True colors

If you’re like me, practicing authenticity can feel like a daunting choice — there’s a risk involved in putting your true self out in the world. But I believe there’s even more risk in hiding your gifts from the world.
— Brené Brown

Authenticity has always been a stumbling block of mine. 

Authenticity is being true. Saying what I think. Those are scary things and require courage.

I began to understand the importance of honesty and authenticity when I was taking a course led by a life coach named Lauren. According to her coaching method, the approach to feeling happier and better about yourself -- as well as a way to mend connections with others -- is by purging or coming clean about your lies and things you did which you aren't proud of.

You have to OWN your story.

For most of my life, I believed that telling the truth is something only brave people are able to do. In other words, not for me. There was conflict going on in my mind between feeling too powerful (if I told the truth, I could hurt people) and feeling too weak (I just wasn't that brave).

Because I felt unworthy of love as I was, I know now that I sought to control others' image of me, by trying to be perfect. I turned my image of perfection into an armor against criticism and confrontation. But, as such, it's a faulty and very weak armor. 

As a people-pleaser, I could justify my little white lies. I did it with my ex-husband. Even when he would call me out on it, I would do anything but truthfully apologize. "Yeah, I lied. But I did it for you!" Then I'd think to myself: "Aren't I being sacrificial and caring?"

Wow. What a load of shit, Lauren, my coach, pointed out. 

That was a difficult pill to swallow.

It was a wake-up call. I knew deep down that putting on a false mask was wrong. I knew it was harmful to my relationships and to myself. I knew that I couldn't be happy this way. Although I was uncomfortable for most of my life with who I was, I never considered giving myself permission to be that 'flawed' person, to ease the pain that hiding myself had caused. I preferred to feel the discomfort even more strongly by wearing the mask of "everything is fine." I thought I had to make sure no one believed I had any criticism about them, even if I did.

So I sought help. The life coaching course was one way I worked on this aspect of myself. I also read books, including "Excavating Your Authentic Self" by Sarah Ban Breathnach, and recently the books by Brené Brown. 

I read stories of brave men and women who come to realize, after struggling with authenticity, that they need to fight for the right to be who they are if they are to be free. Despite the nay-sayers. Despite the critics. Despite the weapon they place into the hands of their enemies.

I look for examples of bravery, wherever they turn up. One of my favorite songs that causes me to choke up each time I hear it is "True Colors," sung by Cyndi Lauper. When my brother sang it at our dad's memorial service, I was a wreak. 

I see your true colors, and that’s why I love you. So don’t be afraid to let them show. Your true colors. Are beautiful, like a rainbow.
— Cyndi Lauper

For a long time, I didn't know how to find the courage to be authentic. I had the same concerns that Brené Brown talks about in her book, "The Gifts of Imperfection." 

  • What if I think I'm enough, but others don't?
  • What if I let my imperfect self be seen and known and nobody likes what they see?
  • What if my friends/family/co-workers like the perfect me better... the one who takes care of everything and everyone?

Do you know what? Whatever anyone else thinks about me -- that's their own issue. It has NOTHING to do with me. Phew!

Even with long-time practice, authenticity is still an issue for me. At my last job, I pretended to believe I had a place there, when I knew deep down it wasn't the place for me. I didn't want to be there. I couldn't bear the thought of going in one more day and pretending. I forced myself to get up in the mornings to drag myself into the office.

Eventually, this caught up to me. When I was challenged to meet particular standards of the job assigned to me, I knew it was an attempt to move me out. It was time for me to move on. That job was not the real me, or what I'm meant to do. The truth was greater than the falsehood of staying, so I got out. But not without fighting for my job until the bitter end. 

I know now that to be authentic, you have to love yourself first. You also have to let go of safety. Practice risk-taking. The more you do this and survive, the easier it gets.

It may never be comfortable. But then, there's this famous quote from Pope Benedict XVI:

"The world offers you comfort. But you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness."