The Bravest Battle You’ll Never Stop Fighting

Feb 27, 2013

“To be nobody-but-yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody but yourself—means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight—and never stop fighting.” —E. E. Cummings

Within seconds of hitting “send,” I regretted it.

In the span of a few hundred words, I’d revealed an honest and tender part of myself to more than a thousand readers. From the moment I started the draft, caution warned me to write something bland, or at least wait until a “happier” day to write it. But I’d blindly stumbled forward, deep as I was in the mire. And then hit “send.”

Uh-oh.

I should’ve told that silly story about my kids. Maybe shared a recipe for enchiladas. Crowd-pleasers, both of them. No risk, no exposure. Instead, I’d told the truth. And instantly wished I hadn’t.

What if they think I’m weak or negative?
What if they don’t like this version of me?
What if I end up alone?

These questions pelted me like hail on a roof, beating me down with self doubt. But I recognized the assault. Every time I share my truest self in a blog post, on a platform or with a friend over coffee, I face the same deluge. Every. Single. Time.

Authenticity is a battle. To be who I think you want me to be is easy. To be who I really am takes serious courage.

Like most of us, I prefer safety over pain, acceptance over rejection. I don’t enjoy that raw and exposed place. And I don’t enjoy the risk that comes with it. And authenticity it IS risky:

  • Some people prefer the “together” me over the complicated, worry-prone, transparent me.
  • “How are you?” doesn’t mean the person who asked it really wants to know the answer.
  • Telling the truth increases the odds that I’ll be misinterpreted, misunderstood and alone.

Authenticity means I could end up hurt. In fact, I probably will. It’s choosing to sit outside in a storm knowing there’s a chance of getting wet. Self-preservation says to stay inside, where the walls and windows reduce exposure. But isolation and fear are their own kind of pain. And staying behind walls means never knowing the feel of rain. Authenticity, on the other hand …

Sets me free. Choosing to be true—even at the risk of rejection and misunderstanding—takes the sting out of the fear that holds us hostage. Hiding doesn’t remove the fear. It only compounds it. Honesty, however, allows us to experience the reward on the other side: freedom.

Gives permission. I am most drawn to imperfect, in-progress people. Why? Because I am the same. With them, I feel safe. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard someone tell me, “I’m so relieved to know I’m not alone!” Being authentic about our struggles and successes (yes, both), gives those around us permission to be fully, freely themselves.

Invites connection. Authenticity both attracts and repels. It serves as a sieve, sifting those who desire true connection from those who simply want to rub shoulders with a mirage. I don’t have the energy to invest in facades. But I do have a desire for meaningful relationships with those who know how to both be honest and receive honesty, with grace and acceptance. But it only happens if you and I choose to go first.

Authenticity—true authenticity—is not a fad or trendy phrase. It’s a daily battle, full of both discomfort and risk. But, ultimately, its the path to the peace, freedom and relationship we want.

All of which are a whole lot more satisfying than a pan of enchiladas.

How have you experienced the rewards of authenticity in your life?

[NOTE: Many conversations and resources have contributed to my ongoing commitment to authenticity. Recently, a book by Brene Brown has been quite enlightening: The Gifts of Imperfection. From the perspective of both a therapist and a fellow struggler, Brene shares both significant research and personal experience. I think you’ll find it rich.]

16 Comments

  1. Risé B.

    Michele ~

    Oh, ‘to put yourself out there.’ I loved this post. Authenticity is something I often struggle with – mostly because I grew up under an abusive mother who wouldn’t ‘let’ me be who I was, but who she wanted me to be, which wasn’t ‘me’ at all. Whenever I exhibited or put forth an authentic side to myself in personality or ideals/opinions, I was struck down for it because they weren’t the same as hers. I learned to conform for fear of rejection – but the cruel truth was, I was rejected anyway.

    Being authentic for me, growing up, was painful. It did result in being rejected in every way – so you could probably imagine how, even now, as an adult, how being raised like that just exacerbated those feelings and thoughts which causes a lot of unnecessary anxiety in one’s adult years.

