Authenticity is something that happens when I take a good hard run at life.
It’s not a goal, aspiration, or destination. I can’t acquire authenticity by saying magic words, doing (or not doing) special things, or trying harder to be more real.
Authenticity is more about being comfortable in my own skin, holding the opinions of others lightly, seeing the world clearly, and accepting my own and others’ flawed humanness with compassion.
It’s deciding it’s okay to be me without needing to impose all my me-ness on everyone else.
I’ve spent a lot of time trying on other people’s versions of who I should be. I’ve worked hard to please others and get everything right so I could finally, finally, relax and be happy. But no matter how carefully I observed what other people needed and wanted, and no matter how hard I tried, it never worked. There was always something else that had to be done, some need to meet. The harder I tried to control all the events and things and people around me, the more I felt lost.
It turns out I had it all bass ackwards. Authenticity is not getting everything right out there. It’s an inside job.
I spent decades studying philosophy and religion, doing massive quantities of drugs and alcohol, asking big question of the Universe (Who am I? Why am I here?), meditating, and talking to therapists. I got a little braver along the way. I got sober. I changed my mind, grieved, healed, and learned a lot.
I never did find an answer.
I think it’s because we are all works in progress. As I continue to grow, it’s difficult to come up with a set or stable definition of me. Often, it’s only looking back that I can see clearly who I was and how I’ve changed.
Along the way, I did discover three interrelated attributes that help me move past the fear of being judged or rejected for being me. They are equanimity, vulnerability, and courage.
- Equanimity is the ability to see myself and others clearly and face what’s going on with composure. It’s accepting the world, myself, and others exactly as they are despite what I think is right, good, or how things should be. It’s starting where I am with what I’ve got, even if it really sucks.
- Vulnerability is the ability to let others close enough to see and love me. I can’t just love other people and still protect myself from being hurt. I have to open up and let people love me too. It won’t always work out. Some people won’t get it. Yet experiencing deep connections with others is the most important and meaningful thing to me.
- Courage is overcoming the fear of being vulnerable and finding the strength to keep my equanimity—especially when there is conflict or difficulty, or when I’m angry, scared, or hurting.
It’s a practice. I’m not always good at it. I run out of patience and compassion. I judge others and hold them to unreasonable standards based on what I believe is good and right.
I notice that I’ve lost my way and slowly get back to a clearer, more centered place.
I’ve had to let people go because their expectations about who I should be don’t match who I am and what matters to me.
People have let me go because I was not willing to sign up for their reality.
I’ve had to admit that I was wrong and make amends.
I’ve changed my heart and mind when I realized my error, bias, privilege, or closed-mindedness.
I am finally okay (well, mostly) with not having control. I’m starting to recognize that when reality does not conform to my expectations, it’s me that has to adjust.
When I can find clarity and equanimity, the world is suddenly much more interesting, possibility opens, and I can see beauty and love in others.
It turns out that authenticity is not really about finding myself. It’s far more about getting over myself.
It’s okay. I’m worth it.
And so are you.
Heather Bussing is a long-time friend of Talent Anarchy. She’s a photographer, writer, and attorney because “she enjoys them all and doesn’t want to do just one thing.” You can find her on Twitter at @heatherbussing.