14 April 2014

Authenticity (and Saying 'No')

Let this sit with you for a moment: Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we are supposed to be, and embracing who we actually are.

The full definition of authenticity (in the picture above) comes from Brené Brown's The Power of Vulnerability, the audio book that I've been sinking my heart and mind into the past couple of weeks. 

There are a few quotes I've bookmarked as being particularly resonant. But this one really felt worth taking the pause to reflect. For me, one of the hardest components of authenticity that I struggle with is setting boundaries. Who do others expect me to be? We do I think I am supposed to say? It can be so difficult to say "no" to the requests that others make of us, right? Can you cover this project? (but your to-do list is already chock full) Can you pick me up from the airport? (but you committed to giving yourself a day of rest) Can you come to this last-minute dinner? (the whole family is going to be there, and you don't want to be that person) 

It is WORK to set boundaries for yourself and to turn down any number of daily requests that people make of you (both those spoken and unspoken). We want to "please" others and to be agreeable. And sometimes we do want to help out and contribute (whether to feel like part of the team, to be helpful, to be liked, etc.), but we just can't. Many times, it seems easier to say "yes" and to win agreement for 5 seconds, than it is to say "no" and avoid resenting them for the whole week leading up to that commitment you made. Brené gives a great example of how this can play out. Think about the below situation in a way that makes sense for you. Sub "cookies" for whatever someone might realistically ask of you:

"Hey Tiff, could you bring some cookies to the workshop tomorrow?"

*I think, 'Oh gosh, I already have so much to do tonight and know I won't have time to do that unless I skip yoga and sacrifice my sleep*

I respond, "Oh, sure! Yeah! I can totally do that."

I win a "thank you!"... and only be flooded with regret a few seconds after. Then, later when I am making the cookies, I'm thinking, "Why did she ask me to do this? I freaking hate this. I'm not even going to eat these! I should to be ASLEEP right now!" - all the while, mixing that resentment and silent loathing into the batter. 

Then I show up at the event (exhausted), and I toss in that passive aggressive, "Here are your cookies!!! Hope you like them! I stayed up LATE to make them." Feeling simultaneously proud of my superwoman capabilities and pissed off that I gave in.

YUCK YUCK YUCK! Wouldn't it have been better to be honest and say, "I can't tonight. I won't have the time. Ask me again next time!" or maybe even, "I don't have time to make cookies, but I do have some fruit I'd be happy to bring." People respect honesty. People will respect your boundaries if you get in the habit of keeping them. But it starts with US, not THEM. They will continue to ask, but you have to continue to answer with honesty and integrity. Sometimes the answer will be "yes" and you will be able to contribute/shift your schedule around/do that favor/make a sacrifice, and other times it will be "no." Period. Just "no." And that's ok. It's more than ok. It's authentic. It has nothing to do with them, and everything to do with YOU and what you are committed to. 

What is it that you could say to yourself when you are walking into a situation, to be mindful of authenticity? What is that phrase you can repeat to yourself before you answer someone's request? For myself, it's: "Being seen is more important than being agreeable." Or perhaps you like Brené's: "Choose discomfort over resentment." (Meaning, choose the discomfort in saying "no" and not "pleasing" over the resentment you will feel if you agree to something that you just can't or don't want to do.) When you are more committed to fitting in and belonging, and you aren't being your authentic self, you are fixing to score a heaping pile of shame, as well as a big load of commitments that you'll be wishing you never made.

Starting today, practice authenticity. Practice being fearlessly, unforgivably you. There is nothing more beautiful than a person that radiates honesty and love, and who is comfortable in their own skin and in command of their commitments. It's respectable and it demands authenticity in return (read: paying it forward!) 

I'll address other parts of the definition above in later posts. For now...

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