Earlier this year, I contributed to the last We are the Contributors project: Alter Ego (update 8/21/2015: site no longer live). In the call for submissions, we were asked to explore inhabiting the mind, space, and life of another person, an adult version of "let's pretend," using the medium of our choice and to share a little about our process.
For my piece, Breaking to Soar, I choose collage and eventually decided to step into the shoes of my four-year-old self grown up. In doing so, I realized the dangers in having two personas: one you share with the online world and one you share in the real world.
No one has the right to stop another person from being creative. Creativity is not a label one needs to earn before they can call themselves creative. Creativity is about granting yourself permission, facing your fears, and making something. Creativity is a practice, one that I don't always embrace.
Editor's Note: I wrote "Rediscovering My Authentic Self" this past April but couldn't bring myself to hit publish. I'm proud of the work I submitted for We are The Contributors and am sharing my struggle with the piece now for anyone else out there that is applying someone else's standard to their work or for anyone who is afraid to start because their beginning won't be as good as someone else's middle or end. I wrote "How to Become Your Authentic Self" upon reflection of why I hadn't shared a part of my story previously and how I could use the experience to grow.
Rediscovering My Authentic Self
To say I didn’t struggle with the We Are The Contributors project would be lying. In March, I jumped at the chance to participate in “an adult version of ‘let’s pretend.” I had so many ideas, I welcomed the opportunity to let my creativity soar unfettered.
As the month wore on, I wondered what I had been thinking taking on this project. Sure I had women I wanted to be like. But, none felt “right.”
I couldn’t imagine being someone else. I could compare myself to them. And, I did. But, stepping into their shoes and understanding their motivations, their passions, and their dreams beyond what I observed as an outsider proved challenging. No one knows what a stranger, an acquaintance, a friend, or even a loved one, has experienced.
Many of us pick out the personas we show to the world based on who we’ll be seeing or what we’ll be doing. Then, we don those shells. Sometimes, these personas are almost polar opposites of each other, disarming those who think they know us when they glimpse an alternate persona.
Until a few years ago, I had two personas; one felt more authentic than the other. One was the driven corporate career woman, with the perfectly kept four-bedroom house in the suburbs, and wardrobe stocked with the right designer labels—not too flashy, no nonsense. The other was the passionate creative, barefoot, covered in paint working through the night to Moby and Paul Oakenfold blaring or whipping up a new recipe for possible inclusion on a restaurant menu. The personas existed in two different worlds; worlds that seldom collided, but when they did, most people were surprised.
When I moved to San Francisco five years ago, I began combining the two personas. I struggled with what to reveal and to whom. I wondered what people would think. Would they like me? It wasn’t until recently that I realized if someone doesn’t get my passions it’s ok. I didn’t need to apologize for them or hide them. There would be people who did get them. I didn’t need to change who I am.
Pretending to be someone else, while appealing at first, hit too close. I was reminded of all the time lost and energy expended switching back and forth between two personas. Instead, I thought back to an authenticity exercise Brene Brown had us complete in her The Gifts of Imperfection: A Six-Week eCourse. She had us find a photo of “that captures our authentic self—one that conveys a sense of who you are.” I selected a photo from my childhood, one before I started worrying what others thought of me.
My Four Year Old Self: Self-Assured. Unabashed. Eager.
And then it hit me. My path that’s been obscured by swirling mist was suddenly visible. Each alternate route, detour, or back road I’ve taken has always been leading here.
Where’s here? My four-year old self grown up.
Without realizing it, I’ve been on a quest to recapture the essence of that four-year old. To once again be Self-Assured. Unabashed. Eager.
How to Become Your Authentic Self
It is easy to compare ourselves to others. In an online world where influence (or likeability) appears transparent with visible measures, it's even more tempting. But we have to stop. We have to step back and realize we may be self-censoring to be a version of ourselves that fits in. When you feel like you're about to censor yourself, do this:
Grant yourself permission:
- to be vulnerable.
- to speak out.
- to struggle.
- to break free.
- to soar.
- to make.
So remember this when you're afraid to hit publish or to share something you're proud of: all of us are imperfect. All of us have different strengths. Those of us who have similar strengths have different aptitudes. And those of us who have similar strengths have different levels of commitment.
And know this: it is easier to criticize by attacking than it is to start a discussion. As Laura Gaskill of Lolalina advised: "Ignore the haters, and leave the trolls under the bridge where they belong."
Credits: All layouts designed by and images taken by Eden Hensley Silverstein for The Road to the Good Life.