There’s something I sometimes notice in people who are sensitive, creative, and for whom authenticity is a deeply-held value.
We frequently believe we can’t/shouldn’t/won’t do something because it feels wrong to us. It feels inauthentic — not like who we are.
And it’s important to notice that feeling, to see what it has to tell us.
When something feels inauthentic, it seems like we should run from it, or at the very least, let go of it. And sometimes, that’s exactly what we need to do. We need to recognize that we’ve come into contact with something which just isn’t in sync with who we are, and we need to move away from it.
But: sometimes we’ve come into contact with something that is unfamiliar, and because it feels unfamiliar, our minds immediately label it “inauthentic”.
Let me give you an example of how this showed up for me at the tender age of, oh, about five.
A little friend of mine (most of my friends were little then, I was five!) went to a different school than I did, and her school was having a “fun fair.” She kept talking about the fun fair and how excited she was about it, and how she wanted me to go to it with her.
And I began to dread this “fun fair”. Just the idea of something that existed for the sole purpose of “FUN” felt overwhelming to me. (What exactly was this mysterious fun that was to be had?)
I had already decided, at five (though not consciously), that something like a fun fair was not me. I would rather play quietly with one or two friends — that was me.
I could never have articulated this at the time, of course. I just knew that there was no way I was going to the fun fair! The fun fair was definitely not going to be fun for me!
At this point, my parents and I had already had quite a few go-rounds with me not wanting to do things. They found this quite confounding. Everyone else wants to do it! they’d say. Why not you?
In fact, there was something else at work, something I wouldn’t understand for years: my sensitive nervous system got easily overstimulated by situations that were unfamiliar to me. I even got overstimulated by thinking about new situations. Which was why I was dreading the fun fair that my friend couldn’t wait for.
However, on this particular occasion (in what, looking back, I see as a stroke of brilliant parenting) my mother told me something like this: “You don’t have to go to the fun fair. You can go if you want to, but you don’t have to go. Take some time to decide.”
This took a great weight off my five-year-old mind. Instead of being dragged somewhere against my will, I was being given the opportunity to choose.
I pondered the idea of the fun fair over the next several days, and eventually I went up to my mother while she was working in the kitchen and said, “Mom? I’ve decided to go to the fun fair.”
Now, the fun fair WAS most definitely overstimulating. There were echoey noises of kids yelling and running, and there were clowns (eek), and games where you could win a goldfish in a bag (my friend and I each won one, which at the time greatly excited me, but poor goldfish!), and I came home with a lacquered figurine of a bright orange squirrel with sparkly green eyes, which I had also won.
The fun fair was overstimulating, and it was FUN. Both/and.
And had there been another fun fair the following month, I might have gone without getting quite so overstimulated, because the fun fair would no longer have been unfamiliar to me. And because it was no longer unfamiliar, I would have gotten to know myself in that environment, and understood how I could show up there authentically, if I wanted to do that.
Our minds tend to do a fascinating (and not always helpful) thing: when something is unfamiliar to us, but maybe seems a little like some other experience we had that we really didn’t like, we put it into the category of “oh no! not that again,” and decide we’d better avoid it.
There are SO many good things (and people) in my life that I’d have missed out on if I hadn’t questioned my mind’s tendency to do this.
When we’re overstimulated because something is new and unfamiliar to us, of course we don’t feel authentic. Being overstimulated doesn’t feel good; we don’t feel like who we truly are when we are overstimulated.
But if we can choose to ride out the overstimulation in favor of exploration, of being curious about something new, as my five-year-old self did, we can give ourselves more options. And we can learn that what is “authentically us” may be vaster than we’d imagined.
(It’s definitely worth mentioning here that, for those of us with sensitive nervous systems, managing overstimulation is vital to our well-being. So I’m not saying “just throw yourself into overstimulating situations all the time and go ahead and burn yourself out.” We must choose wisely for ourselves and bring ourselves back into balance. The key is to remember that we have choices, usually more than we think we do.)
Have you labeled something “inauthentic” for you when in fact it was simply unfamiliar? I’d love to hear from you.
P. S. In celebration of my favorite season, my Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions are back! I offered these last fall and worked with some wonderful folks. If you’re in “creative transition” this fall and feeling stuck or scared, you might benefit from one of these sessions. The format is the same as last year, but I’ve made them 45 minutes in length this time around. Check them out, here.