“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.”
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.]