The Paradox of Becoming Authentic

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” ~E.E. Cummings

I’m sure many of you would agree that ‘adulting’ is hard. There are so many extrinsic pressures that often dictate how we live. In my case it was my relationships. However, in saying that, things like money woes, work, friendships, and family also played a part in my early adulting years.

For a great deal of my adult life I could honestly say that I was a chameleon. I went above and beyond to remain under the radar. I just wanted to blend in without drawing any unwelcome attention to myself. In my online writing profile, I even described myself as a chameleon writer…

Circumstances fuelled my self-doubt. What was happening in my personal life made me  constantly feel that I wasn’t good enough for some things and some people. Many of you who’re reading this will probably exclaim ‘What?’ ‘Vics is one of the most confident people I know!’. The truth is, I was extremely adept when it came to masking any insecurities.

I spent a lot of my time molding who I was and what I believed based on some people. In a way, I traded myself in – I downgraded – I allowed myself to forgo my authentic self for the sake of security, mostly because I had this innate fear of being judged.

I suppressed many of my opinions. I refrained from sharing my beliefs. And as a result, I was seen as an easy-going happy-go-lucky type.

But it all came at a massive cost.

I showed the greatest form of disrespect to myself. I was ultimately allowing other people to influence many aspects of my life, including major life-changing decisions. At one point, I was filled with so much self-doubt that I didn’t even trust myself to make simple choices for myself.

I became withdrawn and secretive. I’m not a clandestine type of person. I prefer transparency and honesty, but because I wasn’t getting it myself, I withheld a lot of vital information from the people who mattered most to me, namely my family and close-knit tribe. I failed to communicate my emotions, in fact in some cases I became so numb I didn’t feel anything.

Keeping in those emotions took its toll, emotionally and physically. I’d literally succeeded in making myself sick from the frustration. This frustration translated into anger. I was this crazy angry person who felt a series of limiting emotions that ranged from anxiety to shame.

I recognise it now. I compromised my integrity, and looking back on that ‘broken girl’, I realise I lost my voice and my emotions, something I never want to happen again. At some point I even audaciously played that ‘victim’ card, the card that should only be reserved for the real victims – it was my excuse for my questionable behaviour at times.

I relied on others for two simple things – love and attention, because these were two things that I wasn’t giving myself. My personal rating of my self-worth fluctuated, it was defined by others in comparison. Those unattainable standards I placed on myself – that quest for perfection – left me completely disconnected from the world.

It was last year when I just grew so exhausted of everything – the stress and the worry. This wasn’t the pivotal point however – I disengaged myself even more, this time from people. Turning down invites, making excuses, avoiding phone calls and completely clamming up.

I have a friend, who’s a life coach, who talks about being ‘authentic’. I didn’t even know what that meant, or perhaps I once had, but I’d ‘conveniently’ forgotten.

Putting so much pressure on myself drove me to crisis mode. I finally recognised that I was on a dangerous verge, heading for a breakdown.

I’m a regular reader of my friend’s blogs, stories and updates. She’s instilled so many positive things in people. It was her, without her even knowing it, that snapped me out of everything. Every time I saw a Facebook update or I got a ping in my email box, I knew she had more powerful words of positivity and courage to share.

You’re probably wondering why I’m being so incredibly candid right now. It’s because of this very same friend. Seen as an influencer in LA, Australia, New Zealand, the UK and NYC to name a few places; she’s carved out, what I can only describe as a wonderful career in coaching. She’s probably one of the most inspirational people I know (she’s even made it on Forbes’ top 50 influential women), and yet something happened last night.

My Facebook newsfeed showed that she was ‘live’. So I quickly clicked on her. Usually the time difference between here and Bali means that I miss all her ‘live chats and updates’.

This chat was different. I still saw that gorgeous Kiwi model sitting in front of me, but there was hesitation, there were sighs, and then came the truth. Without going into too much detail, she shared with her friends and clients what’s been going on in her own life, something that she too chose to keep close to her chest for the last year.

