"When others asked the truth of me, I was convinced it was not the truth they wanted, but an illusion they could live with."
"When one is pretending, the entire body revolts."
This is a post about authenticity. About finding out who you are and then having the guts to live that truth. To accept where and why and how you are most complete and to live your life so comfortably with that that you are able to live life on your terms. The truth of a person cannot be hurt. It is simply the truth. The lying and covering up of that truth is what causes most of a person's pain.
This is also a post about how hard it is to live as the person you really are. How so much of who we are gets covered up by pressure from the outside world to conform to another standard or ideal. The pressure to never hold positions or ideas or opinions that are contrary to public opinion or the prevailing norm. For both men and women there are massive roadblocks throughout our lives that are enplaced to tell us that who we are isn't correct, or true, or honest and that we have to be this way or that, or look like this or that, or act like this or that, in order to succeed. The way we look, the way we dress, the role models available to us, the choices we make, those things we have been told are right and proper norms of behavior...All of these things have moved both men and women down some really confusing roads. The consequence of that has been the loss of authenticity for many many people. People may know who they present to the world, but are often very uncertain of who they really are. How can you be you, if there is always relentless pressure to be someone else?
This conditioning starts early. Almost immediately. From our earliest days we are pushed and pulled into so many neat little columns. Little boys will be policemen or firemen or athletes, and little girls are princesses and ballerinas and play dress up and have tea parties. And it continually gets worse as we get older and the pressure to be something other than our true selves increases. By the time we reach adulthood, so many of us have completely lost who we are. What our truth is. We are playing roles that have been laid out for us as the right and proper way to be.
A lot of this institutionalization of identity happens in the workforce and the Army is no exception to that. As a huge enterprise, it has norms and customs and expectations of acceptable behavior and dress and political correctness that are as strict and stringent as any in the world. They are called requirements for maintaining good order and discipline, or tradition and heritage. And for a million perfectly good reasons, that is exactly as it should be, and exactly correct for the organization to survive. I am not positing that it should be any different than that. For an Army to prevail, it must have a set of standards that everyone in the organization adheres to. It would completely fall apart if it were any other way. It could not serve the country if it did not possess these binding expectations.
But along the way, it does something to many of the members that can have disastrous consequences on how they lead other people. It leads them further and further away from their authentic selves. Until one day, they wake up and their entire identity has been subsumed by the Army itself. They are no longer capable of any definition of themselves beyond the title they hold and their place within the structure. They become too afraid of losing their status and position and title and perks to stand up and be exactly who they are. They have lost themselves inside the warm cocoon of the uniform. Wrapped themselves up in their place in the world. Become a character instead of being themselves.
For a long long time, that is exactly what happened to me. Hook, line and sinker, I bought the rhetoric and became exactly who the organization wanted. A poster boy for what a professional Non-commissioned Officer looked like. I accepted their requirements without contest and conformed exactly to their ideal. And ended up completely lost along the way. The organization had a very small black and white box and I lived inside of it completely comfortably. It had walls and limits and boundaries. Everything was a simple flow chart of Yes/No answers. It was mechanical and without any recognition of the complete majesty and magic of the individual. It is also a place of cowardice and weakness for many people. A place to hide from themselves. For many years, it was that place for me. I didn't have to look closely at myself, I had the Army to do it for me.
If authenticity, the complete truth of you, is a requirement for true understanding and real leadership, then coming to an understanding of it within ourselves is the first step. I must see who I was, understand the influences that formed me, find those areas that caused my body to revolt, and then go about the business of learning, introducing, and then accepting my true self. I must see who I really am. Learning these truths is critical to the introduction of you to you. And when the truths are seen and then learned, and understood and accepted, an amazing thing happens..you suddenly stop being afraid of who you really are. There is no more hiding. No more covering up. No more lying to yourself and the world. No more illusion. And then you become authentic. And with the clarity of that knowledge, you can set forth into the world and withstand any criticism it might hurl at you.
I am slowly coming out of my bodies revolt. And I resolve to no longer provide you with the illusion you may want. I am so much more than just a small black and white box. I am much more complete, and messy, and hard to pin down than that. Each day, my authenticity is revealed to me a little bit more, but only because I possess the courage to go in search of it. Each of us has that courage, how many of us tap into it? Are you willing to look for the authentic you?
Earlier this week, I read some thoughts that were shared about an article I co-authored with JD, a friend, and supporter of the blog. And as I read them, it was hard not to see the fear and lack of understanding that so many of these people possess. They are today in a place where I have already been. The only thing I can hope for is that they too, one day begin a journey such as I have. Then they might see the merit in the argument we proposed.
This is me, folks, take me or leave me. I am learning and accepting and seeing who I exactly am. I might challenge you to do the same. It just might surprise you what you find out. It's a lot less scary than you think to be authentic, and a hell of a lot easier to find happiness in your world.
As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.