Tag Archives: authentic life

30 Days of Truth Challenge – Day 2

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.

authentic-self-soul-made-visible2

 

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30 Days of Truth Challenge – Day 1

Hi.  Remember me?

Needless to say, it has been quite a while.  I fell off the writing wagon quite a while ago.  First, it was because I was so blissfully happy with James that we couldn’t get enough of each other, and every single spare minute was devoted to basking in that glow.  Then, it was because things started getting hard and I was so confused and overwhelmed, I didn’t even know how to write about it.  Then, finally, life got so busy and full that there didn’t seem to be enough time or energy to devote to writing.  It, along with my yoga practice, faded away and became a silent part of an earlier chapter in my life.

I now earn a living being creative.  I have a  3o-hour-per-week job doing marketing and communications, plus I do freelance writing and website development another 10 or so hours per week.  I no longer need a creative outlet.  I spend my days — all day, every day — being creative. In fact, all these creative outputs contributed to a bit of creativity fatigue that fed my ambivalence about blog writing.

But I missed my blog and the outlet it provided.  I have always missed it. I never felt that it was over or considered pulling it down.  This is the only writing that I do entirely for myself.  The memoir I wrote and revised for hours was ultimately for an audience.  As is the novel I’ve outlined and started.  This, and only this, is purely for me and you.  Not for a publisher or an agent or a client or a boss.  Just some words here, in my little corner of the internet, where we can connect and explore the mundane and profound.

Oh, have I missed it.

Many times I have written whole posts in my head but not quite found the time to put them to the screen.  However, inspired by Oh Jenni (once again), I am picking up my laptop and dedicating myself to getting back in the writing groove again.  The 30 Days of Truth Challenge is a great way to do it.  I’m a day behind Jenni, so this is just my Day 1.  I’m rusty, I know, but hopefully you’ll bear with me as I rediscover my groove and my voice. And don’t worry… I’ll be sure to bring you all up-to-date with the ever evolving soap opera that passes for my life.  But you might be disappointed; things are much quieter these days.

But I digress…

Day 1:  Something You Hate About Yourself.

Boy, whomever created this challenge didn’t start easy, did they?

I spent the day contemplating this question in the back of my mind and then the answer was suddenly so clear to me:  the thing I dislike most about myself (hate is frankly too strong a word) is that I don’t know.  I don’t have a solid, tangible sense of who I am.  My sense of self feels ephemeral, gossamer, translucent.  What I think of myself, how I think of myself, what I see of me, seems to come and go, fade in and out, with the kind of fluttering inconsistency of fog at sunrise or clouds sweeping a windy sky.

I understand and appreciate the psycho-babble that answers the question of why I am this way, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating or strange.  So much of the time, in between rare moments of  grounded certainty, I feel like I exist only as a mirror of other people’s ideas about me.  I fumble to sketch the basic outlines of who I am and end up with nothing but eraser marks and ripped paper.

I’m not talking about knowing what I believe in; that I know.  I know what my values are and what my feelings are.  What I do not know is what I am.  I know what people say about me — the good and the bad — but I have a terrible time discerning the truth within those accusations and accolades.  I don’t seem to have the ability to hear these things and simply know whether I agree with them or not.  I have observed people my whole life and seen how most people do this constantly and usually without much thought.   But not me. It takes endless hours of journaling to sift through what is their stuff, what are their projections, and what are more evidence-based critiques of me, and finally determine what I think about their thoughts of me.  Do I agree with them or do I think their assessment is just plain wrong?

Look, I know that too much belly-button gazing is often worse than too little, and I know that life is a long journey of self-discovery, but it seems to me that, having reached the other side of “middle age” at 47, I should have a better and more immediate grasp of my identity.

And truly, not having a grounded sense of who you are and (perhaps even more importantly) who you aren’t, makes it all too easy for other people to project onto you their own ideas of who you are.  It’s as if you are simply a green screen onto which they projec their images of who and what you are, without any resistance from you.  After all, if you aren’t sure whether you are bossy or incompetent or inspirational or kind, how do you know whether their projected images are true?  Or is truth merely relative in this context? Perhaps the old psychological theory about there being three “real” identities for each person — Me, Myself, and I — is actual and factual and the only real “truth” is that we there isn’t only one truth to be divined about who each of us is.

