The myth of the #authenticself

I woke up to this unfortunate adminition today. It was on my LinkedIn timeline, and it was about the last thing I needed to read, just when I was getting moving into my day:

What if…

You believed you could conquer the world?

You gave yourself permission to be your awesome, authentic self?

You stopped worrying what other people might think?

You courageously came out of the shadows?

You followed your passion?

You stepped out of your comfort zone and into growth?

You took a chance?

You believed in yourself and your abilities?

You were unapologetically you?

You took a deep breath and went for it?

You said no to the negative things and people that no longer serve you?

You said yes to the positive things and people who get you?

You knew your true purpose?

You weren’t entirely sure, but kept moving forward anyway?

You had no regrets or failures, only life lessons?

You allowed your curiosity to guide you to new experiences?

You transformed into the person you always knew you could be?

You embraced life’s infinite possibilities?

You asked yourself, “What if?”?

And, what if…

I told you it was okay to do all of the above, to inspire you to leap even though you were scared and nervous about taking that first step?

Would you? I hope so.

Never forget that you are the architect of your life; design one that makes you happy.

It’s not that I don’t agree with being true to yourself and being “my authentic self”.

But the sad fact of the matter is, I’ve been doing exactly this, my entire life, and it simply isn’t paying off.

If anything, it’s worked against me. I’ve embraced the possibilities, I’ve done it all:

I believed I could conquer the world.

I gave myself permission to be my awesome, authentic self.

I didn’t worry what other people might think.

I courageously came out of the shadows.

I followed my passion.

I stepped out of my comfort zone and into growth.

I took a chance.

I believed in myself and my abilities.

I was unapologetically me.

I took a deep breath and went for it.

I said no to the negative things and people that no longer served me.

I said yes to the positive things and people who got me. – All three of them.

I knew my true purpose.

I was never entirely sure, but I kept moving forward anyway.

I have plenty of regrets and failures, with more than my fair share of life lessons.

I allowed my curiosity to guide me to new experiences.

I transformed into the person I always knew I could be.

I embraced life’s infinite possibilities.

I asked myself, “What if?”.

And…

I believed with all my heart it was okay to do all of the above, to inspire myself to leap even though I was scared and nervous about taking that first step.

Would you. I hope so.

I never forgot that I am the architect of my life; and I designed one that makes me happy.

And I’ve had a good run. It’s been interesting. But if anything, it has just made my life more complicated, challenging, and financially deprived, than anything else.

“Money isn’t everything,” you say? Tell that to the grocery store where I buy my food. Tell that to my bank that holds my mortgage. Tell that to the doctors who have to get paid. Everybody has to get paid, and authenticity isn’t exactly legal tender.

A lot of self-improvement gurus love to tell us that “being your authentic self” is going to make your life better. Fine. Maybe it feels good to not be on your best behavior, 24/7. Maybe it takes the pressure off. The thing is, this whole authentic self thing isn’t a magic bullet that’s going to slay the demons and monsters deep in people’s hearts. If anything, it can make things even worse for you, on down the line.

Because nobody talks about the downsides of being “your authentic self”. Nobody talks about how vicious and mean-spirited the rest of the world can be to folks who are vulnerable — or simply honest. Nobody talks about the jobs you’ll lose, the opportunities that will pass you by (because somebody else fits into the organization better than your #authenticself does). Nobody talks about how really truly lonely it is to stand on your own two feet and stick out like a sore thumb in a crowd of conformers.

Loneliness is terrible for your health. Isolation is terrible for your financial and social prospects. And it’s also bad for your mental health.

Plus… Nobody talks about how #ActuallyAutistic people have tried to do this for aeons, and all it’s gotten us is abuse and ABA and Autism$peaks.  PTSD. Sh*tty newspaper and magazine articles about what a burden we are. Countless social media posts about how much suffering we caus.

Face it, all you purpose-driven people — the world does not center itself on authenticity. It centers itself on people who fit in and are useful to the larger (economic) purpose. It prioritizes people who are useful, who are money-makers, who are compliant and make others feel safe and comfortable by validating their sh*tty choices.

Fortunately, I can operate in “pseudo mode”, as well as “authentic mode”. I can pretend to fit in. I can match my behavior to others’ ideals. It’s actually really easy. Just mimic them. Mirror them. People love it. They think it means I agree with them and I’m like them, instead of that I’m humoring them just to complete the social interaction. It’s something I learned early on.

Being “me” doesn’t go over well, in general. I learned that early on, too. Other people aren’t up to the challenge of dealing with all of me. And that’s as it should be, because I’m way ahead of their curve. I’m their future, and the future usually scares people.

On the other hand, if I can modify my behavior and demeanor to match others’ tastes, it puts them at ease, and then I can actually get something done. It’s inconvenient at times, and it’s not always easy. And by no means is it “denying myself” or being someone I am not — there is a faint shadow of me in those interactions. It’s simply me bringing focus to those parts of myself that others recognize, being true to the dynamic, and putting the needs of the other person ahead of my own (a lost art, IMHO), so we can collaborate and build a relationship that actually works for both of us.

