When I saw that the word authentic was the daily prompt word today, it immediately brought to mind my New Year’s resolution. On December 29, 2017, I published a post called “Free to be real” on another blog. This is what I wrote about being authentic four months ago:
A few months ago, after my brother-in-law Greg passed away, I played dress-up with his granddaughter, Macy. My sister Amy took a picture of us. I thought about sharing the photo on social media at the time because it captured a fun moment but I didn’t because I don’t like the way I look. When I jut out my chin, an unconscious gesture, I accentuate the strong jaws I inherited from my paternal grandfather. Today, I’m willing to share the goofy photo because life is teaching me that I’d rather be flawed and real than perfect and fake – both inside and out.
I have always been reserved, holding back from expressing myself freely. It’s a protective instinct. I have to really, really trust that I am safe with people to let my hair down. Although I am more comfortable expressing myself by writing, I still censor myself too much. I filter out what I don’t want other people to see, holding back what I really think. I control what I say or do, especially to avoid criticism. When I censor myself, I conform to the expectations of others instead of sharing my unique perspective. Sometimes I keep my thoughts to myself because what I have to say might offend or turn off one friend or another. Not appropriate for atheists. Not appropriate for Evangelicals. Too boring. Too weird. Too much navel-gazing.
Censoring myself to avoid disappointing or offending or boring others is not extending the same grace to myself that I would to someone else. I don’t expect or want other people to be a cookie-cutter version of me so why should I try to be like anyone else? Self-censorship isn’t being real and authentic. By editing out parts of me, I present an incomplete image, just as in keeping an unflattering photo to myself, I hid my playful side.
I will never be perfect and that’s okay
Like everyone else, I have a public personality or persona. My persona is the social facade that reflects the role I play in life. It is the image people expect me to uphold, the image I present to meet the demands of my environment or the situation I am in. My persona is the way I want other people to see me.
The persona is a mask disguising the real self. It often represents an idealized image or role. Some of us have a professional buttoned-down persona, others want to be seen as the life of the party, others maintain a facade of toughness, and still others resist being typecast. Your reputation is based on the impression people have of you, so in that sense, image is everything.
When the persona is false, based on pretending to be something you’re not, image is nothing. Pretending to know everything when no one does. Pretending to have a perfect life when no one does. Basing your image on things that are superficial – like money or the way you look. That kind of image is meaningless. We may fool a few people with a false persona but perceptive people see through the act whether we want them to or not.
Spiritually speaking, people who put a lot of effort into protecting and maintaining a chosen persona have a lot more inner work to do to face the truth about themselves. In Falling Upward, Richard Rohr wrote that you should be really careful about any idealized role or image because they are hard to live up to and can trap you in a “lifelong delusion.”
I have to admit that I do have an idealized image. She is a Nice Person, a Good Person, like my grandma. I want to be seen as kind, gentle, and considerate – the kind of person who doesn’t step on toes or make anyone feel bad. I want the world to see me as someone who is never angry and never says anything bad about anyone else. The real me falls far short of my ideal.
I’ve always been turned off by people who are pretentious, fake, phony, or hypocritical. I’d rather be around people who admit that they don’t have all the answers, that they don’t do everything right, that they don’t always look good. I’d rather be that kind of person myself.
I have learned that my idealized self is not worth protecting because 1) it isn’t achievable and 2) although I will never be perfectly good, God loves me anyway. Francesca Battistelli’s song, Free to Be Me, sums it up well:
When I was just a girl I thought I had it figured out. My life would turn out right, and I’d make it here somehow. But things don’t always come that easy and sometime I would doubt.
‘Cause I got a couple dents in my fender. Got a couple rips in my jeans. Try to fit the pieces together but perfection is my enemy. On my own I’m so clumsy but on Your shoulders I can see, I’m free to be me.
I have nothing to prove. I’m free to be the real me.
I knew when I resolved to be the real me four months ago, that it was not without risk. There is the risk of not being accepted. There is the risk of looking stupid. There is the risk of disappointing others and even disappointing yourself. Being authentic is worth the risk.