Authenticity is a daily practice of letting go of who we think we are supposed to be and embracing who we are.
“The Gifts of Imperfection”, Brené Brown.
I’ve learned through trial and error that to be authentically myself, requires work, courage, vulnerability and firm boundaries.
I’d lived a life of adjusting to expectations of how I am supposed to be and how I am supposed to show up in the world. And what’s funny, or not very funny at all is that even when I eventually rebelled against those expectations in my teens, I did not realize I was still conforming to so many in so many ways!
The strategy of adjusting was really to survive in the environment I was in. I did pay a high price in anxiety, disconnect, dissatisfaction with life, and various addictions that still often require work to be kept at bay. But it seemed like those who were not adjusting, were paying even a higher price.
There was a boy I admired ever since I was around 3 years old. He stood up for himself loudly and at times violently. As a result, he would be dragged away by the caregivers at a day care, kicking and screaming. And I knew I better lay low.
When, at lunch time, we were told to eat our food quickly, he did not listen and would get mushed potatoes served in the same bowl as his unfinished soup. I learned to swallow my food quickly, whether I liked it or not…
Later, that same boy was labeled as difficult, with learning difficulties, and places in a class with kids just “like him”. It further spiralled him down, but he kept on fighting.
I took to the studies to make others proud and to make sure I am in a class with the “smart” kids. Gosh that was an anxious time. I was so hard on my self as we were compared to each other and either praised or scolded.
Later on, as I was finding my voice, getting disillusioned with the systems that were failing hard but no one was paying attention, I started to speak up and made friends with the boy and we even went to graduation together as the most unlikely couple.
I went back to conforming though, and he ended up as an addict in jail.
And still, throughout it all, I would get glimpses of true knowing of who I was and what made me happy. And those glimpses gave me refreshing breaths of so much needed air in long bouts of suffocation. For an introvert with expectations of extroversion, those glimpses mostly came in as so much needed unstructured alone time, mostly in nature or working with my hands.
But as I was getting older, with more and more expectations piling up on top of each other, those glimpses would present themselves less and less.
A big part of the myriad of expectations was to get married and to have kids. I know it weighted heavily not only on me, but my partner as well. We did love each other and wanted to be together but we still were figuring things out and we still had so much to see, so much to let go of, so much to heal, and so much to explore. However, those around us, saw us as a “perfect fit” and on someone else’s watch the time was ticking.
I’ve learned that even when we are rebelling hard, with conditioning tapes either playing on in the background or loudly in our face, there is very little space for “free will”.
And so, we brushed the weight off and continue on playing the game of life. We did not realize at the time what a gift this life is and what gifts we can give back if we only step in our true unique authentic selves. And that the weight could be an indicator that even though everyone’s happy to be headed in a specific direction, that destination might just not be right for us.
Eventually, we held a brand new life, created by us, in awe, in our hands. As we felt our hearts fill with the never imaginable love, we also, felt a shift.
We started thinking of ways to bring this spirit up undamaged. We started looking at our own expectations that could be in the way of achieving the goal of gifting our children a deep unapologetic knowledge of self.
As we embarked on a fresh new journey “feeling our way through the darkness, guided by a beating heart” (Avicii) we truly did not know where the journey will end but we knew we had to start with ourselves, by bringing our own selves and our own joys back into our lives. We understood very early on that we could not give our kids something we were yet to give to ourselves.
But as we began to heal, we began to change and that change seemed to be threatening to people around us. It might have been because we were triggering their own wounds, or it might have been because they were afraid to lose us, or it might have been simply because deep inside they wanted that change for themselves, but it was easier to remain where they were and get defensive rather than join in the work.
Very quickly we realized that we were not willing to keep making people around us happy at our own expense any longer.
There will always be people unhappy and dissatisfied with their lives and people around them, always ready to complain about something, no matter what we do.
That’s when the necessity of boundaries became apparent. And because we were brought up without any, we had to learn our way to not only set them up but continuously reinforce them.
In a way it was a gift to our relationship with our children as we were learning to respect their boundaries along the way, and at the same time were mentoring how to keep them up in relationships with others.
What I realized, is that the space we are in when setting or reinforcing the boundaries, especially with people we care about, makes a big difference and sets the tone for the relationship.
The message comes across as bitter and defensive when our wounds get triggered and we speak from the place of victimhood. Those tigers could so easily sneak up on us, thought, and come from very unexpected places, even our kids! Staying aware and recognizing how it feels in our body when we are triggered, helps a lot. Because the realization alone could shift us or help us take a break to recenter and reassess rather than react.
The same message could come through with love and kindness when we own our story and speak from the place of a light warrior, protecting our own or our kids’ authenticity.
It is a fine line to walk, because at times it is more important to apply that love and kindness to ourselves to gather up strength and courage for firm replies.
And even when coming from the best of places, some people will still simply choose not to stick around when the game is not played by their rules any longer.
Those who do stick around, though, might not be as sure of their place anymore. We can always reassure them that no matter the changes, we still love them and deeply care for them. We can choose to validate their view and see and accept them for who they are, nurturing those relationships at our comfort level as we forge an authentic connection, putting a wall down to who we are without an expectation to be loved by them.
And only by showing up authentically every day, teaching people how we want to be treated, will we be able to find our way back to ourselves and finally feel like we are good enough and belong.
Some days, showing up for ourselves could simply look like drawing a tub after a long day caring for everyone else’s needs, leaving the dishes behind, and fully enjoying our time in warm water with a phone in hand because it is relaxing to us, while others might think that tubs and electronics “should not” mix for better relaxation (for them though – not us).
Here’s to self care, self respect and some space for joy and nurturing of those whispers of curiosity – because we are worth it! Here’s to claiming our selves and our lives back! Here’s to realizing that no one can shame us into how we “should be” unless we allow it. Here is to realizing we are adults and can set ourselves free by standing our own ground. Here is to mentoring those who look up to us, that self love and authenticity are the only paths to joy and belonging.