I think that other-centered orientation is something our me-first Western culture has lost in the past 30 years. And for those who are under 40, it may sound like an horrible affront to their identity. But putting others first and honoring the relationship — being strong enough in yourself that you can make concessions to others and adjust your “mode” to help the dynamic be positive and productive — is really how I get along in the world.

Is it masking? Sure. Is it blending? Certainly. Is it hard work? You betcha. Does it wear me out and feel unfair and depleting? Many times, yes. But it makes a whole lot of things possible for me, that I’d otherwise not have or be able to do. Like a good job in the mainstream. Like conversations and interactions with people who are nothing like me, who would never feel comfortable with my “100% authentic self”, and who are not the kinds of people I’d spend any time with, if it weren’t necessary. But I’m strong enough in myself, and I have a clear enough sense of who I am and where I fit in the world and what my own priorities are and what my own values are, that I can interact with others — and let them be other — without it wrecking my self-conception and self-regard.

I make constant sacrifices for others. It’s how I get by. But I am also richly compensated, in terms of time to myself and the means to pursue my own interests in my own way and on my own time.

So, in that respect, not giving perpetual free-rein to my #authenticself makes total sense.

Besides, what would happen, if I “let it all hang out”?

Seriously, things would come crashing down. In a very big way. I should know. I’ve only learned how to not do it in the past 5 years or so, and my fortunes have improved as a result. As a matter of fact, doing all of the above in that checklist of authenticity resulted in job difficulties, relationship challenges, not being fully employed, being held back socially and financially and in so many different ways.

Meanwhile, all the people who are marketing this whole #authenticself business (and it is a business) vastly under-estimate the very real consequences, when we do exactly what they say we should do.

Of course, there’s been some payoff to all this authenticity. It hasn’t been without its rewards. I’ve had an interesting life, that’s for sure. And I know who I am. That’s a plus. But it hasn’t kept me in pearls and diamonds, and I’m still just a few paychecks (or a nasty, uninsurable medical emergency) away from being flat broke and out on the street. I could easily lose everything, and having already been homeless in the past, I have no wish to repeat the experience — especially in the later years of my life.

All the years I spent being so authentic set me back, putting me years behind my peers, in terms of savings and ability to protect myself from a hostile world. And now that I’m looking at my “golden years” of no financial safety net, no nest egg, no retirement possible (I’ll just keep working till I die, I guess), all that authenticity looks like it was a poor use of time.

Seriously. If I’d been a little less uncompromising, a little more willing to pretend to be someone else, a little more sensitive to what others think of me, a little more compliant, a little more willing to play the game, I wouldn’t have passed up so many opportunities I can remember having had in front of me — laid out on a proverbial silver platter.

So, yeah, while “being your authentic self” sounds great to most people, it really only works after you’ve played the game for a while, gotten yourself in good financial circumstances, and you can afford to be “eccentric”. If you’ve got money, that makes you “colorful”. If you don’t, it makes you a poor use of social interaction.

And to all the people who are making a living off encouraging people to be their #authenticselves… well, I’ve got nothing much to say to them. Other than, maybe you should find a more honest way to make a living.

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16 thoughts on “The myth of the #authenticself

  1. This! 👏🏼👏🏼. Girl I’ve been feeling this, too, but you expressed it so much better 😁. Have you read the book “The Authenticity Hoax” by Andrew Potter? It’s kinda vindicating 😉😁. My (now-realized-to-be-Aspie) sister was reading it and I asked her about it, and she recommended it. I think you might enjoy it! 💚💙💜

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Very brave post. I admire your honesty and fierceness. You’re right- that being your #authenticself is not the best way to make a living, or not even feasible. Love your last line especially. Thank you for sharing this.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Perfectly said. Authenticity is something that happens in the private sanctuary of my home with my family. The can see how hard I have to work at just talking on a phone to medical staff setting up a surgery. I’m currently looking at giving my husband dpoa so he can do these things. I could go on, but honestly, aging with autism has become very obvious to my family, I do need help and my authentic frustration is too much for other people to handle. I think we all pretend, btw. I don’t think anyone is truly authentic. Everyone has a mask on for something. The sales pitches are just money schemes if there’s any kind of buy in.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Great post, really liked it, although it went in a direction I didn’t expect! I’ve started to suspect that an “authentic self” doesn’t actually exist, and that the thought that you only have to dig deep enough and you will find your true self, your true purpose, your one true passion etc. is a myth.
    I agree with your post though. Made me think of this: I follow the blog of a young naturalist (youngfermanaghnaturalist.com) who is only 13 but he’s been on the radio and TV. He got a Wildlife Hero award on a wildlife TV programme, which also had a short segment introducing him and and his life etc. He was shown preparing for the TV appearance, and of course he was very nervous. His mother said to him “just be your real self”, and he said “yes, but my real self is very nervous!”

    Liked by 5 people

  5. Wow. So so true. You’ve managed to express what I’ve been thinking about over the last few weeks. So the question is, where is the right balance? Just enough authenticity mixed with just the right amount of masking and fitting in to facilitate a good life with enough to live on. Tricky that one.

    Liked by 2 people

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