Authenticity

Year 4: Authenticity (Again)

Become who you are.

Thoughts of Authenticity often conflate two different questions: (1) the impersonal, “what is the meaning of Self?” and (2) the more personal, “what is the meaning of myself?” The first suggests universality, the concept of Self that applies to everyone. The second suggests particularity, inviting each of us to consider our unique selves. I’ll say a bit about the universal self and follow up with some discussion of what I learned about myself in the second yearly meditation on Authenticity (check out Year 3: Authenticity).

The Universal Self

Two broad theories of the universal Self have been offered by philosophers: that of self-discovery, often referred to as essentialism, and that of self-creation, often referred to as existentialism. Typically, essentialism and existentialism are presented as opposing views, contradicting one another. I’ll argue that both are required for understanding ourselves. A metaphor will be helpful. Imagine that an acorn represents essentialism whereas an oak tree represents existentialism.

We search for the acorn. We dig around, look under leaves, peel back layers of earth, and if we’re lucky, we find it. We discover it directly, hold it in our hands, and examine it carefully. The acorn is static, unchanging. It remains the same no matter how long we look at it or how many different angles we analyze it from. But we can also plant the acorn. Planting the seed is necessary for the tree to grow.

Discover the acorn to unlock your potential.

We create the oak tree indirectly. Not by continuing to focus on the acorn or even the tree but by cultivating good soil, watering the appropriate amounts, and providing ample sunlight. The oak tree sprouts and changes as a dynamic, living thing. It simultaneously grows upward toward the sun and downward into the interconnected mycelium. It feels the seasons, ebbing and flowing with the environment. Cells being destroyed and created each second. There’s nothing necessary about the oak tree; it is pure possibility. Maybe it never grows. Maybe it’s the tallest tree in the forest. Each limb, each shred of bark, each ring, each leaf creating the tree’s new form each day, each minute.

Create the oak tree by nurturing its environment.

Returning to the universal concept of Self, which best captures authenticity: the acorn or the oak tree? In my Year 3: Authenticity post, I concluded that you become your authentic self by removing the shoulds imposed on you by yourself and others and by tuning into what you really want. Digging out from under the shoulds to discover what you really want sounds a lot like self-discovery or essentialism. You’re trying to find your acorn, which represents your unique set of desires.

It’s incredible how good we are at hiding our deepest desires from ourselves. A crucial task of authenticity is unlocking your acorns. Examples of hidden acorns might be uncovering repressed sexual or gender identity, realizing a new talent or admitting you hate doing the thing you’ve got talent for, discovering that your current career path/relationship/hobby is not what you really want or finding out that what you really want is something else entirely, like becoming a parent. Some of us have more hidden acorns than others.

Does this mean I am committed to essentialism? I’m afraid so. I believe that to live authentically, we must discover our acorns–what we really want in our heart-of-hearts. And that’s not always clear to us, and so we must dig and search and seek and listen and tune in and tune out until we find ourselves. Unfortunately, sometimes the self-discovery hurts the people we love, and that’s hard.

Does this commitment to essentialism mean there’s no place for the oak tree? Certainly not! The Self is more than the Authentic Self. Any viable concept of the universal Self must make room for the Evolving Self. Discovering the acorn is necessary for creating the oak tree. We must unlock our deepest desires—who we truly are separate from others’ expectations of us—before we can nurture the Evolving Self. Without a seed, the tree will never grow to its fullest potential (or, like, at all).

And yet, to nurture the Evolving Self we must focus on everything but ourselves. Staring at the acorn as though it holds the key to unlocking all of us amounts to nothing more than naval gazing. No matter how many different angles we view the acorn from, it will remain the same. Stagnant. We must plant the seed underground—out of sight, out of mind—and turn to the sky instead. Will the seed get enough sunlight here? Examine the quality of the soil. Does it have the right balance of nutrients and minerals? Assess nearby water sources. Turn to the environment to nurture the budding tree.

The universal Self is comprised of two things: the Authentic Self and the Evolving Self. While we must unlock the Authentic Self to see the potential of the Evolving Self, once that’s done, authenticity simply flows through each emotion, action, experience, and decision we make. Without thought, without focusing on “am I being authentic?” we are able to live authentically while growing and changing.

What About Myself?

The real surprise of my second year spent with Authenticity was that, at the end of the day, authenticity doesn’t matter all that much (after you’ve discovered your acorn). It’s a one and done sort of activity in many cases, and the more we choose to focus on it, the less energy we can put into nurturing our environments and community for mutual growth.

To be fair, if you haven’t found your acorn yet, the search (or the cover-up) can be all-consuming. If you’re living your life under all those shoulds or if you’re in denial about an essential part of yourself or if you just don’t know what’s going on but something doesn’t feel quite right, it’s nearly impossible to focus, in a deep and connected way, on nurturing much of anything. I get it. I was there.

In my second year of Authenticity, I came out as queer, ended a 10-year relationship with my (cis, hetero, male) partner, and built a “broken” home for our kiddo. While that admission of queerness and the subsequent fallout was terribly painful, it made room for me to become who I am today. And today, I’m well on my way to fabulous. Join me?

Tarot Time!

I pulled The Moon card, and the first line in my guidebook says, “The full moon brings out the weirdos.” Oh, fuck yes. My nickname in middle school was “the weird girl,” and boy am I getting in touch with my roots. Hold on tight—shit’s about to get wild and weird and wonderful. Love to you all.

