A self that goes on changing is a self that goes on living. – Virginia Wolf
The word “authenticity” used to be a term that was mostly used to describe art, vintage china or antiques. If something was considered authentic it was an original - the real deal. These days, the word authentic is used to describe people or behavior more often than it is things. It has become a word used to describe someone who presents their “true self” to others.
Being authentic is to our personalities what eating organic is to our diets…all the cool kids are doing it. This push toward authenticity is probably in equal parts due to our first world desire to discover ourselves, and social media making it difficult to hide even the smallest facets of our lives. For better or worse, we are becoming a society that just won’t tolerate a faker.
It wasn’t so long ago that people could have two (or more) entirely different versions of themselves. There was the workplace version of self, the at home behind-closed-doors version of self, and perhaps yet another version that was reserved for social events on Saturday nights. In a world with less exposure and limited forms of communication it was easier to architect the “you” that you wanted people to see. It was easier to hide shortcomings, tell half-truths, keep secrets and lead others to believe you were something different than the “authentic self” we are expected to show up as today.
But what if being 100% authentic 100% of the time isn’t really in the best interest of personal growth and development? What if insisting we bring our most authentic self to every situation is just a good excuse to stay comfortable and resist change? I recently read something that got me thinking quite a bit about the line between being authentic and being stuck in our ways. It said:
“On Being True to Yourself: Which self? We have many selves depending on the different roles we play in life. We evolve and even transform ourselves with experience in new roles. How can you be true to a future self that is still uncertain and unformed?” – HBR, Herminia Ibarra “The Authenticity Paradox”
If I stop and think about who I am today as compared to who I was nine years ago before I became a mother, I can’t help but emphatically agree with this point. Everything is different. The things I value and the causes I am most passionate about are completely different today than they were when I was in my twenties. Getting a divorce, finishing grad school at night, remarrying, having kids, losing someone close to me, and working outside the home are all things that while slightly uncomfortable at times - were instrumental in my personal growth.
There were times I wasn’t sure whether my authentic self was up to the task my actual self was being faced with. But I did what we human beings do. I stretched and changed until I had adopted the characteristics, acquired the tools, or found the strength I needed to handle the challenge. Clinging to the authentic self I was at the start of those changes would have made it difficult for me to adapt and meet them head on.
The thing is we can’t always be honest – not even with ourselves. We’ve all felt like an imposter in our own lives at one time or another, haven’t we? I know countless women (myself included) who said upon leaving the hospital with their first baby: “I can’t believe the hospital actually let me walk out the door! Don’t they know I’m totally unqualified to care for this child? Don’t these nurses realize I have no idea what I’m doing?!?” Yet somehow we adapt to our new situation, until one day we aren’t just pretending to be mothers who know what they’re doing…we actually are mothers who know what they’re doing. These are the “fake-it-until-you-make-it” times in our lives. The times when we act in a way that may feel a little bit disingenuous and a lot bit uncomfortable.
Until one day, it’s not.
Once we assume the new role of mother/wife/nurse/teacher (or whatever else life is asking us to be) it eventually becomes a part of who we are. That newly adopted role gets woven into the fabric of the woman we started as - creating an expanded, more complex version of us.
Don’t be afraid to set your sights on that woman - the one you aspire to become. Your current self won’t be offended, I promise. We need to envision ourselves as the woman we could be in preparation for the inevitable changes the future will bring. If we get caught up protecting the self we are today we might forget to nurture the person we could be tomorrow - and chances are “tomorrow us” will be amazing.
We need to push ourselves. We need to stretch and change and grow. Because when we allow ourselves to think like that woman, talk like that woman, and behave like that woman, eventually one day, just like magic…we become that woman.
So what if it means that just for now, just for a little while anyway, we have to fake it.
ABOUT JULI: Juli Harvey is a freelance writer, wife
and mother who lives in an old farmhouse in Southern New Hampshire. Her writing is inspired by the daily challenges of modern parenting, the ways women support one another, and the magic that results if we pause to notice it. Juli is a monthly columnist for Positive Moms Magazine New Hampshire, and her first children’s book, “A Brighter Life for Edison”, was released in October. Find her at juli-thelittlethings.blogspot.com.