The importance of authenticity

posted by Jeff | Sunday, August 15, 2021, 7:54 PM | comments: 0

I've noticed that the issue of authenticity has come up a lot in the last few months in therapy. It's not entirely surprising, because as you enter midlife, I think one typically takes on the process of measuring what's important in life. You're looking for meaning, trying to prioritize and optimize what gets your attention, based on a combination of life experience and maybe some acknowledgment that you may have more time behind you than in front of you.

What does it mean to be authentic? To me, it's someone who is true to themselves but also in a way that you might perceive to be "good." I wouldn't strictly say that it's someone who gives no shits about what others think, but that's a component of it. Maybe it's someone who isn't conforming to a certain box or set of expectations, and definitely not someone who is showy for the purpose of validation or attention.

I admire authenticity, but it seems largely missing from our culture. Reality TV and social media have turned attention whoring into a sport, and people are quite literally famous for being famous. One can be an "influencer" without actually doing anything of value. People invest more time in selling themselves than anything else. Some believe that they can have expertise without doing the work to be authoritative by experience.

It's not entirely bad that everyone has to have a blog and a podcast, because some people who do that are authentic in their experience, communication and intent. That's even true on TV, sometimes (see the show Home Work on Magnolia/Discovery+ right now, I love it). You can even find legit people on YouTube, which is often a wasteland of contrived nonsense.

Diana is among the most authentic people I know. She's always been what she wanted to be, and at the same time kind and generous. She has never perfectly fit into the boxes of societal expectations or any of the roles associated with any of it. She has professionally done the things she wanted as long as they suited her. Her commitment to parenthood has been extraordinary. She's also a cat person, so hard to go wrong there.

Authenticity has never come easy to me. In high school, I desperately wanted to fit in, and worried about what everyone else thought of me. In college, I did a lot of the same, at least until my senior year when I was basically over college. Professionally, in broadcast stuff I was always posturing, and in software I intermittently was chasing dollars instead of leaning on the things that I was good at. There were piercings I didn't get because of what I feared others might think.

On the other hand, I've never bothered to buy a suit, and I've generally been willing to call things as I see them (pretty sure these might be related to autism, not authenticity). I thought I was a pretty good volleyball coach, vulnerable about my own ability while wanting the best possible outcomes for my kids. I've spent a lot of time in the last few years really trying to understand my place in the greater order of things, how I can best contribute, and above all, be OK with who I am. I want to be kind and helpful, and also maintain boundaries. I want to maintain my privacy, but the parts I show people will not be fake. (Not those parts, you pervert.)

If my introduction to midlife is teaching me anything, it's that there isn't a lot of time for bullshit. That seems like a good way to summarize where I am in life.


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