Through her beautiful smile, I saw vulnerability in her eyes. She too had been going through exactly the same things as I had, she too had spent a great time feeling nothing and being numb. Because of the nature of her career and her brand, she wanted to come ‘clean’ with what she describes as the most difficult time in her life to date.

I even remember writing to her a while back, telling her about everything that had happened and how inspiring and uplifting I found her and her words. Little did I know that she was going through exactly the same hell, and like me, because of our chosen careers, we had to go out every day with a fake smile on our faces, pretending to the world everything was OK.

In that instance, I connected with her even more. Everything she said hit home very hard. It was like she had my song and was singing it for me. Part of her words stung me as I recalled those very times  when I too felt the same, not so long ago. It was raw and it was very real.

She didn’t go into the personal details (she didn’t have to), but she did share her struggles. Doing so to a following of a few thousand and ‘live’ took great courage – total respect to her!

When I had that ‘eureka’ moment myself a few months back, I realised that the world needed me to show up and share what I had to offer.

From then, everything began to unfold. I learnt that not sharing my talents and expressing myself was far more dangerous than revealing them. Unexpressed dreams, thoughts, emotions and talents don’t ever disappear into nothingness; they consume and crush confidence and worthiness.

Unfortunately, there’s no shortcut to becoming authentic – there’s no Cliff’s notes to it. It takes a lot of damned hard work and a tonne of commitment. I began to reflect more and I began to practise easy meditating techniques while diving in deeply into that glorious emotional mess that I was.

It was painful. So many repressed negative emotions surfaced, but the only way to ride the wave to authenticity and inner-peace was this – I had to deal with those emotions first, and it was fucking hard!

Baby steps was what it was. It took me practising my newly acquired self-love techniques on a daily basis, little by little.

The past cannot be edited, deleted or forgotten completely. It can only be accepted, so forgive yourself.

I followed my friend’s advice from one of her previous posts. She’d talked about forgiving yourself and letting go of any of your past mistakes. In the past, my ego had a right good old time recounting all the bad choices I’d previously made. I was ultimately abusing and punishing myself – I made myself feel so guilty it was unreal.

I’m of the mind now that I need to cultivate kindness. I no longer disrespect myself by putting myself down. I no longer allow others to hurt me. When I do catch myself thinking negatively, I quickly counteract it and focus on the positives. I finally accepted my past and what had happened. I’m not the only one and I certainly won’t be last to endure such emotional pain. I also have to keep telling myself that there are people, who are much worse off. I told myself that I needed to be more present in my thoughts and gratitude.

I’ve learnt from my mistakes. I know what I don’t want and what I don’t deserve. These days, I’m a hell of a lot kinder to myself. I work out, I go to yoga, I socialise like I used to, I’ve even dated…and it’s awesome! I’m loving every moment of my new life!

I now know that I can only ever do my best and I just have to be content with that.

It is not only what WE do, but also what WE do not do for which WE are accountable.

Change – it’s probably one of the most difficult things. There are very few people who deal with change well, but that road to being more authentic requires change – it requires owning your mistakes – it requires accountability.

Embracing my less than perfect attributes was what I had to do. It was a struggle, but eventually, I found the willingness to do so. Sharing it with other people was key, as is writing this particular blog post.

I chose who I opened up to very carefully, because I still had that deep-seated fear within. I confided and openly spoke about those challenges, and the more I did it, the easier it became. The written text messages turned into chats, and then, when I felt strong enough, face-to-face discussions ensued.

The ironic thing was that everyone knew what I was feeling apart from myself. I don’t recall this happening – back then it was all a blur – but many people had tried to talk to me, to help me, but my natural defence mechanism was to block them out and pretend I didn’t hear – everything fell on deaf ears!

I had to admit to myself why I was holding onto the pain. I soon discovered it was out of fear. I was afraid that if I loosened the control on the state of my emotions back then, worse things would happen.