    Reading your post made me feel less alone. Over the years, I have worked harder on the idea that, it’s okay to be ‘me’ – whoever ‘me’ is. Are the fears of rejection still there? Yes. Is there a fear of not being liked? Yes. Is there fear that my opinions won’t be well-received? Yes. But, still I strive forward. It so happens that I married one great guy who keeps telling me to stop caring what other people think, and he’s good at it. He is authentic – what you see is what you get – and people like him. So, observing this has been a ‘given permission’ thing, that it is okay to be ‘me’ faults and all. Because of my past, I still struggle with the simple notion, ‘who am I?’ But I am learning, realizing that not everyone is going to like me … and the freeing truth of that is … it’s okay if they don’t and it’s not something we should ever take personally.

    I love your link to, “Choose to Go First” – I fell in love with the words of that post when I read that some time ago – I still go back and read it – it delights my soul … somehow. 🙂

    Reply
    • Michele

      So much hard-earned wisdom in your comment, Rise. In particular, I love how your husband gives you permission to be yourself. What wounds us in relationship is often healed in relationship. Beautiful.

      Reply
  2. Jennifer M Zeiger

    Thanks Michele for sharing. Every time I read one of your posts, I feel a connection to what you’re saying, probably because you are so authentic in what you write. Thanks for letting the authenticity shine through=)

    Reply
    • Michele

      Thank you, Jennifer. Such a kind (and timely) thing to say. Thank you.

      Reply
  3. Marlee

    Michele!
    I can so relate to what you’ve shared here, and you said it so well. In fact, this the very topic my talk a the upcoming Killer Tribes Conference and I now know it’s exactly what I’m supposed to share on. We all struggle in this place.
    Personally, I’ve always found that the posts I most fear publishing or the things I most fear speaking are the very things that have the most significance. It makes sense that the resistance would be there. We just have to learn to keep pushing past it. Thanks for doing that! 🙂

    Reply
    • Michele

      I’ve discovered the same thing, Marlee. When I push myself past the resistance, the reward is far greater. The places I’m most fearful to go end up being the biggest bridge to others.

      Reply
  4. Tammy Helfrich

    I feel this every time too. It can be hard, but had always been worth it! Great post.

    Reply
    • Michele

      Yes, I agree, Tammy. Always worth it.

      Reply
  5. Judi

    Hi Michelle – totally “got” this post … to be authentic is brave!!! And essential! I really believe in taking risks and putting yourself out there … it’s built my life, my career and my confidence. I’ve fallen, I’ve failed and I’ve been scared … but more than anything I’ve perservered!! And I’m stronger! Thanks for taking risks and being vulnerable … your posts are great.

    Reply
    • Michele

      You make a great point. The only way to build our strength and confidence is to continue to take the risk … and discover it won’t, in fact, kill us! 🙂

      Reply
  6. Sheila

    What an inspiring post!! I too have struggled with being true to myself and mainly because of the mistakes of my past but God is removing those layers one by one. It is so liberating to be authentic and I am looking forward to growing in that area.

    Reply
    • Michele

      Thank you, Sheila. It’s hard to let go of the regret over the past, isn’t it? On one hand, it keeps me from making the same mistakes again. But too often I beat myself down with it, too. But for the grace of God …

      Reply
  7. Change Volunteer

    As someone said, “The hardest thing is to be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to change you”…it has always been a tussle between my real self and the one I try to portray! Getting lost in this struggle is so easy!

    Reply
    • Michele

      Me too! I understand this only too well.

      Reply
  8. Sharon

    My first visit of many to come I am sure. The older I get the more I realize that I am not unique in my struggles, self doubt, fears, or pain. Others have been there too. This post is just one more example that other women struggle with some of the same things I do. So thankful for your honesty and openness it is needed in a world that tries so hard to hide pain and imperfection. Bless you dear sister.

    Reply
    • Michele

      I’m so glad you found community here. You are certainly not alone! Thanks for sharing, Sharon.

      Reply

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