With the delights of vertigo I’ve had a lot of time to think… Always fun! And one of the many things I’ve been mulling over is my own values.
For me, these include helpfulness, kindness, compassion, understanding, efficiency, genuineness and authenticity.
And it is authenticity that I’m going to write about today.
It is so important to me that people are who they are. One of the things I hated about my job (which I loved by the way), was the politics side of things. Things like barbed comments which could sound perfectly friendly. Emails where you have to read between the lines for the actual meaning. Meetings where people would use words which were essentially meaningless or overly complicated as a way of making themselves sound better. Those people where you have to really watch what you say because they will spin the meaning. The smooshing and cooing and making yourself sound more fantastic that you are to higher up people. It really drove me mad.
I was so bad at it. I would be straight up. I didn’t spin double meanings in my emails. Although if I was really annoyed with someone I would sign off “regards” rather than “kind regards” in that passive aggressive english way… But I wouldn’t claim credit for things I hadn’t done or which were a team effort. I am a huge fan of plain english. Talk in a way that makes sense. Jargon is isolating and if there is a simpler way of saying something, use it.
It helped that my team were awesome and we were great at what we did and the service we provided spoke louder than I ever could.
And then there were the people who were completely different in work than out of work. I know we all wear masks, we all play roles in different situations but I strongly feel that you can still be authentic.
And I know authenticity can be terrifying. It’s so hard to put yourself out there and make yourself vulnerable. If you are authentic then you are in a position where people can judge your true self. They can cut you to your core. They can really kick you where it hurts.
So why do it??
Because the rewards are so amazing. You can build genuine relationships with people. It is easier to live a life aligned with your values. You can openly follow what interests you and have the joy of sharing it with others.
Have you ever had that moment where you make yourself vulnerable and the other person is like me too?! That’s such a great feeling.
My relationship with authenticity has been a strange one. I don’t think anyone would ever accuse me of bowing to peer pressure. I’ve always known my own mind. But equally, those people who knew me before I left my parents house would not be able to say they knew me. I didn’t do things I didn’t want to and I did a lot of things I did want to. But I didn’t tell anyone about anything.
I had severe depression, bouts of eating disorders, ongoing self harm, suicidal feelings and so on that no one knew about. Less dramatically, I wrote poetry and loved textile arts and photography that went beyond the snapshots I was allowed to take (the cost of film and development meant my parents were very cautious about using rolls of film). But no one knew these things about me. My parents didn’t know. My friends didn’t know. And these were really important things about me..
As I moved from my teens to my twenties I slowly started to share more of myself. I got heavily involved in a student activist society. I got my first digital camera and started to share my photos with people. I was started to project a more authentic image of myself. But I still didn’t tell many people about my mental health or my bisexuality.
After uni, I did various temping jobs before ending up in my awesome team. And to fit in at those jobs, I felt I had to dress a certain way and be interested in certain things. These were places filled with diet talk and tales of getting completely and utterly drunk and gossip and such. Nothing that I could really relate to or feel interested in. It literally felt like I was in the school yard. There was the cool guy, the pretty girl etc etc… And for a while I did change how I dressed and I hid a lot of what makes me who I am.
This meant that when I started my job with my awesome team, my sense of self was crushed. I struggled to find myself in amongst the masks I had created and I was struggling to recover the parts of myself I had hidden. So when people asked what I’d been up to at the weekend I’d just say nothing much, a quiet weekend. Even when those weekends had been filled with feminist group meetings, coffee with friends, craft afternoons, reading great books and so on.
And when you feel you can’t tell someone what you spend your time doing, it makes it very hard to build a relationshup… The people I worked with can’t really have had much of a sense of who I was. Thankfully over time, I worked there in varoius roles for six years, I started to refind and rebuild myself, my authentic self.
By the time I retired, I think my team had a good idea of who I am. They all knew about the physical side of my health, a few people knew about the mental health side of things. They all knew I was into craft. My manager knew I wrote poetry (he was the only one who was there for the full six years so obviously had more chance to get to know me). They knew I wasn’t going to go out and get pissed every Friday night and that didn’t matter.
A lot of how I interact with authenticity today is down to those colleagues adn my amazing manager who continually accepted me for me when I did start to share myself. There are other people outside of work who were also critical but I think the most important thing for me was to feel able to share myself with people who were not there voluntarily. I was going to say friends but I do consider some of those people to still be my friends. But to be accepted by people who had not chosen to know me was important.
I know my blog and twitter and also my retirement have all helped me to live as my authentic self and to unpick what that means to me.
And there’s always a but isn’t there? I am not my authentic self when I am interacting with my family. And this is about self care and self preservation but the part of me that so strongly values authenticity jars strongly against this.
When my family visit, thankfully rarely, I hide so much of my stuff. I hide my art, my tarot, my craft, some of my books… I can’t handle my mother critising, belittling or devaluing these parts of who I am. And I know that she would.
I had a poem published at 16 and needed a cheque to pay for a copy of the book. When I finally summoned the courage to tell her she told me the poem didn’t make sense and that the only reason the poem was being published was to get the poets to buy the book. Basically it was all a con and money spinning and my poem was shit.
That delightful anecdote is probably the best way of explaining how my mother reacts to my authentic self. She wants me to be her. To be interested in chemistry and biology and when I was working, to follow her career path. And perhaps that’s the case for most parents. But in doing so she has repeatedly crushed who I am. Over and over. And maybe one day I will feel courageous enough to show her my true self. But for now, doing so would almost certainly cause a downward spiral in my mental health.
Indeed, my psychologist was on board with me hiding my stuff and not confronting my mother and the related issues. She thought maybe at some point in the future I should face them but that right now, self protection was the most powerful thing I could do.
So, I do not live fully in line with my value of authenticty. But I do for the most part. And the part where I don’t is an act of self love. You wouldn’t intentionally step into a firing line you knew was going to kill you. And thus, I do not share my full self with my family.