Becoming Visible: Facing My Fear of Authenticity
Updated: May 28, 2022
In the process of promoting Our Table events, I have turned to many women, gotten vulnerable, and said “I need your help.” Hardwired as an independent over-functioning perfectionist, saying those four words feels like halting a team of racehorses.
But when I did that, when I got vulnerable, a friend shared with me an important piece of feedback. Once she opened my ears to it, I began to hear it everywhere… ultimately from 10+ women within 2 days. That feedback was a version of:
That is an amazing idea, so needed, but I don’t have anything to contributed because… I am too old I am too young I don’t have a story to tell
Even after hearing it over and over, I still feel a jolt of shock followed by heartache. Shock because I know in my bones that each and every one of us has an important story to tell. Heartache because I am well acquainted with the conflicting feelings of “not being enough” and resentment for being unseen and unheard by others. The experience has made me turn inward and assess where I am on my journey of worthiness and facing my fear of showing up authentically.
Pre-burnout I did not think this was a problem for me at all. I was raised to speak up and out, take up space... to perform well in most social and business environments. But as it turns out, that was the exact problem… I was taught to perform. To fit in and stand out. To never make a “wrong” move. To act from my head, not my heart.
While I had a reputation for being a confident straight shooter, on the inside I was overanalyzing every angle, ruminating on the “wrong” thing I said or the silence I held for too long. It was very draining, disconnecting and lonely.
Burnout and the enforced stillness of pandemic allowed my awareness of that dichotomy to float to the surface. I realized that in social situations, I instinctively distrusted my natural inclinations. I distrusted my ability to be present, to listen with my heart and respond from my heart, to trust that my heart has access to all of the skills I hone. Ironically, my coping mechanisms created a self-fulfilling prophecy of my heart feeling invisible... irrelevant...resentful...
Where, how and why did I learn to cope this way? There are many, many, MANY explanations I continue to untangle. But one of the biggest relates to confronting rapidly progressing rare (as thought at the time) neurological conditions beginning at the age of 9. I was having an experience none of my peers could understand. An experience that constantly found ways to separate me from my peer group during a point in life that fitting in is survival. And so, I adapted.
While that adaptation served a purpose, it was armor that has gotten very heavy and restrictive. It was keeping me from being seen and heard authentically. It was keeping me from feeling visible and valued. It was sapping my energy and holding me back.
A branch of my healing from burnout has been facing my fear of authenticity. I have cobbled together a few practices that I would like to share. I used the word “practices” because I want to set the expectation for myself that these are not a checkboxes to be checked (and boy do I LOVE a checklist). These are continuous, never-ending processes of nurturing my internal ecosystem so that I can show up more authentically more often and my heart can experience relevancy.
Tattooed a Reminder to Never Pour from An Empty Cup
I am so incredibly apt to work beyond my mental and physical capacity in the name of “serving others”. Operating from a place of exhaustion is never, ever helpful… Just ask my husband and kids! 😬 And yet I continue to be seduced by “exhaustion as a status symbol”.
So, I have literally tattooed a reminder onto my forearms. One image facing inward as a reminder of self-care and self-compassion, but not completely closed off. The other facing outward, more open, but still with an element of self-love. I use the image to remind me of the buddhist concept of Strong Back, Soft Front.
These tattoos serve as constant reminders but were also a step toward living authentically. Coming from a straight laced culture, the choice to get tattoos at all, let alone on a visible part of my body, required a new level of self acceptance.
I began a practice of being aware of and responding to the sensations in my body. I practice observing my environment and circumstances that change those sensations. It is a matter of accepting the parameters of the body I live in and learning to live well within those parameters.
Emerging from pandemic, I slowly worked on building my tolerance for authentically showing up in social situations as myself. Even if it was unnoticeable from the outside, it was an incredibly anxiety-ridden, uncomfortable process to show up in the world without my armor.
I also gave (and continue to give) myself the grace to dip in and out of that discomfort. When I am in a place of struggle, I love to use the visualization of Chanel Miller’s “I am” figure from her "I was, I am, I will be" installation at the Asian Art Museum.
The more I practice pushing to my comfortable edge, with imperfections, the more I find social interactions to be reenergizing more than draining.
Boundaries & Permission Slips
It is disruptive to my internal ecosystem to engage in social situations without my armor and an open heart if I am not well resourced. Boundaries show us where I end and someone else begins. Maintaining healthy boundaries with myself and others protects and maintains my energy. The practice also shows the protective parts of myself that my heart can be trusted to care for me and protect me from being taken advantage of... without the emotional armor.
A boundary maybe baked in structure, like staying in a hotel instead of a family member’s house for a visit. Or it can be saying to someone, “that hurt my feelings”. It can also be asking for help in limiting my own screen time by having my husband be the keeper of the parental control password on my phone. I also give myself “permission slips” for practices that are hard or our culture teaches are not allowed. For me, permission slips look like allowing myself to say things like:
“no” “I changed my mind” “I don’t feel comfortable” “ I am not available”
And the biggest permission slip of them all… permission to REST. (That’s still a toughy!)
Creating A Regular Safe Space for Restorative Connection
This transition of showing up authentically was one of the main drivers for my creation of Our Table. Because when I started to show up authentically, I was amazed by the people I met, the conversations I had and the jolt of energy I experienced. Feeling seen and heard. Feeling visible. Feeling relevant.
Since I became a mom, I've carried grief for the community of women I never had. I’ve longed for a space for me and women like me to regularly access the reenergizing experience of feeling seen and heard. To experience the awe and wonder of the power that rises when women are in community. With Our Table, I am attempting to transform that grief.
My Next (Un)Comfortable Edge: Using My Image on Our Table Promotional Material
In working to build a community around Our Table, I have tentatively waded back into the waters of social media. While searching out experts in the social media arena, I concluded that I would be remised to overlook the use of Reels (short Instagram/Facebook videos). My conclusion has a one-word explanation… ALGORITHMS. The thought of filming myself for social media or even taking my own picture instantly brings my shoulders to my ears and turns my stomach. I was hurriedly searching for ways to create reels without using my image. I initially justified my reaction by citing the mental health related ethical concerns around the use of social media and its effect on users (myself included). My very legitimate justification was playing well until Steph Genco, a businesswoman I look up to, said
“But you are your business. We need to see your face.”
In that moment I realized the real cause of my yucky feelings was my ongoing hard feelings about my body image. It is heartbreaking to hear the ways beautiful, strong, bold women cringe when they look in the mirror or their picture. And I am one of those women. How often do we hide and make ourselves invisible because of the stories we tell ourselves about our bodies? I realized the fear in my gut was a signal not to avoid but to proceed with caution. And to give myself the grace to dip in and out of that discomfort. I am grateful for your grace as I try.
Disclaimer: This is a "one woman shop"! I was not blessed with proofing nor spelling super powers. If you spot a mistake, comment, email or DM me! I thank you in advance for your compassion and grace. ❤️