentic is being who you really are, and not what everyone else wants you to be, or thinks you should be. Sounds easy enough. Oh, but wait. It’s not so easy. Because many of us live each day trying to live up to someone else’s expectations. Maybe it’s our boss, or our parents, or our friends, our significant other. We are even bombarded everyday through the media with ideas and expectations of who or what we should be. We need to be thinner, healthier, stronger. Our hair needs to be straighter, teeth whiter. Our bank accounts need to be heftier. For some of us perhaps, these directives are rooted in our upbringing. Maybe Mom and Dad expected you to be an A student, go off to medical school, and find a cure for Ebola. What if that wasn’t what you wanted to do? How can you live up to that?
It’s funny how this pressure leads us to make the wrong choices for ourselves. I think I spent more than half my life doing that. When my college romance ended in heartbreak instead of marriage, I was suddenly stricken with the panic of “what now?” I’m supposed to get married, start a family, and live happily ever after. I had a degree in English (writing) with a concentration in speech and theatre. Yet upon graduation, I was too scared to look for a professional writing job. I was scared that I would be judged “not good enough.” Though I had every other excuse: I don’t really want to do that; I don’t want to start over at the bottom of the ladder; I won’t make any money. I was heartbroken, directionless. Add to that a fear of trusting, and an unrealistic idea that I needed to be taken care of, and you have a real recipe for disaster. So I married the wrong man. I languished in a career that didn’t inspire my passions. I lingered in a numbing fog until the bombs went off.
So one day, after the divorce papers were filed, and the house was sold, and the dust began to settle, it finally occurred to me. I am not going to worry anymore about making other people happy. I am going to make me happy. I am going to speak the truth. I am not going to let other people tear down my confidence in myself. I’m going to set my own priorities. I spent many days mourning my losses. Lots of tears were shed. I re-built my life from the ground up. I started running, and biking, and kayaking. I read books that encouraged me and helped to heal my soul. I dedicated my time and energy to the health and well-being of myself and my daughter. I committed to making myself a stronger woman.
So maybe I knew what authenticity was without even realizing it. Being authentic means being me, warts and all. It means being proud of my failures as well as my successes. It means that I can be vulnerable and learn from my mistakes. It’s knowing that my friends and family will love me just the way I am. It’s knowing that I’m not always pretty. But I’m spectacularly beautiful! And someone will love me for it, or not. And that’s OK.