Has your head exploded yet?  Because mine is starting to hurt.

Anyway, I really, really, really dislike this about myself, and I am chronically envious of pretty much everyone else in the world, who don’t seem to struggle to figure out who and what they are.

It’s okay if none of this makes any sense to you.  That just means that you’re one of the people I envy.

See you tomorrow for Day 2.

I-ve-been-trying-to-figure-out-who-I-am-and-I-fina

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the sins of my past

In case you had any doubts, I’m here to tell you that there isn’t much good about being broke with no financial or professional prospects. It pretty much sucks just as much you might imagine.  Watching what was once an impressive career draw its last, dying breath is uncomfortable under any circumstances but horrible beyond belief when that career is your own.

Of course, I can’t speak for anyone else who has crashed and burned her own shining career, but in my case, it didn’t happen overnight.  But sometimes it sure does seem that way. One day I had a big office near the Potomac River and the next time I took a good, long look at my career, I was scraping by and teetering on the brink of being Terminally Unemployable.  I spent many, many quiet moments of panic and self-loathing, contemplating my slow reversal of fortune, and my own complicity in it.

I think that it is objectively fair to say that my career peaked when I was 27-years-old and working DC for a national non-profit. I was flying around the country, appearing on national morning news shows, and pulling in more money than before or since. From there, my career involved a series of choices that took me further from power and money and ambition, including a six-year stint as a Stay At Home Mom with a part-time small business.

When I was fired from my last full-time job in February of 2013, I found myself involuntarily unemployed for the first time in my life, but the funny thing was, I wasn’t worried. At all. Seriously.  I had never, ever had to worry about finding work. Or money, for that matter. Whenever I needed an opportunity, one had always presented itself, and, even at my youngest and poorest, I had always been able to pay my bills. I felt confident that everything would be just fine.

Well.

Days turned to weeks. Weeks gave way to months. Months somehow slid into a year, and I was not any closer to a full-time job with benefits. I tried, honestly I did. I sent out resume after resume and tried all kinds of networking groups, online and off. I wrote and rewrote my resume to tailor it for every job I was conceivably qualified to do. I considered going back to school (!) to get some kind of certification or degree that would better position me. Caving to pressure from nearly everyone around me, I seriously explored hanging out my shingle as a sole practioner of law, only to suffer a few sleepless nights that made me realize that I’d be happier as a Starbucks barista than as an attorney. I completed the online application for Target and then realized that the shifts I would be given initially would require me to hire a nanny who would be making more per hour than I would.

In almost two years, I had two interviews and no offers.

I hid my despair from nearly everyone, putting on a brave front and reassuring my friends and family that something would surely come up. But I saw my own doubts reflected back to me in their eyes, and heard the silent question echoing in the space between us: “What happened to you? You used to have so much… promise.” Some of the younger women I had mentored for years fell away, and many of my professional contacts subtly distanced themselves from me. After all, it was fine to be fired from a politically appointed position, but to be unemployed for more than a year, well, surely there must be something wrong, no?

I didn’t blame them. I had the same doubts about myself. I cobbled together some writing work and interior design projects that, along with semi-regular withdrawals from my 401(k), kept me afloat. I worked every moment I could and literally said a prayer of thanks every time I deposited a check. (I was probably quite a picture at the ATM.) On the outside, I was “being creative” and “taking initiative” and “carving out an interesting little niche for myself.” But inside, I was terrified and couldn’t even admit it to myself, except in the middle of the night as I lay in bed and imagined losing my home and everything in it.

One of the things about working for yourself is that you have lots of time alone. And I used all of it to try and answer that silent question that hung in the air. What had happened to me? Where had my promising career gone? Who would I be professionally if I wasn’t the sharp, young wiz that everyone admired and respected?

What the hell had happened to me??

