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Guidepost #1- Cultivating Authenticity- Letting Go of What Other People Think

 Like many of the things Brene Brown talks about in The Gifts of Imperfection, Authenticity is not something you have or don't have, it is something you have the potential for, it just takes practice. So those people who practice it daily have become really good at being honest, showing up and "letting their true self be seen".

The fact that many of the concepts she talks about--perfectionism, courage, compassion etc. are all choices makes me feel hopeful. I can have or be any of these things.  But it is also daunting.  It means I have to practice. Some of it may feel familiar, like riding a bike, I just need to get on a pedal a bit and I have it, but other parts are going to be like handing me a baton again.  Yes, I took baton lessons when I was about 8 --but I am surely going to clunk myself in the head a lot before I can get the damn thing spinning around properly.  And with anything that is hard, or hurts, who wants to try that each and every day.  Not me.

However, I am stubborn and don't like to walk away from challenges I have accepted.  I just need to remind myself to get rest (practicing every day is exhausting); to praise my successes (I am more likely to gloss over them thinking I am finally doing what I should have been doing all along and focus on what went wrong), and be mindful so I am aware of what triggers me to abandon my practice (no one is perfect but understanding myself is a huge step!).

Brown defines authenticity as:

Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we're supposed to be and embracing who we are.

Choosing authenticity means
  • cultivating the courage to be imperfect, to set boundaries, and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable;
  • exercising the compassion that comes from knowing that we are all made of strength and struggle; and
  • nurturing the connection and sense of belonging that can only happen when we think we are enough.
Authenticity demands wholehearted living and loving---even when it's hard, even when we're wrestling with the shame and fear of not being good enough, and especially when the joy is so intense that we're afraid to let ourselves feel it.

Mindfully practicing authenticity during our most soul-searching struggles is how we invite grace, joy, and gratitude into our lives. (p.50)

Soul-searching struggle.  This is a good phrase to describe how this definition feels.  Holding up the mirror to look, I see a lot of things I would rather just turn away from than face. 

I will look at work first--because it is farther away--but important because it is one area that brought me to my knees over and over again in frustration.
  • At work while I never did push for total perfection ---I had someone reporting to me that would redo the work of others to make it "perfect".  Some days I thought she was crazy--and I was angry that I needed her to do another task but she HAD to do this first.  Other days I felt guilty that she was right and I would pitch in to help.  Either way, I felt shame for not being as perfect as my subordinate.
  • At work my time got overrun with other people's needs.  I became the "expert" that everyone had to consult before doing anything.  My boss helped me start to establish boundaries around my time which was empowering--but caused such resentment.  Why was I being so "difficult"?  Why was I not a "team player" anymore?  Why can't I just wander over to your desk or ask you a question I have asked you 5 times before but not bothered to remember the answer?  The discomfort I felt was intense as I watched the needy suddenly go around me to get to my staff for answers --which they may or may not have known but would spent hours on the phone--instead of doing the work they needed to do.  They were no better at boundaries than I was.
  • I understood everyone had strengths.  I gravitated to those who did.  We shared energy and ideas and it was awesome.  Unfortunately, I had contempt for those who struggled, those who "should" know their job, made more money than me, and were in leadership roles, ignoring any strengths they did have.  Instead of compassion, I felt contempt...and still do...but I now know holding on to this will bring me back to the dark places again.  So far that will do.
  • I have not had a meaningful conversation with anyone from work about my depression, anxiety.  They know I am off work. They know it is for medical reasons.  They are not stupid however.  Two other staffers have experienced my same path--there could be more.  The unit I lead and unit I am part of are full of compassionate people with big hearts. We have all worked together for several years and have successfully navigated downsizing, and outsourcing and new technology and giant projects.  We support each other.  But since most of them report to me I feel shame at not being who they think I am.  Someone in control of things who is competent, shows leadership, solves problems with a single bound.  I have created that "work me"---that alternative me and I have worn this costume of super coordinator for so long I am not sure that it is not the real me who I am now is a costume I am putting on. Not to say I was perfect at work...far from it.  My staff knew my desk was a black hole and not to leave anything on it or it would be lost but....when people actually halt projects because you are away for a start to believe your own press....and you start answering e-mails on sick days and vacations......and from the adult mental health unit at the hospital until your boss disables you account....
At the end of my time at work, I think I was starting to be able to show some vulnerability by bringing two people who report to me into the loop on projects. Their insights and support helped empower them to make decisions; they became invested in the process and product we were working toward; and I felt less alone and more connected. This was new for me and I found myself apologizing to them.

Thank you for being part of this, I just need the support and other brains on this as the outcome will affect us all

Ok so maybe it sounded like a thank you but it felt like an admission that I was unable to handle things anymore.  It felt like failure and reeked of shame.  I could not see it for what it was.  A step in the right direction.

These are things I see now.  Accepting help is not a weakness. It is being authentic. 

I did not think I was enough.  So the connection that could have been built did not, and explains why I sit in silence as far as they are concerned.  I cannot let them see me weak.  I withdraw instead of having to be vulnerable and authentic.  I have removed myself.  I have probably hurt some feelings...of the people who were part of my team.  They are the closest to me so their opinions matter. I respect them.  I value them.  I am in fear of what they will think and say.   Being vulnerable --opening that part of me means getting hurt.  Woah. 

I am, as always, a Work in Progress.....


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