So, after exposing our soft underbellies on Day 1 of the Challenge, Day 2 prompts us to write about “Something you love about yourself.” This is just plain easier than Day 1. Not because of vanity, but because focusing on what we like about ourselves means we get to operate from a place of power rather than a place of vulnerability. Plus, it’s incredibly valuable to show ourselves a little self-love once in a while. Makes us feel all warm and fuzzy, doesn’t it?
The thing I love about myself that I’m choosing to write about is not an accomplishment or a natural talent, but something that is still a work in progress: I love that I genuinely try to live authentically. I try, as much as possible, to say what I mean and put myself out there without wearing masks or performing roles or having to put someone else down in order to feel good about myself. I try to be conscious of those things and when I feel myself doing them, I try to step back, take a breath, and start again.
For so many years – maybe most of my life? – I lived in fear of being truly known. Deep down, I was terrified that if the people around me discovered who I really was, they would point, laugh, and reject me outright as unworthy, not valuable, and, ultimately unlovable. So I tried on different roles and masks. I assumed an air of reserve and haughtiness that caused many people to conclude that I was a snob. I hid behind my grades, my accomplishments, my career, my marriage, to create a persona that I thought people would like. I didn’t realize then that I was being disingenuous, honestly. I suppose it felt more like I was sparing people the pain of having to know or endure who I really was.
Not that I was a horrible person underneath. I sincerely cared about other people – very deeply – and was capable of a kind of fierce loyalty and unconditional love that I realize now is not always available. I didn’t use people or lie or cheat. I wasn’t racist or homophobic or judgmental. I was generous with my time, my feelings, and my love. So it wasn’t that there weren’t things about me to like; it was simply that I was subconsciously convinced that, underneath all of that, I was so broken and flawed, so much worse than anyone else I knew, that if people truly knew me, they wouldn’t like, respect, or value me. Never mind love me.
But it was exhausting. If you’ve ever been the perfect wife or perfect mother or perfect girlfriend or perfect friend or perfect student or perfect daughter, you know this. And you know also that it is, at its heart, a very real lie. By withholding our true selves, we not only feed fear, create stress, and undermine our ability to contribute all our best parts, we deny people a chance to know our best parts in true intimacy.
Because, the thing is, the best parts of us are never the masks we wear or the roles we perform perfectly. What we call perfect is actually boring and forgettable and not at all relatable. The moments of true perfection are in the mistakes, the flaws, the flashes of vulnerability we show each other. It is the times when someone does something unexpectedly kind, or reveals something about themselves that we can connect with, or offers some unobligated comfort or support – those are the moments when we can feel the walls between us collapsing and we can feel our human connection most deeply. Those are the moments in which we create admiration and appreciation for another person.
None of those moments is possible without authenticity. I have come to realize that few people are genuinely bad. Most who behave badly are simply chronically and/or deeply disingenuous for any number of reasons. But at our core, I sincerely believe, almost all of us are good. And want to be even better.
Living an authentic life is scary. Every single time I expose myself, I risk rejection, laughter, and pain. Like most things, it gets easier with time, but I can’t say that it’s actually “easy” for me yet. And I think that it’s so hard that we lie to ourselves about whether we are being authentic. We are so used to our masks and our roles, we don’t even notice them anymore. But simply stating that we’re being authentic is not the same as actually living authentically. Would that it were that simple!
If you, like I did, are living life in a box of expectations and moving through your days out of obligation, if you are being your best (fill in the blank here) because you feel that you have to or you need to (rather than because it is simply your natural operating system), then you probably aren’t living authentically. If you refuse to post anything negative on social media, if you resist revealing your true feelings to people about parenting or your marriage, if you couldn’t admit the relief you felt after your mother/father/grandparent passed away following a long, bitter war with cancer, then you’re probably not living authentically. In short, if you’re showing people only the best, happy, positive and uplifting side of you, then you definitely aren’t living authentically. Authenticity demands vulnerability and fears and flaws.
It is so tempting to put our best face forward. The idea that people will admire us and look up to us and want to be like us is an intoxicating incentive to cling to that mask and that role. It is tantalizing to think we might be the “It Girl,” the Carrie Bradshaw, or the Martha Stewart of our girl squad. And I’m here to admit that it might actually work… for a time. But eventually people realize that they can only get so close to you. They begin to suspect that you are hiding things, or, more surprising to me, that you are withholding intimacy because you are judging them and finding them lacking. No kidding. It happens.
My authenticity experiment since my divorce has not been without its lumps and bumps. I have confided to the wrong people. I have revealed more than I should. I have let some really bad people into my life. It’s honestly a case of two steps forward, one step back for me most of the time. But I know that I genuinely like myself better when I am behaving authentically. I can feel it. It isn’t sanctimonious or judgmental. It isn’t better or smarter or more talented. It is flawed and broken and honest and funny and compassionate and open and achingly real.
And whatever else it is or isn’t, at least it’s not perfect. And I love it.