And I gradually realized that, for nearly 20 years, I had been apologizing, in one form or another, for my career choices. Offering justifications and explanations and reasons to assure everyone – including myself – that I hadn’t just made one sad mistake after another. I felt foolish as I accepted the truth: the question wasn’t new at all; only my conscious awareness of it was.

And then one day, as a bitterly cold 2014 melted into a milder 2015, I found my answer.

Life. Life had happened to me. Except that it wasn’t a passive thing. It didn’t just “happen.” I had engaged my life and made my decisions to the best of my abilities at the time. Each and every one was made with the best of intentions and with the best information I had at the time. I revisited my decision to leave DC and move to Colorado, knowing now that that single move downshifted my career in very obvious and meaningful ways. I examined my decisions to hop around, trying this job and then that one, and the experiences I gained from each. I remembered the heartache and fear of having a sick toddler, and the relief at watching her get well. I noted for myself some of the friendships I made being a Stay At Home Mom and how well those friendships served me later during my divorce. But overall, what I really did was simple: I forgave myself.

I forgave myself for essentially throwing away a very expensive education to follow my fancy down other paths.

I forgave myself for sacrificing my career altogether at the altar of motherhood.

I forgave myself for not having the driving ambition to match the opportunities provided to me.

I forgave myself for getting older and surrendering the Young Crackerjack title to other, younger, less seasoned people who are just as likely to make dubious choices as I was.

And I cannot tell you how wonderful that was. I felt so free from guilt and explanation and justification and that incredibly heavy burden of “What If.”

Surely there will always be people who hear about my career and wonder, “What the hell happened to you?” but the people who seek an explanation will never truly understand, because they will always judge me by the words on my resume instead of the life I’ve created and the lessons I’ve learned. And the ones who do understand me don’t ask for or need an explanation.

Remember how I said that some of the young women I mentored drifted away slowly after my firing? Well, there were some exceptions, and one in particular inadvertently helped me reach my peace with my past. For some reason, we had become much closer as my unemployment dragged on, and I confided occasionally in her of my fears. At the last lunch we had in 2014, she said to me, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I think you’re much more interesting and inspiring now than when you supposedly had it all together. Or at least, you are to me.”

Her words stayed with me, sitting lightly on my heart, and made me wonder if maybe there was something better than having it all together.

I don’t know for sure what I was supposed to gain from my long, terrifying journey through unemployment and self-employment, but I think it’s pretty clear that in order to find any real professional satisfaction again I was going to have to make peace with my past. I couldn’t spend the rest of my life apologizing to others and myself for choices that were not inherently wrong. I had to forgive myself for making the decisions I had and fully acknowledge the realities of the circumstances that had created those choices.

I don’t know if I’ve fully forgiven myself yet, but I have deliberately replaced my self-loathing with a renewed appreciation for what I gained from all those years. I have a job now that I love and want to do for a long time. I am not ashamed to tell people what I do, even when I see a glint of surprise or superiority in their eyes. I am grateful for the opportunity I have and the work I am given and the paycheck that accompanies it. But most of all, I am at peace with all that has gone before in my professional life. It has been a wild and unpredictable ride, but it has been my ride. And that’s really the best thing that any of us can say at the end of the day, isn’t it?

I Am

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me, too.

When I began this blog in February of 2011, my mantra was to live an authentic life and to manifest that intention here, in writing and sharing.  Living authentically sounds nice and good and pretty simple, and it is all those things, but it is not easy.  Or, rather, it was not easy for me.  The mask was more familiar.  And much safer.

When I was married, it was very important to my husband that we not “air our dirty laundry” with others.  This included sharing our problems with friends, or really anybody at all.  He saw my tendency to share as a weakness, as a means to seek validation or sympathy or… something.  No matter how minor it was, it always felt like oversharing to him.

So I stopped sharing my true self.  I became the world’s best listener and advice-giver.  Our friendships were based on shared interests, our children’s friendships, and our work connections. Is it so  surprising that over time, no one really knew us?  True, they didn’t know our problems, but they also didn’t know us.  We were simply the construct that we created for them, the masks we wore, the facade we carefully maintained.  The perfectly matched couple with the peaceful, supportive, and easy marriage.  Our children were well-behaved and lovely, our home warm and welcoming.  Our friends had problems that they confided to us openly, and we counseled them with the confidence and self-assurance of the righteous.

