As a mother, one of the most daunting tasks that I face is teaching my three children the value of being authentic. My focus and fear surrounding this topic likely comes from my own experiences trying to navigate a society that constantly tries to shove round personalities into square holes.
The thing is, I was born with a “what you see is what you get” kind of personality. I discovered at a very young age that people either respond very well to me, or they don’t, there’s no in-between. I will be the first to admit – I struggle with my censor, self disclose WAY too much, and let f-bombs fly like fairy dust. BUT, I am also a total workhorse, more loyal than a Labrador puppy, and love my tribe SO damn hard. Either way, I live in a world of extremes, and it turns a lot of people off.
Trying to find a (socially appropriate) balance has always been a struggle for me, especially during my college years, when the pressure to conform seemed exponentially high. Looking back on these years, many of my decisions were made in an attempt to be just like those around me, because fitting in = happiness, right?! I lived in a permanent state of censoring, and ya know what…it was absolutely exhausting. Fast-forward 10 years to becoming a mother…three babies later and my desire to conform has almost vanished. I’m not sure if it was the raging hormones or being so exhausted from raising three wild animals (eh, I mean kids), but it’s like a switch was flipped and I stopped caring so much about the “shoulds.” And let me tell you, it’s amazing how freakin’ good it feels to find yourself again, and not be consumed with how you are perceived. I’m learning to live with the reality that not everyone likes me, there are plenty of people I encounter DAILY who aren’t fans of my big personality. But I’m also learning that it takes courage and strength to be authentic, especially when it doesn’t fit the traditional mold of our society.
Part of the problem is that we live in such a fast paced world, we seem to be making fewer and fewer authentic connections with others. Our generation is so concerned with being liked and perceived a certain way that we don’t let our guard down to show our true selves, afraid that we might be rejected or judged. Ironically, it’s not until we begin to realize that we don’t have to be loved by everyone, that we are truly set free to develop the authentic connections that add meaning to our lives. Once, when I was in college and going through a very difficult time with a relationship, I received an email from my Godmother. At the time, I was drowning my sorrows in a crazy hard course load at school, followed by Jameson whiskey at night. Lots and lots of Jameson whiskey. I don’t remember her exact words, but it went something like this…
“Throughout your lifetime, you will be able to count your true friends on one hand. One hand. You have to learn to stop investing so much of your energy and emotions on the rest of the people that come in and out of your life. That’s not to say you should blow everyone off. Still be kind, give them a smile, buy them a cup of coffee, and then move on. Focus your energy and give your heart to those people who really matter. The ones who will be by your side 30 years from now.”
At the time, (being the people pleaser, perfectionist, Jameson drinker that I was) I had a difficult time understanding what she was trying to tell me. But I get it now. She was so right. I finally realize just how important it is to by-pass the bullshit and be yourself, regardless of what others may think. In the end, the people that matter will love and celebrate you for who you really are (even if you swear too much, can’t cook, and let your kids watch too much TV).
When I really take a good hard look at my life, I actually find that the most like-able people are the ones who don’t have their shit together and aren’t afraid to admit it. They are confident in their identities and are honest with themselves and others. I can’t help but wonder what a difference it might make for our next generation if we all attempted to be just a little more real with one another. Don’t get me wrong…it’s no easy task to let your guard down and be okay with others not liking what they see. People are ass-holes, and there will always be someone who will judge and shit-talk you. As Taylor Swift says, “the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.” But that’s okay. That’s a “them” problem, not a “you” problem.
I admit, I still struggle daily with this internal battle to appear a certain way (and to be liked), but in order to set an example for my kids, I’m throwing myself into the idea of being authentic in all aspects of my life. When all is said and done, I want my children to see someone who loses her shit sometimes, so that they know its okay for them to have big emotions too. I want them to see me voicing my opinion, especially when it’s unpopular, so that they look for the courage to find their voice in the face of adversity. Most importantly, I want them to see me being unapologetically myself, so that they learn to be comfortable in their own skin. Our future generation needs to know that it’s okay to be quirky, different, and unique. In fact, in a world of copy-cats and followers, being a little “off” is actually pretty darn refreshing.