What Happens When You're Not Being Your Authentic Self

I was raised in the sixties.

It was a time when the idea of being your authentic self was not encouraged by adults. Especially if you were a girl. You spoke when spoken to. You didn't interrupt. You were not encouraged to ask questions, but rather to do what you were told. Say this but not that. Be a lady. Don't cry. Especially in public. Smile. Be strong, but not that strong.

What I heard was that just being me, whoever that might be, was not good enough for the world to see. They even went so far as to take the pencil out of my left hand, which was what I naturally gravitated to write with, and put it in my right hand because that was more socially acceptable at the time.

The result was that I grew into a painfully shy young woman who decided on some level that being quiet was my best option.

Moving to a new city forced me out of the shyness.

But it also reinforced that notion of a way I had to be. I was around people who thought my New York accent was odd and my fashion sense extreme. So I lost the accent and starting wearing crew neck sweaters to fit in.

In the eighties I made my way into the corporate world.

There I heard another hosts of "ways to be" if I wanted to get ahead in a man's world. I was encouraged to be like one of the guys, not dress too provocatively so they took me seriously, and keep my feminist ideas to myself because feminists were viewed as castrating and bitchy and no one would promote me much less date me if I let that side of me exposed.

I bit my lip, kept my mouth shut and bought into it.

That got me promoted and often the only woman seated at a table of full of men. I found myself in business meetings having to listen to golf scores I could have cared less about, disparaging comments about female clients, complaints about their wives, one day even walking into a colleagues office to find him watching porn on his computer. The whole time I had to pretend it was acceptable and I was okay with it.

But here's what happens when you're not being your authentic self.

In my twenties I used food to placate myself. The model thin teenager now had a weight problem. Once I got that under control, the stress of squashing who I really was resulted in migraines that would keep me in a darkened room for twenty four hours at a time. Some years the stress settled in my back and resulted in weekly trips to the chiropractor. Occasionally I developed a twitch in my eye.

One day I plopped myself down on the black leather couch in my therapist's office and she asked me how I was. This was my safe haven. This was the one place I knew I could truly express myself so I told her the truth. I was awful. I was unhappy. My life was a mess and I was too terrified to do anything about. She remarked that the whole time I was telling her this I was smiling.

That's what happens when you're not being yourself.

You pretend. You find ways to mask the truth so no one knows who you really are. Including you.

Being anyone but yourself is not a good thing.

That's why I cringe when I hear people like Adam Grant suggesting that being yourself is terrible advice. It's not. What's terrible is that our culture thinks the definition of authenticity is Donald Trump spewing without pausing to think. The terrible advice is that anyone should suggest that no one wants to see your true self. That's the kind of thinking that has kept women oppressed for generations.

It's also why I cringe when Hillary Clinton gets accused of not being authentic enough.
It's why I applaud when I see her let who she really is shine through as she did in the speech last week in San Diego and this week in Brooklyn. As a woman I get how hard that can be. The world she was born into told her to keep that authentic self in tow. No one was encouraging messages to be yourself as they do now - especially if you were a woman. Besides, if she had relaxed into that publicly, she never would be where she is today, the first woman in 227 years to be nominated by a major party for President of the United States.

It took me years of therapy and transformational work to be myself.

Years to find who I really was and be able to freely express my thoughts, my feelings and my emotions and understand that being the real Joanne was not a bad thing. It was what the people I wanted to gravitate to me wanted to see. Age has helped too. The biggest gift in being over fifty is that you stop caring as much about what others think and so it's easier to be your truth.

But even now I sometimes find myself hearing that voice.

It's in the back of my head whispering that being me is not what people want to see or hear. Sometimes it inhibits my writing. Or it holds me back from tweeting or posting a comment on Facebook. And sometimes that's okay. Being smart enough to press pause and think is part of who I am. But it does not mean I am being any less my authentic and true self.