But all of that was unreal, fake, a fraud that we were so accustomed to and so frightened to let go of that at some point we genuinely began to believe in it as much or more so than those close to us.

It was neat.  It was tidy.  It was pretty.

And it was so god-awful lonely.

What a relief after my separation to finally begin to make friends again to whom I could confide!  That I could tell my darkest, dirtiest, most horrible thoughts to!  Who could truly know me and still love me! How wonderful to no longer put so much energy toward the impression of a perfect life, to throw open the windows and let the truth pour out…  How liberating, inspiring, and energizing to be real, authentic, and open again!

It seems to me that there are a lot of studies being released recently proving that social media is our latest means of crafting the perfect image to those around us.  The smiling family photos, the perpetually-happy status updates, the tweets cataloging all the wonderful, perfect moments in our lives.  And there also seem to be an equal number of studies telling us that the more time we spend on social media, the worse we feel about our own lives.

Ugh.  That kind of news is very sobering to me and very discouraging, too.  Why do we do this to each other?  I honestly understand not wanting to be the Twitter Debbie Downer or Chronic Facebook Complainer.  I get that nobody wants to log on to be force-fed negativity.  But what happened to authenticity or balance?  Why are we so afraid to show people the messy parts of our life?  What exactly are we so afraid of?

I can answer my own questions, of course, because I was long one of those people.  I can only imagine how some people must have felt sickened by me and my “perfect” little family, and I don’t blame them at all.  I realize now that at some point I’d bought into my husband’s flawed dogma that if people see your mess, they will judge you and they will discount you and they will no longer respect you.

That’s true, of course.  People do all those things when you show them your messy life.  But not all people.  And not all the time.  And the ones left in the room after we dump our mess all over the place are the ones that we need to fight for and hang on to.  The rest were just taking up space anyway.

I know that some mothers will suffer bouts of maternal envy on this Mother’s Day.  I know that because I have been one of them.  I have a long history of difficult, discouraging, and frustrating Mother’s Days.  I even wrote a post about it last year that called the anti-mother’s day.  And I am here to tell you that that post generated a massive amount of hits.  I think it’s because, if we’re being honest, we can all relate.  Kids aren’t perfect, and parenting is a lesson in imperfection, so the odds are against having a great Mother’s Day each and every single year.

Similarly, my rant why I hate being a stay-at-home-mom is poised to become my visited post ever.  That means it will surpass worst. sex. ever. and all the salacious thomas murray posts I’ve written.  Go figure, right?

Well, actually, it makes perfect sense if you think about it.  Because I genuinely believe that what we all want, more than anything else in this world, is to be known and understood.  We don’t really need someone to tell us what we’re doing wrong; I think most of us have a pretty decent grasp on that.  And we don’t really need someone to lecture us about how we can do better; deep down, I think we have that one figured out, too.  What we need, what we crave, what drives us to turn to the internet late at night or when we’re all alone, is to have someone say to us, “Me, too.”

I am having an unexpectedly amazing Mother’s Day today.  Truly.  I can’t remember ever having had a better one.  So, to those moms breathing a sigh of relief that you’re not facing a trip to the ER today or having to clean dog puke off your new rug, I say, “Me, too.”  But to those moms who are wondering why the hell they ever got out of bed today and why isn’t it bedtime yet, I say, “Me, too.”  Because I’ve been there.  For sure.  It’s no fun, but it’s okay.  It doesn’t mean anything except that you had a bad day that happened to fall on the second Sunday of May.

Life is messy, and that’s really okay, too.  It’s supposed to be.  And anyone that tells you otherwise or tries to sell you an air-brushed version of their life has deeper problems than you can probably imagine.  So be authentic.  Embrace the mess.  Say “Me, too.”  I think you’ll be glad you did.

life-is-messy

 

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