I used to really struggle with being authentic, and vulnerable. I thought – and I don’t really know where this thought came from – that the me I presented to the world had to be shiny and perfect and free of cracks. So that’s the mask I put on: happy, confident, sociable me. And yes, sometimes that’s exactly how I felt. But other times I felt quiet and anti-social and vulnerable, and the more I put the shiny happy mask on, the more the quieter me felt itchy.
I remember describing it to a boyfriend once as feeling like a can of beans that’s been left open too long. I wanted to put my lid on and look inward and rejuvenate, but there was this pressure to be Impressive with a capital I. To keep the can of beans open for everyone to have a taste. And I don’t even like beans!
Where did this pressure come from? Inside, I now know. I had decided that being extroverted was the way to go, and the cult of introversion hadn’t yet arrived (thank heavens it has now, and there are funny cartoons and many essays extolling the virtues of all kinds of introversion!)
But when I realised that I didn’t have to wear this exhausting mask all the time, it was such a relief. Of course, I need constant reminders; but a combination of growing older and monthly life coaching sessions (which I’ve been going to with the wonderful Debbie for almost seven years now) makes me feel like I know myself a whole lot better these days.
Still. Authenticity! It is an art. And like all art forms, it needs to be practised. Debbie reminded me last week that there are three ingredients to authenticity:
- A capacity for intimacy
What I love about this is that it doesn’t mean you have to get deep and intimate with everyone you know: you can be authentic and real and in the moment and aware with the cashier at your local supermarket, or someone you’re standing in line behind at the bank. True authenticity is less about big deal stuff, I think, and more about being truly present in the everyday moments, and not hiding behind over-thinking.
At least, that’s what it means to me. I also find it interesting that my two big challenges in life so far – diabetes and motherhood – have forced me to be more authentic by stripping away more of those layers I thought I had to hide behind. Isn’t it funny how life gives us exactly what we need?