#OurYearOfLivingBravely – Part 2 – Authenticity – Let’s Stop ‘Shoulding’ All Over Ourselves

Let’s talk about authenticity.

It’s the first of ten guideposts Brené Brown lays out in her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, for living a wholehearted life. If you haven’t read the book yet, run don’t walk.

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.

Author Kelly Byrne insecure kitty authenticityIf 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.

Author Kelly Byrne stop shoulding be who you are authenticityI tell you a story.

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.

Author Kelly Byrne worthiness scale authenticityI’m happy to report that I can check this one off my list…sort of. I did become a volunteer, went to orientation and everything. But here’s the rub: it’s not for me.

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:

The Perils of Self-Doubt and #OurYearOfLivingBravely

#OurYearOfLivingBravely – Part 1 – How The Hell Did We Get Here? And Where’s The Exit?

If you want my posts to land in your inbox so you won’t miss a thing, please subscribe to my blog up on the top right of this page where it says, ‘DON’T MISS A POST!’

Meantime, be well, be brave, be awesome you!

Author Kelly Byrne Website


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Kelly Byrne
An award-winning writer in many a genre, I currently herd words into novels and short stories about wildly flawed, but lovable characters. I strive to uncover the extraordinary in the ordinary, for those who believe in the possibility of the impossible, and those who always believe in love. My fiction embraces the idea that extraordinary things can and do happen in the real world. These whisperings of supernatural elements give my work a strong emotional edge, lending surprise and wonder to every story. I live in Los Angeles with my desperately handsome boyfriend where I’m working on my next novel.


  1. I swear we are living a parallel life right now! Yesterday, I spent 4 hours facilitating a book discussion on the Gifts of Imperfections! We had teens to a 75 year old woman. It was FUCKING AMAZING ( I love the F-bomb by the way). What you are doing Kelly is IMPORTANT! It’s thrilling you are writing about this and bringing this to so many people’s attention. Her work is brilliant and your ability to take what she’s written and provide/demonstrate from your own life what this looks like is AWESOME! If we all could gently hold each other’s hands and practice courage with each other, stripping our masks off and owning our full story, the good, the bad, the treacherous, imagine what our world would look like? Thank you for helping us, reminding us, guiding us to show up, to practice courage, to embrace the beautiful soul that lives inside each one of us. Love you soul-sister!

    1. Susan, that’s so awesome! That’s exactly what I’d like to do here as well. Discuss these books, and hold hands, and practice courage with everyone who reads the blog. And if not here, in this public space, then yes, most definitely in private with those we love and trust. The idea is to just get people thinking and moving, taking action on the things they’re not happy with.

      I’m so glad we’re on this path together and that we can compare notes. You know how I feel about what you’re doing with your book. It’s just the bravest, most selfless thing ever. I’m so proud of you and grateful to know you. To support and be supported and encouraged through all of this…together. We’ll stand side by side, at opposite ends of the country, holding hands and cheering each other on. Love you much!

  2. That’s funny . . . . or, more accurately, (ha-ha) PREDICTABLE! I just read part one of this blog post, and just left a comment. And, now, reading part two, I see that you’ve addressed exactly what I referred to in part one! No one has to tell you anything, woman! You know who you are, what you need, where you’ll go, and how to get there. Just keep going. One foot in front of the other– including stumbles, cha-chas, rhumbas, side-steps, shuffles, trips and a few jolly skips. Just. Keep. Going. <3 <3 <3

    1. Ha! You’re funny. That’s the thing, I’ve been stumbling around trying to figure it out, figure me out, for a while. Feeling as though I’d lost myself completely, especially in the last year leading up to The Goon’s departure.

      If you’d like to read my post about all that – it’s my first one in this series, here:


      It’s really been through reading Brene’s books and Liz’s book (Big Magic), and Dani’s book (Still Writing), and Amy’s book (Presence) and journaling like a mad-woman, and doing a lot of deep emotional house-cleaning that I’ve been able to start coming back to me. But, like, Me 2.0, the upgrade that patched a few of the original programming bugs. Ever a work in progress, of course. As we all are. 🙂

      Anyway – I will Irish step and hip hop my way through it all. Riverdance here I come. Love you, woman! <3 <3

  3. LOVED this post!! And as a newly reformed “should-er” myself I can definately relate. I was so good at kicking myself for not doing everything I felt I “should” or “shouldn’t do that it’s a wonder I am not super flexible. It’s a work in progress though. I do slip back from time to time (old friggin habits and all that) but I am more compassionate with myself when I do. Looking forward to next week’s piece. Self-compassion was (and is) a BIG gamechanger for me.

    Favorite part?
    ” I 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.”

    YES, YES, YES!!! Onwards!

    1. Thank you, sweet one. Yes, onward for sure. I’m so glad you’ve found that self-compassion, it’s so very important for emotional healing and health. I’ve got some serious work to do in that area, but, as always, we are all works in progress. And though we may backslide into shoulding on ourselves once in a while, at least we’re developing the tools to move forward in a healthier way now. It’s all good!

      Big hugs. xoxo

  4. Almost every day our girl complains about her legs or arms hurting her. But when we remind her that she’s 14 and probably going through a growth spurt, she nods her head and smiles. She’s been the youngest and smallest in her class every year, so she’s more than willing to experience a little pain to move toward a bigger, more fully developed version of herself.

    You’re doing the same thing, albeit of the emotional variety. And although you can’t see me right now, I’m nodding my head and smiling for you. You’re just too special of a person not to be let in on that little secret. I knew it from the first comment you wrote on my blog, and spending those few days with you last year just solidified it for me. I’m so, so happy you’re figuring it out for yourself. Because it doesn’t matter how many people tell you how awesome you are, if you don’t believe it then it simply isn’t true.

    You go, girl! Love you much!

    1. Too right, Kel. It doesn’t matter how many people tell you a thing, if you don’t breathe it, you won’t believe it. But that doesn’t mean it’s not absolutely lovely to hear, so thank you, my dear friend. And I’m beginning to breathe, so that’s a very good thing.

      I don’t need to tell you how special you are, but I’m going to anyway because you’re awesome. You have brightened my world for being in it, so thank you for that, for being brilliant you.

      Love you much too. xoxo

  5. I love this post, and how bravely you are living. Anxiety sucks, doesn’t it? Go you!!

    I hope you share those lovely photographs around. I need a dog but I have some specific requirements, so I’d be gazing at your photos, looking for my new lovey. 🙂

    1. Anxiety totally sucks, Jenny. Couldn’t agree more. Thanks for stopping by the blog and sharing your encouragement. I really appreciate the support. 🙂

      And I most definitely will be sharing those photos on my FB photography page and on my photography website blog as well, so I’ll be sure to let you know when I’ve got some new ones. Would love to help you find your new best friend. That would be awesome! xoxo

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