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Month: September 2010

It doesn’t take Oprah to find your authentic self

It doesn’t take Oprah to find your authentic self

Have you ever seen one of those “entertainment shows” (term used rather loosely) that take a self-assured, confident, smart, beautiful woman with inner strength who has life by the….horns and watch these shows put this woman (or women) into a suit/costume that is the exact opposite of who they are?  You know, where it is a great sociological experiment to put the skinny model in a fat suit or the brilliant Harvard MBA  with a high powered career and dress her like a “frumpy housewife” all in the name of “learning how the other half live” for a while?  (I’m looking at you Tyra Banks.  You, too, 20/20.)  Some of these shows- when done to sensationalize how horrible it is to be “the other half”–  make me want to smack the ratings grubbing producer and send them into the Brazilian Rain forest without a survival guide.  Just for the sociological experiment of course.  But that really isn’t the entire point of this.  Sometimes- those rare sometimes– it turns out that it isn’t just poor little pretty Britney crying that “OMG, I am so fat! Make it stop!”  Sometimes they actually do something that surprises not just the women who are doing this experiment but the people around them.

At first, these women are the same.  It doesn’t matter what is on the outside, they are confident and know what is on the inside.  They are fully tapped into their authentic selves.  And?  They are confident nothing and no one can shake that.  But after a day, two days, three days, a month…they begin to react not as the woman inside the “costume” but as the woman the rest of the world sees.

The beautiful, skinny model no longer gets the adoring looks and attention she has always known.  It causes her to react to the way she is treated- to what people assume she is when they don’t look further.  She begins to hold her head down when she is walking, not quite looking anyone in the eye.  She is no longer the first to speak up, if she speaks up at all.  She hears the rude comments and begins to cry and is truly hurt deep down inside.  With her self-esteem at an all time low for her, she feels beaten down and broken.

Or take the brilliant Harvard MBA executive who becomes the old stereo typical stay at home mom who spends her days with her kids or running errands or volunteering somewhere.  She begins to be treated as someone who can barely manage a grocery list.  Her “mom jeans” and sweater sets are frowned upon and she is rarely taken seriously unless she is talking about household affairs, PTA or Johnny’s latest accomplishment- and then rarely is she truly taken seriously.  Surely this frumpy mom couldn’t know anything about the stock market, foreign affairs or politics.  I mean, just look at the way she dresses!  She doesn’t even wear makeup everyday.  She must be “just a mom” and therefore not worthy of the intelligent conversations offered up at business dinners or get-togethers.  She belongs on the playground with the “other mommies” and before you know it, she begins to act less self-assured.  She buys into the lie that maybe she isn’t as smart as she thinks she is.  Maybe it is a man’s world and she does belong just on the playground.  Her authentic self may be able to command a board room and handle multi-million dollar accounts but when she is treated as less than, she begins to feel less than. She begins to believe that she IS less than.

What happened to these women?

I suppose as a society we are quick to judge what we see and what “truth” we have been told.  Take the woman above.  A stay at home mom is the “truth” that is told.  Her dress is not the most fashionable.  She doesn’t look high-powered but perhaps a bit overly tired.  Is that who she really is?  Is that her authentic self?

Well, yes and no.  It is who she feels she is after repeatedly- I mean time and time and time again– being treated in a way that isn’t true to her authentic self.  When it comes to the collision of perceived reality and personal reality, sometimes perceived reality wins even for the woman inside the suit who knows better.  She knows who she really is.  Yet, her heart is broken by the reactions and actions of others based on  the way they perceive her to be because of the “truths” they are either told or choose to believe on their own.  However, her authentic self is not lost.

After a while, that authentic self fights back.  From deep inside the suit, the pain and the reality she has been living– which is not reality at all– become too much for her authentic self to bear and her authentic self begins to emerge and beg to be let out of the suit, out of this experiment.  It hurts too much. You may first see it as a fierce look in her eyes.  It may come from a retort to a comment that went just a bit too far.  Or you may not see her authentic self come out until piece by piece the suit is removed and she has a chance to stretch both her body and her mind, refresh her emotions and feel once again at peace with herself– her real self.

