“The idea that we can choose authenticity makes most of us feel both hopeful and exhausted. We feel hopeful because being real is something we value. We feel exhausted because without even giving it too much thought, most of us know that choosing authenticity in a culture that dictates everything from how much we’re supposed to weigh to what our houses are supposed to look like is a huge undertaking.” ~Brene Brown
Several years ago I stumbled across Brene Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability. I immediately became a huge fan of hers. Her words even inspired this blog post. Since then, my “books to read” list has included this statement: “Anything by Brene Brown”. Well just recently I picked up a copy of her book The Gift of Imperfection. I have marked that thing up, underlining, starring, and making comments like “wow!” in the margins. She gives words to an underlying feeling I have a lot of the time. And her words cause me to stop, take a deep breath and feel a sense of peace. Muscles in my back relax. The voices in my head are quieted, if just for a moment and I exhale a breath I didn’t know I was holding.
Why do we struggle with what it looks like to be authentic? Why do I struggle with that? I want to be real, genuine. To have my motivation be pure. But every time I post something on Instagram or Facebook. I find myself checking in every half hour or so to see how many “likes” I’ve received. If the number is low, I am obviously, in my mind, an utter and complete failure, who might as well give up on my career as a photographer. If the number of likes is higher and I’ve got all sorts of fun comments, my value is restored and I start feeling pretty good about myself. That is, until I see another person’s post with five times as many likes and comments. Then I am back at square one. Crazy, I know. Welcome to my world. But I bet I’m not alone in this. At times I’ve come to the point where I’ve told myself I don’t care what people think. It’s not true. I do care. Not caring leads to results I don’t want anyway. Not caring what people think requires at least a little hardness to shield ourselves from hurt or rejection. That shield also gets in the way of deep connection. That’s not something I want.
No. True authenticity requires courage. The courage to be who I truly am. To let that person show, with all her imperfections. To put my work out there, no matter if the response is good, bad, or indifferent. True authenticity butts heads with the people pleaser in me. The one who wants the praise and the accolades and for everyone to like me. Authentic people are clear about their boundaries, not running themselves ragged, trying to please everyone.
Years ago I was introduced to something called the prayer of recollection. One part of the prayer states this. “I am not infinite. I cannot grant everybody’s wishes. I am grateful for the truth that I am not God. Only God can meet al the needs that surround me. Thank you Lord for being there in my weakness and for meeting my needs.”
I find such freedom are in those words. I feel the need to get a million things done every day, but the truth is, that’s just not possible. I have limitations. Trying to live as someone without limitations is just crazy! I just end up feeling behind at the end of the day, like I should have accomplished more. I should have done this or that. Stop “should-ing” all over yourself! I cannot meet everyones needs. I can only get done what I can get done. I can be a good steward of my time, not spend time trolling around the internet, on Facebook or pinterest, but I only have 24 hours in the day. And not all of those are to be used for work. There are relationships to be cultivated. Rest needs to happen.
And what is behind that “shoud-ing” anyway? Who says I should be this way or that? Sometimes it comes from a genuine place inside of me. I realize this life is short and there are so many things I want to do and experiences I want to have. That’s only in my best moments, however. More often than not it’s more about keeping up appearances or a comparison of myself to others. I should have more clients because so and so has four times as many as I do. I feel behind somehow because of what I perceive of other people from the “them” they present online. But I can’t be “them”. I don’t want to be.
The authentic me is glad I’m not busier than I am. The real me is uncertain of the future, and honestly, a little fearful that I will soon be responsible for a little helpless human. I have no idea what life will look like in a few short months. I keep telling people that I feel like I can make plans up until August. After that, all bets are off! I don’t know what my business will look like after that. Bigger? Smaller? How will I ever get anything done? I have no idea. But one thing I do know is that if I measure my success by comparing myself to someone else, I will fall short every time.
I don’t know. For me there is a lot of freedom in knowing I am human. I actually find I get more done and in a more authentic way when I know my limitations. I’m going about it with a different attitude. A much more peaceful one. I remove some of the expectations from myself so I’m freed up to be myself. To be creative. Nothing kills creativity like trying to be what someone else wants you to be. It just doesn’t work. E.E. Cummings wrote:
“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.”
I promise to fight that battle. Will you join me?