Everyone wants to be authentic these days. Despite the boosted interest in self-development and awareness within the health and wellness community, it’s a concept our society has felt the need to shove down our throats as the antidote to living a better life. Although I cannot fully disagree with these efforts, authenticity is presented as not pretending to be somebody you’re not, but I’m not sure if everyone really understands what that means in the scope of navigating the world around us. Yes, to be authentic is to be true to one’s self (personality, character, values, etc) but that doesn’t mean we get to say or do what we want simply because we feel a certain way without constraint and compassion. To me, being authentic isn’t saying “this is who I am and you either get on board or keep it moving”, it’s about knowing oneself and accepting and loving who we are at our core while feeling at homing stand in our truth, and trust me, getting to that space isn’t as easy as posting a photo on Instagram with an IDGAF #bestlife caption.
After Mark Manson dropped the “values bomb” on me, I started to question other parts of my being. It has dawned on me that the Kayla I was living as wasn’t the Kayla I wanted to be. I needed to peel back the next layer so naturally, I turned to Oprah <who else knows how to do life better?! I’ll wait. > I honestly don’t know how I stumbled across Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday podcast but I admit to you I’ve been living in the rabbit hole ever since, soaking up every single bit of life advice, learned experiences and moment of triumph her guests have so bravely bared. Now that I had re-evaluated my values, or at least identified which values really reflected my soul, I thought I would take on Brené Brown; professor at the University of Houston whose research focused on vulnerability, courage, shame. If I was going to rebuild Kayla, I needed a FULL renovation, which required me to explore not only the meaning of authenticity but what that looked like for me and by me. If you’ve never heard of Brené Brown, you’re welcome. This woman is incredible and not only because she’s able to speak truth so eloquently but because through her own work she discovered she wasn’t walking the walk which lead to her own spiritual awakening. Her eye-opening journey of navigating vulnerability and shame compelled me re-examine myself. If Mark Manson was the awakening, Brené Brown’s Super Soul Sunday interview was the turning point.
As a former athlete and collegiate coach, there is success found on exposing another team’s weaknesses or, vulnerabilities. I have spent hours – not even close to being an exaggeration. I wish I would have kept track of how many hours I spent watching film from the fall of 2008 to the fall of 2016. – dissecting game film, looking for ways to expose holes in their defense and areas of the court where they simply lacked strength. But a team’s vulnerabilities doesn’t necessarily equate to an easy win as many teams find ways to turn their weaknesses into strengths.
Interestingly, this is how we as a society perceive vulnerability; as a weakness, and we are conditioned for a large part of our lives to mask it. To put on our best face and march forward, but in doing so we lose a sense of ourselves. We lose authenticity. In Brené Brown’s book, Daring Greatly, she define’s vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk, emotional exposure”. She explains how “vulnerability is key to having meaningful human experiences”. By not embracing vulnerability, we are constantly wearing our armor into the world while putting on the brave face at work, with our friends, at home. No wonder we have become such a numbed culture! We’re even afraid to sit for extended periods of time with ourselves <this is what meditation is>. Without vulnerability, we lack clarity in our values and boundaries. We give the fear of failure power over our creative passions. When we lose our tolerance for vulnerability we, as “ joy becomes foreboding. We are afraid to lean into soft moments.”
Over the past two years, or perhaps throughout the course of my adulthood up to that point, I had lost my ability to lean into soft moments. I had become afraid of being vulnerable. Any situation where the possibility of feeling may have occurred I ran in the opposite direction. I was terrified of being perceived as weak and even more afraid embracing emotions. This fear bled into my relationships, heavy. I was a good surface player. I had no issues sharing thoughts or relating to others but whenever I was asked to own my story I quickly changed the focus back to the other person <you’d be surprised how easy this work as people love to talk about themselves>. It was until the spinning turning into spiraling that I realized I was losing myself to fear. For me, in order to be vulnerable I had to do two things. 1. Stop caring what people thought in regards to me as an individual and my decisions I did/did not make and 2. Love Kayla as Kayla for WHO Kayla is. Or what Brené Brown details in her 10 Guideposts to Cultivate Wholehearted Living, I had to cultivate authenticity and cultivate self-compassion.
Cultivating authenticity isn’t waking up one day and telling yourself you’re going to choose you every day, honestly, it takes practice. Practice of not laughing at things you truly don’t find funny where you use to give a courtesy laugh <ok, but also don’t be a jerk. Show some compassion yall>, saying no to events or activities you genuinely don’t find any interest but don’t want to let other people down, it’s picking restaurants YOU want to try given the option versus terribly overused, and I’m just as guilty of this, “I don’t care.” or “Whatever you want to eat”. It’s making decisions for you that make you feel strong and honest to yourself.
Cultivating self-compassion is my major beast. I am my biggest critic. Always have been, always will be. I think it’s safe to say we all struggle with self-love. There are so many outside forces weighing on our self-perception. To be self-compassionate is to embrace the feelings of failure versus ignoring our pain <guilty. My sisters literally call me Sista Souljah (not the author) for my ability to soldier on emotionally numb during tough moments. Not something I’m proud of but a train I own.> or beating ourselves up. It’s about accepting our perfect imperfections. LOVING our imperfections. Brené Brown describes perfectionism as, “ a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: “If I look perfect, live perfectly, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame…with the ultimate fear that the world will see us for who we are and we won’t measure up.” This literally stopped me in my tracks when I heard it. THIS WAS ME. I was trying SO hard to be everything everyone else wanted me to be in order to avoid any and all feelings of shame, blame, and judgement and in doing so, I had created someone that was capable of all those things, or so I thought. Now, I will be the first to tell you that letting go of perfection was, and is, a tough especially for us Type-A, high-achieving folks. My vision of perfection was never about things falling exactly in line, exactly how they’re meant to but rather living up to the expectations and standards everyone had for me. From a young age I’ve always felt the pressure to do and be more which can be a good thing but I internalized the success people saw in me as an unattainable goal I had to reach to be recognized but I had forgotten to define that bar for myself.
Being vulnerable isn’t a weakness. Fear shouldn’t bring us shame. We must strive daily to love ourselves and celebrate our small victories along our journey and cast out all fear of as what Charles Eisenstein, the world’s biggest wound of “somehow being rejected for being our authentic self. As a result of that we try to be what are not to get approval, love, protection, safety, money, etc and that the real need for all of us is to reconnect with the essence of who we really are and re-own all the disowned parts of our self whether its our emotions, our spirituality, we all go around hiding parts of our self.”