Where Authenticity Begins

Canada-US Border Crossing, The Peace Bridge. December 26th, 2019, Southbound

True north, strong and free. It tugs at me every time I leave. Boundaries are funny things. This is a ragged segue into exploring the edges of authenticity.

I remember being about eight or nine, maybe, standing in church beside my mom and singing the last song at the end of mass. I liked to sing, and I particularly liked to improvise a harmony line while everyone around me was singing the melody. When the song finished and we were getting ready to leave, my mom asked me, “Are you prepared to be an individual?”

I was mystified by the question. Why on earth wouldn’t I be? How could that even be a question?

What could possibly be so difficult to stay standing, speaking or even singing my truth, being who I am in the world, with the courage of a full heart and without apology?

What teaches us shame or fear to be who we are? Why does it take so long to recognize that fear, and why does it take so many years (and hours of therapy) to release those learned fears, and reclaim our fearless four-year old?

This blog post, and the ones I’ll be writing in this month, is part of my quest to explore that a bit.

When I decided to dig a little deeper into what authenticity is, the first article I saw was this one from Harvard Business Review. It hit on a lot of the risks we run as we try to find the zone of authentic connection. It didn’t go nearly so deeply into why authenticity is essential for leadership and for human connection.

But reading it, I was reminded that one can only find or deepens authenticity through — wait for it— embracing imperfection! Only by being willing to try different approaches, and getting feedback and mentorship from others about whether what they see is what we intended to show, can we find our way. And so comes my declaration. As part of my quest to explore authenticity, my goal is, every day in February, to publish a new post on my personal blog

For many years, particularly since the rise of social media, I have struggled with what it means for me to show up as my authentic self in the world. Social media is a place where I build relationships for business as well as stay connected with friends and even make new ones. On one hand, I feel like I have a lot to say. Many of the ideas are interconnected. I find it hard to decide where to end one complete idea without laying out all the backstory with footnotes and references.

I was taking a marketing course recently. We were given an assignment to write the “origin story” of the product or service we were marketing: what was the riveting personal experience that led us to create our offer for our clients? I think I missed the part of the instructions where we were told that the story would be something we could share in about six minutes. I just looked it up: six minutes of spoken narrative is a little under a thousand words.

I kept writing and writing and writing.

By the time I got to twelve thousand words, I realized this wasn’t an origin story. It was therapy.

Being in connection with others is one of my core values. I’ve learned (thank you Brene Brown) that authenticity demands vulnerability. I’ve learned that sharing my ooey gooey messy side is not only okay, but that if I don’t do that — if I just wander through the world all shiny, all “shields up,” then I don’t leave anyone room to come in.

Maybe you’ve heard the phrase, “the cracks are where the light gets in.” Our imperfections are the places where we connect. When I see someone I love, or someone I respect, or someone I admire, struggling with something that I also find hard, I feel closer to them.

It’s not just me, I think. I am not alone.

When I am vulnerable, when I’m willing to share the things I find hard, the things I struggle with, I give someone else the chance to feel that they’re not alone either. Struggling alone, unwilling or unable to ask for help (especially if, like me, you place a high value on achievement, on pleasing others, on getting it perfect…) devolves into isolation, into disconnection.

When in struggle and I find the courage to say to someone, “Hey, I’m having a hard time with something…” I’m able to give another human being that feeling of being in this life together.

Here’s the thing: There’s no hard, clear, universal, easy line defining where “too much information” is.

Recently, I remember telling my mom, “Life and relationships are one long line of ‘fall-down-go-boom’ — like a little kid — and picking ourselves up again.” Relationships are built on an endless experiment wading around in a messy zone of vulnerability. For many years, I’ve generally shown up on the cautious side, all shiny and best face forward. And then I’m surprised and disappointed when I discover people can’t relate to me if they impression they have of me is that I’m some constant shiny pinwheel of sparky, slightly scary, frenetic, energy.

The frenzy comes from years of trying too hard because I’m constantly afraid of not being good enough.

The shiny frenzy is isolating and exhausting. But vulnerability takes practice and is a messy imprecise business fraught with imperfection. Plenty of times, when I’ve unbuckled my armor, and showing my broken bits and struggles, so dearly wanting to have a closer relationship with someone I cared about, I’ve accidentally overshared. The intimacy and trust I had hoped to build got painfully damaged and sometimes the relationship disappeared, perhaps forever (though never say never).

Better to have loved and lost.

I would rather keep trying, in the full knowlege that the only thing I know for sure is that I’m going to end up falling face first again. It’s not a matter of if, but just how soon. The falling down teaches me a bit more every time.

My nephew Ven recently told me, “I learn more about watching something blow up than I do seeing something work perfectly.”

While I really don’t want any relationship to blow up, I’m always grateful when people are willing to be generous with me, to give me the benefit of the doubt when I screw up.

I try to do the same for you, too.

One day at a time.

What will I write about? I don’t know yet! But if you want to find out, read the posts, follow me, comment, or cheer me on.

Let’s travel the road into authenticity together and see where we go.

33 years ago today, I started my job at the Canadian Embassy in Washington DC. It’s been quite a ride.

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