I think that is true of all of us.

At one time or another we step out of our comfort zone and try new things.  Sometimes it works.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  It’s in the trying that matters.  Over a year ago I put on a new suit that I truly wanted.  It fit like a second skin and I was happy.  But bit by bit, piece by piece layers were added to that suit.  Some by me and some by others.  The more that was put onto that suit the heavier it became.  The harder it was to wear and still be my authentic self.  There were times the “real me” would scream so loudly to get out but by then the suit was so think, so heavy and attached so strongly, I couldn’t break free.  In the Spring I knew it cost me too much personally to continue wearing it.  I tried to brutally claw it off to get back to the real me. But let me tell you something.  The process of ripping, tearing and clawing at something that is attached to you like a skin just scars you more.  You have to go through a process to take it off.  Though I was succeeding, I had a long way to go.  I made mistakes.  I hurt myself, my family and some friends.  To those I could offer an olive branch, I did.  Some accepting it and everything was put in the past to move forward.  To others, the olive branch was thrown down and walked away from.  There is and was nothing I could do about other people and how they react and choose to respond.  I was working on getting myself back and didn’t have the energy to argue, fight or try to make my side heard.  It became counterproductive to what I needed to do and who I truly am.

The beginning of summer I learned about finding the authentic me. I spent a week with people I love who love me.  Not only do they support me but they love me in spite of me.  During that week, the suit started to melt away in a beautiful and pain-free way.  I learned that the ones who love me not only accept me as I am but they expect me to be who I truly am.  It was a wonderful time of letting go, healing and getting to know myself again.

But that wasn’t the end.  It just doesn’t happen that easily.

In July my family went through a crisis.  I think all of us at one time or another (at least once) go through something that so thoroughly, completely and irrevocably changes you.  Sometimes it is a wonderful event. Sometimes it is traumatic.  But there is a moment, a time in life that you can exactly pinpoint, where everything changes.  It doesn’t matter if it is something everyone can see or just those close to you or even something only you know happens.  The point is, nothing will ever be the same after that moment.  Ever. Things that seemed so painful lose their sting.  Things that seemed so important become trivial.  Things you thought you would struggle with for a long time to get past are suddenly no longer roadblocks in your mind or heart.  You move on.  You have to.  You are not that person anymore.

I would never wish the events of my summer on anyone.  At all.  But I am forever grateful that I was able to be where I was needed, go through I needed to go through and come out on the other side the person I am now.   Through crisis I mended fences that should never have been put up in the first place and found an amazing friend on the other side. A gift that I wanted, needed and came to accept through a crisis situation.   I grew closer to people I love and have a tighter bond with them that nothing in this world can ever loosen.  I found strength in myself  I honestly didn’t know I had.  I found peace in a way I have never known. I learned lessons about life that will forever be with me and keep me strong when I feel broken.

That suit?  It completely melted away.

I thought I would find “the old me” underneath waiting to emerge.  That didn’t happen.  I found a new version– a better version– of the authentic me that I never knew I had the capacity to become.  I never want to be the “old me” before my suit wearing days.  Ever.  A part of her is still with me but what I found when the real me emerged is so phenomenal and strong and at peace that I gladly put the old me in the past and embrace who I have become.

What about you?  Are you struggling with a “suit” that doesn’t quite fit anymore?  Do you need someone to stand beside you and say, “I believe in YOU and I will be here for you if it hurts to find the real you!”?  Let me know.  I’ll stand in that gap with you.  I’ll hold you hand or your heart and be someone you can know cares.  Or have you recently been through something that has brought you to a point where your own “suit” melted away only to find a wonderful new authentic you?  Share it with us.  Those stories always help us feel connected.  Your story, declaration or simple “I’ll stand by you, too” can make a huge difference to someone who may need to hear it….even if you never even know it.

“Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.”