Let’s talk about authenticity.
According to Wikipedia, “authenticity is the degree to which one is true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character, despite external pressures.” Basically, you doing you despite what anyone else has to say about it.
Here’s a brilliant Brené nugget of wisdom to chew on as you read through this post:
“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”
Whoa. Let’s say that again for the cheap seats in the back, this time bolded and italicized, just ’cause, you know, it’s important.
“Our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”
Let that sink in for a sec.
If you’re anything like me, you feel awkward. You know, around people. Much of the time. You’re not a complete social pariah, but there is anxiety when it comes to just the idea of gatherings of humans especially the kind you’ve never met. I tend to feel like an alien. You know, like, from outer space. X-Files style.
In other words, I don’t generally feel like I belong anywhere in particular. Could this feeling of not belonging be somehow attached to my own self-acceptance then? Ding! Ding! Ding! It makes total sense.
So here I am, doing some work to fix it.
How many of us run ‘all authentic all the time’? It’s hard, right? How do we stop those irritating voices from squeezing into our thoughts and actions with their insidious, self-esteem crushing shoulds until we don’t feel like ourselves anymore, but some puppet pretending to be us? Your strings being pulled by a bunch of fools with their own silly agendas.
Here’s what I think. We could learn a lot from our canine kids about being authentic.
Lucy, (aka The Goon) our beloved and goofy golden retriever mix was afraid of water. Bodies of water to be more specific. Have you ever heard of a golden who doesn’t love water? It’s a thing, isn’t it? Like peanut butter and chocolate, goldens and water, right?
She hated it. Hate is a strong word. She was terrified of it, probably because of some giant hell-beast monster with knifey teeth she just knew was going to swallow her whole if she went in it. Silly Goon.
Many years ago, after an idyllic weekend spent wandering around the lake and main street in Big Bear, we were on our way out of town and decided to stop for a little play time at the beach with The Goon. She was much younger then and loved to fetch sticks. That part of her goldenness was intact.
At one point, we got a little over-zealous with our throw and the stick landed about ten feet offshore, floating in the perilous lake. The Goon didn’t register the water as water, because she tore after that stick like it was still on land, flying off the end of the dock with great gusto as if she were built to do such a thing.
But the second her paws crashed through what she thought was earth and sucked her underneath she forgot everything else as it became horrifically clear she wasn’t in Kansas anymore.
Stick? What stick? Fuck that. I’m out. Her exact words.
Had she been concerned with what the other dogs on the beach thought of her fear at that moment, or the fact that she should have, being a gorgeous specimen of a golden retriever, in fact loved hucking herself into the water to catch the stick, she probably would have carried on and sallied forth and all that.
But she popped up pissed off, put out, and paddled her little self back to shore pronto. No looking back.
The Goon was just being Goonie. She wasn’t cool with the water, and she didn’t give a damn who thought what about that. She wasn’t about to change who she was to please somebody else, even her mommy. Even if it meant losing that glorious stick.
That was authentic Gooner Bug. And she lived her whole life that way.
Brené says: “Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”
The first thing on my bravery list was to become a volunteer at Best Friends Animal Society in Mission Hills. I’ve wanted to volunteer for a very long time for humans (homeless shelters, holding babies, etc.) and animals, but I usually stop myself for one reason or another. Reasons that generally don’t have much to do with reality, and a lot to do with the social anxiety I’ve developed over the last few years. Telling myself stories, etc.
Normally, this is where the horrid shoulds would crash the party. You love animals, so you should want to help them (which I do, very much). You should want to volunteer there because they’re an awesome organization that helps animals (which they are). You should do whatever it takes to help animals, even if it feels completely off for you (oh, hell no). Et cetera.
The other day, I was talking to one of my best friends about my experience at Best Friends, explaining to her that I was just trying to find my way into what I wanted to do to help, staying true to what I needed because of my own specific neuroses. She interrupted me halfway through our conversation to note that I hadn’t once, during the whole thing, used the word should.
Just then, the clouds parted and the angels sang. No shit. True story. Right there on the freeway.
This was a revelation. Because nobody in the history of history has shoulded all over themselves as much as I used to. I was a pro. I could should myself and your whole team under the table any day, my friends. It was second nature, borne of my perfectionism, and incredibly destructive.
Normally, in my negative headspace, pre-Brené, Liz, and Dani, I would consider this past couple weeks a failure. I failed to find something I could do with regard to helping these animals in the ways I’d intended to. There are certain things that I don’t jive with and I could have looked at this experience as yet another way in which I’d failed.
But that didn’t happen. Because here’s what: I let go of should and just let me be me.
Volunteering in this capacity was not my jam, but I’m going to keep working on finding a way to help by using my skills as a pet photographer. Shelter dogs always need better photos.
Brené says: “Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.”
I got real with myself about how I wanted to show up for these animals, accepted that what I tried was not the way I wanted to help, and course corrected toward something that feels right for me. I was honest with myself, didn’t try to shoehorn my way into something that wasn’t the right fit for me, and best of all, didn’t make myself wrong for any of it.
Side note: you’ll notice that in the last couple posts, I’ve been using more colorful language for emphasis. It’s a thing I do in life, and in my writing…usually. I’ve mostly refrained from it in my blog up till now because I’ve been afraid to offend.
So here’s another what: if I’ve offended you by dropping the F-Bomb here and there, I’m sorry, I truly am, I don’t set out to do that. But if it does bother you, perhaps my blog is not your thing because, though I won’t use it indiscriminately like Chuck Wendig (funny dude!), I cannot promise my posts will be rated G from now on.
This is just me doing me. Authentically. I hope you’ll stick around and join the conversation, but I totally understand and will not hold it against you if you want to bail.
So where in your life have you been less than authentic? Less than honest with yourself and those around you? Is it fear of being judged? By ‘them’ or by yourself? What steps can you take or have you taken to start being a more authentic you? Let’s talk about it down there in the comments. ↓
Don’t forget to hashtag all your bravery with #ouryearoflivingbravely on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram when you share your victories and aspirations there.
Next week I’m going to talk about Guidepost #2 from The Gifts of Imperfection – cultivating self-compassion – wahoo! I’ll share a test I failed miserably with you and talk about how we can all pass this sucker with flying colors in the future. It’s simple, but it ain’t easy.
If you know someone who is struggling and you’d like to share this post, please feel free using the buttons down yonder. ↓
In case you missed them, here are my other posts in this series of #ouryearoflivingbravely:
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Meantime, be well, be brave, be awesome you!