Authenticity: Being true to one’s own personality, spirit or character.
I’ve been thinking about – and struggling with – the concept of authenticity lately.
It’s odd, because I’ve always thought of myself as someone who has been pretty true to herself. I haven’t always taken the easy road to get where I am today. I swam in a company of sharks for many years, remaining true to my beliefs and style, and wasn’t always rewarded the way I hoped, but was often rewarded nonetheless. I also highly regard authenticity in others. I would rather know the true, moody you than the fake, bubbly exterior you present. As least then I always know what to expect, and can love you for who you are. Even when you need to hole up and wear pajamas for 3 days, blaring The Smiths and eating ice cream by the gallon.
But being true to yourself is easier said than done. Or maybe just being true to myself is easier said than done.
There are so many gates and speed bumps we put up for ourselves – and others – in the pursuit of living this life as authentically as possible, practically making it impossible to be who we really are. I’m not saying we all don’t have bad habits or quirks that need addressing or changing. But who we are at our CORE is who we ARE. And we need to start embracing that in ourselves, and embracing it in others. Some people are funny. Some are smart and witty. Some are loyal and loving. Some are all of these. And truthfully…some are none of these. In the end, we should embrace all the parts and pieces of the people in our lives. Even the parts we might not like. If I have a terrible sense of humor or a bad sense of time, I am rarely going to be funny or on time. Can’t we still be friends?
Growing up in Aurora and then Lakewood in the 80s, I was one of the few Latinas in the neighborhood then. People always questioned my heritage, because “Mexican” was a dirty word – I didn’t seem like a Mexican, or talk like a Mexican, or act like a Mexican. I ran around calling myself Spanish or Hispanic, because I didn’t want to self-identify with my Mexican heritage, even though we had been here for generations. To add insult, while growing up in the 70s and 80s, many of our families refused to speak Spanish in the house, because it was actually a liability. So instead of growing up bilingual, I can only speak “perfect” English. I feel robbed.
It wasn’t until I went to college and found a whole new world and sense of self, that I really focused on accepting who I was, and being proud of my heritage…and the rest of me, too. So I’ve spent the second half of my life living loud and proud, or as my mom would say: working hard, playing hard and sleeping hard. Well, the sleep – not so much, but that’s for a different blahg.
But as I look at myself today – December 1, 2010 – I am struggling to answer the almighty question: Who Am I? A few things have shaken my core and my faith in myself lately. First and foremost, it is HARD looking for a job. It shakes your foundation, and your self-esteem. I know I’m worthy. I know I’m capable. I know I’m a valuable asset to a company. But hiring managers don’t seem to know it. I’ve never wanted for job opportunities my whole life. But when you change careers, it really puts a kink in your plans, and apparently in who you are on paper. Not that I fully equate self-esteem with authenticity. But self-esteem is certainly part of MY authenticity. I’ve always strolled through life, confident of my skills. And now, I’m not feeling so confident. And that hurts. I hurt.
I’m also in this space of trying to figure out what I want to be in this next phase of my life. Professionally, I grew up in the tech world. I climbed the corporate ladder until I found myself unhappily sitting in an executive chair. It wasn’t the management piece I abhorred; it was the industry. I wanted to do something that I loved, that fed my soul. So naturally, I gravitated to food and entertaining. Voila! I found myself owning a restaurant and catering company. I loved my restaurant. It was me, and it was my aesthetic. The hardest thing I have ever had to do was close the doors on my baby. It was the right choice, but again…it hurt. So now I must ask myself the question: professionally, where do I go from here?
Finally, when my sister had her brain hemorrhage, I was shaken to the core, to that deep down spot nobody knows about or understands, except for me. To watch somebody go through the trauma she has experienced – and be so strong – makes me question all this feeling sorry for myself. This lady has a long road back to wellness, but she handles it with aplomb. For a long time she couldn’t breathe on her own, or speak, or even acknowledge that I was in the room. Little by little, she comes back to us, in pieces. She is to the point where she can mostly eat by herself. She’s now going through physical therapy, and she can speak again, in this sweet and tenuous voice. But rather than questioning why this had to happen to her, or complaining about how uncomfortable she is, she instead tells me my hair is cute, or thanks me for being there, or asks how my dogs are. She is a class act, and her authenticity shines through. And that gives me great pause, and reminds me that it’s time to find my voice again.
A light bulb moment
So, I was having a friendly conversation the other day, about looking for a job, and feeling the need to censor myself online a little bit, as this great technical world has added pressure to finding a job. Your online profile lives on as a constant reminder of who you are, and how anybody who is looking can find all the information they need. Then a respected friend, Kelly Craft, brought it all together, and simply said: I am what I am.
…and that’s all that I am.
And so I set off today to find my authentic voice again. I do know a few things about myself. I am fun. I love life. I am a committed friend. I am a loving family member, to my husband and my dogs and my sweet niece, Melayna. I am a generous and thoughtful daughter. I am a hard worker. And I’m so much more.
I encourage you to take some time to do the same, to remind yourself who you are. Or, if you are struggling, to set out and find your voice. Because when we are true to who we are, we provide the best friendship to our friends, the best love to our families, the best service to our customers, and the best leadership to our followers. If you are always true to who you are, people can never question your intent.
Circa 1600, Shakespeare wrote the following passage in Hamlet, and it still rings true today:
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
400 years later, in a much campier version, John Hughes reminds us that we are who we are, and that’s OK.
Dear Mr. Vernon, we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. But we think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us…In the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain…an athlete…a basket case…a princess…and a criminal…Does that answer your question?
Sincerely yours, the Breakfast Club.