Saturday, December 19, 2015

Fitting In

Have you ever had an experience where you know something to be true, but you have never really been able to articulate why it is true? And then one day, you stumble upon some new information that just pulls everything together. I had an epiphany like that today.

It is so powerful when those feelings happen. It is like a simultaneous expansion of my mind, my breath and my spirit. Ever since I started reading this book by Brene Brown called The Gifts of Imperfection, I have been having these types of experiences much more frequently.

Today's epiphany was related to authenticity and perfectionism, and the relationship between those two forces in my life. Authenticity, according to Brown, is one of the key qualities we need to develop in order to live a more whole-hearted life. It involves letting go of who we think we are supposed to be and embracing who we are. Authenticity is a choice to be real and let our true selves be seen.

Perfectionism is one of the things that gets in the way - especially for me. Perfectionism is the belief that we are what we accomplish and how well we accomplish it. And perfectionism is all about perception. We want to be perceived as perfect, which of course is unattainable because we cannot control other people's perceptions. Ultimately, we are entrusting our sense of worthiness to someone or something outside of ourselves.

In order to attain that external validation, we will often say or do things that are not authentic. Which brings me to my most recent epiphany. I was sitting on my couch after reading those two chapters and I thought to myself: Well, that pretty much explains why I hated every job I ever had. I wasn't being authentic. No wonder I ended up in a situation that didn't fit!

Then I started to flash back to each of my job interviews, which were pretty much the same. I would always get dressed up in a suit which, by the way, could not have been less authentic to me. I feel so uncomfortable wearing suits. My curvy body feels trapped in the squared off shapes and the collar always rubs on the back of my neck and makes my hair cascade over my shoulders in an awkward way. I prefer to wear dresses and sweaters that are softer and more forgiving.

Aside from the wardrobe issues, I remember that feeling of being completely on-guard at all times. From the moment I would walk into the building it was like I was putting on an act. I would literally turn into a different person. A professional person - whatever that means.

I was highly skilled at transforming myself into exactly who they wanted me to be. And that is where the perfectionism takes over. Whenever they would ask me a question, I would concentrate on delivering the perfect answer. Which may or may not have been an honest answer (most often, it wasn't). The perfect answer was whatever I perceived they wanted or needed to hear so they would give me the job.

And it usually worked. In fact, I was offered every job I ever interviewed for, except for one fellowship immediately after graduate school. It was a two-year fellowship at the Ohio State University and their affiliated Children's Hospital. The sponsor called me personally to say that they loved me, but unfortunately I was their second choice. Which was too bad, because I really wanted that job.

All these years, I have blamed the companies where I worked for being greedy, selfish, emotionless black holes. And trust me, they were all of those things. But that was their true nature. The companies were being authentic. It turns out that I was the one pretending to be something I wasn't.

For me, it was so much easier to give the perfect answer in a job interview, rather than an authentic one. When I was younger, I didn't know who I was, so it was easy to pretend I was someone else. And when I was older, I might have known more about who I was, but I was certainly not going to take the risk of letting them find out. Most of the places where I was interviewing probably wouldn't have been interested in the real me. Because I didn't belong there in the first place.

Authenticity is not a new concept to me. It is something I have been seeking in my life for a long time. I just didn't know how to get there. As I was reading about authenticity today, it reminded me of something I wrote years ago, back when I was working as a consultant in another miserable job. This is from 2010:
One of the things I need to be happy in life is authenticity. To me, that means there is harmony between the things you feel, the things you say and the things you do.  Right now my life is desperately out of balance. I feel like I want to crawl out of my own skin and start over again. Like a caterpillar going into a cocoon and emerging as a butterfly. But for me there is no natural path to metamorphosis. The type of change I want to achieve requires a conscious thought process followed by a series of deliberate actions.
Back then, perfectionism and worrying about what other people would think was definitely something that stopped me from taking action to change my life. I remember so many times I wanted to walk out of that place and never look back. But I was so afraid of failure that I talked myself out of it. And even when I got to the point where I was ready to take the risk, I let other people talk me out of it.

It took me almost five years, but I am finally starting to make the changes that I want in my life. The perfectionist in me wishes I could wrap up this blog post by telling you that making these changes helped me land my ideal job. And that my life is exactly what I always wanted it to be.

But it is not that simple. There are days when I feel courageous and there are days when I am afraid. There are days when I believe that everything is coming together and there are days when I feel completely scattered. All of those feelings are part of the human experience. And part of being an authentic person is to acknowledge that.

The truth is that I don't feel like I have any exceptional insights to share. Yes, I am living a more authentic life. And yes, I am definitely happier. But I haven't gotten anywhere yet. And maybe that is the whole point.

Brown reminds us that authenticity isn't something we have or don't have. It is something we must choose every day. If I ever go on another job interview, hopefully I will find the courage to give them an honest answer to each question. That is the only way to know if it will be a good fit.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Guess people have been struggling with authenticity for a few centuries since 1650.

Word Origin and History for au-then-tic-i-ty


1760; see authentic + -ity. Earlier form was authentity (1650s).