Authenticity isn’t about telling the truth as much as owning it.
Diane Arbus once said, “A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you know.” Two years ago my sister sent me an old photograph that contained a myriad of secrets.
The picture is shot in Hot Springs, California where we are living in an Airstream trailer. I am 5-years-old and I’m holding a white poodle puppy. My little sister Wendy is seated next to me. We are wearing matching red pants. My grandmother is smoking a cigarette in a housecoat. A white haired woman I don’t recognize stands behind us with clenched fists.
At the time, my grandmother, like my mother is an alcoholic. I’m terrified and hungry. Yet despite our situation, I try to act happy for the camera. Later in business, I will use this survival skill to receive promotions and keep clients loyal. It will serve me well – until it doesn’t.
Everyone is talking about being authentic. But what does it mean? What does authenticity even look like?
For years I hid these secrets. I pretended that my mother was dead. I wore the mask of someone who had it all together and held all the answers. I was desperate not to be like her. I didn’t want to carry the sins of my mother. So I covered them up with beautiful clothes and built a business based on cultivating an ideal brand image.
Eventually, I would come to view my past as a gift. I would reunite with my mother and see all the goodness in her that is in me. I would own that I am scared of things that feel out of my control and stop apologizing for my need to have everything in its place.
It has taken me 50 years to learn that it’s okay not to agree with everyone. It hurt at first, but it got easier to say “no” when people were taking advantage of me. If I felt like being cranky or crying like a child, I could do it without beating myself up. This was being me, authentically.
How do you honor who you are and show up authentically when you’re just trying to hold on to what you’ve got?
No matter how long you’ve lived, it’s not easy being certain about yourself in an uncertain world. But if you keep denying the truth about you and you don’t own the beauty of your uniqueness, you’ll never feel whole.
So… if museums bore you, don’t go. If you like to drink whiskey over wine, then ask for it. Stop camping if you hate it. If Christmas isn’t your thing, don’t celebrate it. If you have a friend that’s driving you crazy, don’t call her. Just be you, really you.
Consciously be aware of how things make you feel and gravitate towards what and who makes you feel good. You’ll find that some relationships are strengthened by your authenticity. Others are weakened. Not everyone will love the real you. What matters is that you do.
I am the little girl in the picture – there’s no denying it. I survived my childhood and because of it (not in spite of it), I am thriving as an adult. People who are successfully reinventing themselves in the second half of their lives tell their truth and love their story. They own their past, let go of old patterns, exhibit faith and show compassion for themselves and others.
Many of my friends who are tuned in to universal shifts say that there is a new paradigm happening. And as a result, those that exhibit fear, put on false personas or hide behind masks of the martyr, worker bee, people pleaser, jerk, tough cookie, creep – fill in the blank – are finding themselves out of step with the transformation taking place.
In an Age of Transparency, authenticity is the only answer. It’s the fuel to forgive what was and move with grace into what’s next.
Robin Fisher Roffer is a reinvention and personal branding specialist. She is the author of several books on fearless leadership and brand storytelling, including Make A Name For Yourself: 8 Steps Every Woman Needs To Create A Personal Brand Strategy For Success and The Fearless Fish Out Of Water: How To Succeed When You’re The Only One Like You. She’s also CEO, Big Fish Marketing, Inc. bigfishmarketing.com
Category: Careers/Skills Development