by Terry Crump
"If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be." - Maya Angelou
We develop palates to savor fine wines and distinguish nuanced flavors in foods, taking pride in our ability to appreciate things of quality. As consumers of art, designer clothing/accessories, or gemstones we insist that there be some stamp or certificate of authenticity because we are drawn to accumulate unique possessions. Even when beachcombing for shells we assemble only a diverse and unusual array. For us, there’s no denying that originality and authenticity bear high value.
Somehow, when we start to apply the same expectation of authenticity to ourselves, the rules change. Anxiety and worry dominate. The shoulds, oughts, and musts emerge, as does the script of what we can do, of how we can be. “I can’t do that . . . I don’t want to stand out . . . I’m staying under the radar . . . they’ll think I’m nuts!” Sound familiar? We allow our need for external validation to be paramount to avoid exposing who we really are for fear of rejection, assuming that acceptance dictates that we look and behave like everybody else. Normalcy. The harshest criticisms come from our own minds, rehearsing perfected punitive messages that we have honed over time. While being original, unique, and even flawed may sound moderately appealing in the abstract, we fail to embrace or actualize these concepts in our everyday lives. One of the life truths that I continue to work through is that it is impossible to portray authenticity without self-acceptance.
Several years ago while on a Caribbean vacation celebrating a big birthday, I was looking for entertainment in my hotel but things were a bit slow that night. Disappointed but determined to have some fun, my travel mate and I decided to make the evening festive. Before I knew it, we had managed to invigorate the two-person reggae band and perform with them, started a conga line insisting that other guests in the lobby join in, and assembled a sizable crowd. The libations were flowing; everyone was having a phenomenal time. As the evening drew to an end, fellow guests were asking what our plans were on the following day. We had forged a connection! At various points during the evening, I could hear the typical script in my head that I am an introvert, not one who readily makes friends with strangers, and certainly not one who dances in the middle of a hotel lobby. I managed to ignore that inner voice. Guess what, it was one of my more memorable birthday vacations. That effervescent woman who loves life, enjoys music and dancing, and laughs heartily is me, but she has too often been suppressed by ideas about how she appears to others. While I’d like to say that this experience has forever changed my approach to living, I can’t. But I can state that I repeatedly call upon this memory when the “what will people say” script begins to run. Thoughts of this time help with decision making about the version of myself that will “show up” for any given event, making it easier to just be me.
Here’s why the real you should show up: Authenticity allows for connection to others, fosters self-fulfillment, and engenders joy. With greater maturity, I’ve invariably realized my preference for wearing a certificate of authenticity proudly rather than looking in the mirror and failing to recognize the woman that’s staring back. It’s so much simpler . . . and lots more fun.