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.

Speed Bumps

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.

2011 approaches…

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.

  1. Squirrl says:

    I call dibs on the Criminal.

    Quite the fire you started there in your Jammies this time….This marble will be bouncing off my brain for the next couple days no doubt……

    1st response: I am never less than amazed at how EFFECTIVE honesty/”realness” is in communication….the way this piece is layered and unfolded is not only intriguing but finds its way to a mark in the soul. Because you were willing to share yours. And that is beauty. Gotta dash for now….more later I’m sure.

  2. johnny3000 says:

    I think we are twins in a parallel universe? The third paragraph can be applied word for word to my own story. Except I still don’t speak so good engrish. Also, I can relate to the unemployment thang and I appreciate you sharing how you have gained perspective through your sisters unfortunate illness. Now I also look at my situation in a new light.

    In addition, the story does unfold in very nicely and I believe it is your most complex blog to date.

    Finally, I think Charlie Sheen should have been casted for the movie instead of his bro. Now, he is each one of those guys.

    • Jen Reyna says:

      Johnny – writing a blog can be so amazing at times, because you never know where you are going to strike a nerve. It seems a lot of us have had similar experiences with accepting our roots and heritage. And, unemployment is a big deal these days. It’s a hard time out there, but to know we are not alone in our struggles is important. And p.s. – you are funnnnnny!

  3. thoughtelf says:

    Your authenticity always draws me to you like a flame.

    Beautifully written, and I feel fortunate to be in part of the Breakfast Club. Especially so after reading more of the story that helped shape you into the vibrant, clever wit that you are. At the same time, I am startled to learn that you are looking to find your voice again. I’ve not noticed that it was missing. ;>

  4. Huzzy says:

    I think you’re amazing, but you know that. 😉

    I know EXACTLY where you’re coming from in the job world. After having the best BEST job ever, three years ago, and to then be laid off, it was just devastating. It was like a death. I don’t know if I’ll ever recover from that. To now be working retail seems shameful to me…it’s not who I am. I’m better than that. Or am I? My parents always told me, “just be the best at whatever you’re doing. It doesn’t matter if you’re flipping burgers, folding clothes, or running a company. Just be the best.” I have always taken that approach. But doing what I’m doing doesn’t feel like I’m “being the best”… And you’re right…communicating this to hiring managers is next to impossible. I can have the best resume in the world, but no where on it am I able to communicate that I am willing to try anything, that I won’t stop until I am finished, and that you’ll never find a more loyal worker.

    I appreciate you writing this subject in your blog…for the people who have a job, most really don’t realize how difficult it is to find a job in this climate. For those of us wanting to make a change, it’s conforting to know that we’re not the only ones struggling.

    You are a constant reminder of what success and awesomeness is in my world. Thanks again for reminding me why. ❤

    • Jen Reyna says:

      Karen, it’s your attitude that will take you far in life. I believe along the same vein as you – that I’m not too proud to do what I have to in this life to put food on the table and pay the bills. But eventually, hard work and determination lead to more. While you may be working retail now, I think you already know the impact you are making. I am proud of you – every day. ❤ Keep the faith sister. You are worth your weight in diamonds.

  5. Cassie says:

    Great post. And something I think SO many people struggle with. The last 2 years have been been a struggle for me as well – although some different catalysts. But I sure have grown from it and sounds like you have as well.

    Are you familiar with the Brave Girls Club? If not, you may be interested in checking it out. – a lot about letting go, moving forward, savoring what you have, exploring your creative side and more. I enjoy the blog posts quite a bit.

    Also, every year I pick a theme for myself and how I plan to approach my life. It gives me focus and direction and I just love the process of picking my direction. I’ve already decided 2011 is “No holds barred.” B/c I plan to take my life by storm this year and quit letting others perceptions (or my own) hold me back. I highly recommend doing a similar exercise – it works well for the soul!

    Thank you for your posts. You do a great job!

    • Jen Reyna says:

      Cassie, I will check this out, ASAP. Sorry for the delay in reply, it’s been a whirlwind few days. I love your theme for 2011! Go get ’em girl. This idea that our own perceptions hold us back is right on the mark. The further I get into a job search, the more I start questioning my own skills and talents! It’s a vicious circle. Thanks for the reminder. We can be our own best friends or worst enemies. I definitely need my own theme for 2011.

  6. r-dub says:

    Jen – in looking for work. be sure to list writing as a MAJOR strong suit. You rock girl.

  7. Charles Araujo says:

    Jen – This was an extremely well written piece. Its honesty and, well, authenticity are what power it. It seems that we share similar backgrounds and have made some similar choices. I left the corporate world a little over 13 years ago, trading the certainty of a career for the right to live life on my own terms. My crowning achievement in life remains the fact that when my youngest son was asked what my wife and I did for a living, he answered that I was the President of The Arts Coucil – which was a volunteer post I held. We had so integrated our work into the daily stream of life that he failed to see it as something that was a barrier to his relationship with us. Achieving that came at a great cost to us on many levels, but was worth every worry and tear.

    My father, who used to lead a SWAT team and run into buildings with people shooting at him, once asked me how I could be so brave. The choice you have made to live an honest, authentic life on your terms is one of the most difficult and freightening ones in the human landscape. But it’s a decision that will provide a wealth of lasting hope and joy forever, regardless of what you do from here on out.

    Having made that choice and taken the risk to live life on your terms has changed your perspective forever. I think that came through in your post. Have faith and hang in there. It will happen – and it will be worth the wait and struggle. Please let me know if and how I can help. Blessings to you and your family.

    • Jen Reyna says:

      Charles – I am humbled by your response. While we should not let our careers define us, they definitely impact our psyches, and sometimes we let them define our self worth. I have always thought of myself as a risk-taker – but it was definitely the biggest challenge of my life to leave behind a prestigious job with good pay and benefits, to being self-employed. There are days I regret the decision based on those factors, but overall, I am a happier person for the decision. It was like receiving a paycheck for my soul. And now I feel like I have a better sense of what will make ME happy in a career. One common thread in everything I have ever done is taking care of customers. I love customer service and managing the customer experience. My career choices have allowed me to focus on my passion, and I hope to find a way back to doing that in the corporate world. Thanks again for your encouragement.

  8. Barry Peters says:


    my first read here. loved it. Think we’ve both realized you have to sit back and put the revolving events around oneself into perspective. When I thought about, I though about a similar (I think) thought I had over Thanksgiving.

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