That pain wasn’t serving me anything. It even led me to making some terrible decisions, decisions that could’ve potentially got me into some big trouble.

It took seeing how far I’d allowed it to get and the extremity of it all to finally make that huge commitment to change.

The daily practice of self-love is one of the conduits by which your wealth will come to you.

In many ways I’d let myself go. I used to be an avid gym goer, and I’d allowed that to all fall by the wayside, resulting in weight gain and an unhealthy body and mind, which of course just amplified the self-loathing. Part of getting back on track to living a more authentic life required me to get back into the swing of things in terms of fitness.

Creating a loving relationship with myself was what I had to do. The old Buddhist proverb, ‘Your body’s your temple’ rings so true in many ways – a healthy body, a healthy mind.

I began to observe people I knew, who I perceived as living an authentic life. I watched them, noting down patterns they’d mastered and practised, these included mindfulness, courage, boldness, and self-respect. However, one of the biggest ones was taking some form of exercise.

Admittedly, I may have taken this to the extreme – I don’t do things by halves. I’m now a regular gym goer, I go almost every day. I attend yoga classes when I can, and I’m trying to master these yogic techniques to practise at home when I can’t make the times of the lessons. I walk to and from work every day, rain or shine – I’ve totally turned my back on public transport (which of course is not a bad thing). In total I walk about 7km daily. I wake up half an hour earlier than I previously did to take the dog for a decent walk instead of just letting her run outside for a few minutes before I rush off to work.

I’ve cut back on alcohol (eliminating it completely will never happen…I love wine  and gin too much) and I’m more mindful of the food I consume…no more puddings at work during lunch time! When I cook for myself, I opt for more expensive organic butcher bought meats and my plate is a plethora of vibrant colours thanks to the vegetables I stack in. I’ve even somewhat turned around my aversion to seafood, although you still won’t catch me eating oysters, mussels or crab…like I said, baby steps!

The thing is, I’m 100 times better already for these small daily practices that I’ve incorporated into my routine. As a result, people’s actions, words and beliefs don’t affect me anymore – they ricochet off me. Now, I rarely find myself sinking, but when I do, I know how to recognise it, and I quickly catch myself before I fall to rock bottom.

Speaking the truth is hard. I’ve even spoken the truth recently, which was a huge struggle, only to get shot down for doing so – it backfired on me! The old me would’ve balked and retracted, the new me didn’t even have to bounce back because I didn’t let it get to me – onwards and upwards!

What I’ve learnt is that you have to create an intention, an intention to consciously become more authentic. It requires truth and a lot of grafting, but eventually your authenticity will re-emerge (because you never lose it) and shine through.

My own personal journey isn’t over yet. I don’t think anyone’s ever really is. We all have things to learn, and there are always ways in which we can improve ourselves.

The funny thing is, I’ve now begun to recognise a lack of authenticity in others. I too see sadness and vulnerability in people that I once saw in myself – there are broken people everywhere! As much as I’d love to reach out  and hold them, I will refrain from doing so, because this is what made me push people away even more when I was going through exactly the same thing.

What I will publicly declare is this. I’m an ear. I’m always here. And if you’re in my life, you’re in it for a reason. Maybe you don’t recognise this in you now, but one day you will. At first, it’s going to be so shit. You’ll want to scream, shout and punch, but eventually, when you’ve experienced the pain you’re keeping locked away inside, you’ll recognise the need for change as well. Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix. Time is a healer (I hate this saying, but it’s true). But never forget, I’m here.

Trust me, there’s nothing more liberating than being yourself, and you should never be afraid to let it show. I’m no longer concerned about rejection, because I know as long as continue being true to myself, good things will happen.

I also recognise that being more authentic is a daily practice. It’s about being truthful and fearless, it’s about sharing it with the people who matter. But these are moment-by-moment choices, and like everything, I must continue to practise this self-love so I can continue exuding confidence, having sass (words of a friend) and being at peace.

By choosing to be our most loving and authentic self, we leave a trail of magic everywhere we go.

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