Authenticity + Voice

The Year 3: Authenticity post has so much nuance to it, I got very excited about using my actual voice to share it with you. I also thought it would be a fun exploration of my current Word of the Year, Voice, to record myself in a dramatic reading of my first Authenticity post. It is very dramatic. I hope you enjoy!

I’ll sometimes post various attempts at understanding where my current Word of the Year takes me, like this. In this case, I’m literally using my voice for a dramatic reading, which feels vulnerable and exposing. I like it nonetheless. It feels more real, more me. I’ve been told I have a lovely speaking voice, and if you want to tell me that, too, please feel free. I’m here for it.

Year 3: Authenticity

Do whatever you want loves

Preface: I have written, struggled, deleted, and re-written this post on Authenticity for too long. I chose the word Authenticity because I had no idea where mine was. No clue. Totally lost. I spent two years on this meditation, blew up my life because of it, and I still feel as though I’ve barely scratched the surface. This one’s all about sifting through the inner muck only to find more muck. The best I can do today is say a bit about why I chose the word in the first place, and vaguely nod toward what I think Authenticity is, even though I’m still very far from living authentically. I would love to hear if you’ve had similar experiences. It would be a great comfort to know I haven’t been down in this muck all by myself, friends. Okay, end of preface.

Why did I choose Authenticity for my 2018 word? Well, I felt like I was performing my life rather than living it. While not often conscious, the little things I would say and do weren’t quite right. I didn’t sit well with me anymore. As I worked in previous years to unpack the Narrative understanding of myself and set healthy Boundaries, I quickly figured out that piled under all that baggage was more baggage. I felt like Mary Poppins’ carpet bag: I kept pulling shit out, but I could never get to the bottom of it.

I was performing my life rather than living it.

I was also beginning this new management role at work, and in reading about quality leadership skills (yes, I’m a Virgo), the idea of showing up as your authentic self pops up everywhere. Seriously. Try to find a leadership book written in the last ten years that doesn’t mention authenticity at least once. I felt paralyzed. How could I be a good, authentic leader in the workplace if I couldn’t be authentic with those closest to me, much less myself? I felt like I was failing before I even started.

It wasn’t that I was hiding some secret part of me or intentionally trying to present myself as something I wasn’t. That was not (is not) my struggle with authenticity. It felt more like I was buried. I was buried underneath everyone else’s wants and needs: my kids, my partner, my parents, my in-laws, my siblings, my past selves, my adorable pets, my future self, my friends, my peers, my co-workers, my social media acquaintances, the laundry, the dishes, the cooking, the daily grind dropping one granule of dirt each minute, submerging me deeper and deeper underground. I was suffocating on obligation.  

I was performing what I thought I should do—for myself and everyone else. I should bring something to the dinner party. I shouldn’t wear these clothes to the event. I should be able to breastfeed instead of bottle feed. I should let the dog out. I should go to the softball game. I should send out those thank you cards. I should do more to motivate my employee who’s struggling to get the job done. I really should clean the inside of the kitchen cabinets with a toothbrush next time. And so on. Should, should, should running through my head, always more I should be doing. Never quite hitting the mark (spoiler: the mark is impossible to hit).

I was suffocating on obligation.

It dawned on me in the first Authenticity year that I had no idea what I wanted anymore. Our desires get so distorted as women in a patriarchal society. We are told that tidying up should spark joy, for fuck’s sake (yes, bold means I’m yelling. Well, screaming/crying from my primal center). We’re bombarded with smiling women gleefully cleaning their man’s urine off the toilet. The overwhelming lesson we’re taught is to be people pleasers, to be nurturing of others, to be helpful, to look nice, to sacrifice as Mother Mary did. We’re told modern women “Have it all,” and should be fortunate, but what they don’t say through the gritted teeth of a fake smile not a whisker in sight is that we don’t want all this (gestures wildly at everything).

To be a woman who desires is radical. It is an act of defiance to pick up your shovel and start digging, removing the shoulds one load at a time until all that remains are wants. That’s Authenticity. And, that’s why Authenticity is so fucking hard—particularly for women, particularly for mothers.

Authenticity = when all that remains are wants

I have been a mother since I was twenty years old. I missed my so-called “formative years,” the time when many folks forge their desires free from these mounting obligations. This makes sense for why Authenticity might have been more difficult for me. Nonetheless, I hope there’s something universal here, something helpful for you, too.

Ah, fuck. I’m doing it again. It’s hard to do things simply because you want to.

For year two of Authenticity, I’ll try to say more about desire from a philosophical point of view and how doing what you want to do is not selfish, which is a worry that my people will have already felt. In the meantime, do whatever you want to do loves.

Tarot Time: Queen of Fucking Wands

Tarot has given me such hope, as I pulled the Queen of Wands. Holy smokes! That’s so exciting to me. Here’s the guidebook description:

“The Queen is bursting with life and infectious energy, and you can’t help feeling like you could take on the world when you’re around her. Her confidence and get-to-it-ness is so powerful, she motivates you to DO shit. If you’re the Queen, life is giving it all to you right now: good luck, ideas, friends, promotions, so channel this bounty into confidence. You know your strengths and weaknesses and how to utilize all your skills to get what you want. So get it, girl.”

The power of the Queen is palpable, all because she knows exactly what she wants and how to get it. Four years after beginning my Authenticity journey, I finally feel like I’m turning a corner. I’m discovering what I want, separate from what I should want. I am becoming the Queen.