We spend much of our lives hiding from each other — and then we wonder why nobody knows us.
We grow up in a culture that teaches us to project just the right image. If we wear the right clothes, drive the right car, live in the right house and have the right job, we will finally be accepted. We can stay inside our suit of armor but still have people see how perfect our facade looks.
But when we do that, we still feel empty and alone. So we harden ourselves and try to prevent feeling anything. If we’ll just double down on success and looking great, we will finally be enough one day. That’s what we hope.
Authenticity is rare today. So when we find someone who feels like the “real deal,” we’re drawn to him or her, even if we can’t quite understand why.
We are so accustomed to seeing facades — shells that protect fragile hearts that have been repressed — that we are shocked when someone is authentic and expresses truth in a way that makes a voice inside us say, “I thought I was the only one who felt that way!”
I can trace the evolution of my life along this path. When I was young, I hid my heart away. I hid from myself, because I had been hurt so much and was afraid to be hurt again. I hid from others, because people who didn’t know the real me couldn’t hurt me.
Over the last 10 to 15 years, I have slowly become more vulnerable and more authentic. I didn’t set out to move down this path. I just realized that living inside a shell — a horrible facade where nobody could see inside — would never allow me to be happy. It would never allow me to be loved.
As I have slowly moved toward greater authenticity, I have broken my facade and shared a lot of who I am — vulnerabilities and flaws and wounds included — and that has allowed me to connect with others. At least a little bit. Not as much as I need to. Not as much as they need. But just a little bit.
In his influential book, “The War of Art,” Steven Pressfield writes about the life we project and the life we ought to be living — and about the distance between the two.
“Most of us have two lives, the life we live and the unlived life within us,” Pressfield wrote. “Between the two stands Resistance.”
I don’t want to have two different lives. I want to have only the life I’m supposed to live — as the person I’m supposed to be. Conquering what Pressfield called Resistance is the way to bridge the gap — and I think it’s the only way we can ever become authentic.
I’ve been reading and watching a lot of stories lately about artists who became huge and successful stars. I’ve noticed something interesting about the ones I find insightful. People were drawn to them not necessarily because they were the best at what they did, but because there was authentic truth in what they shared in their work.
We bridge the gap between what we’ve been and what we ought to be when we learn to live as our authentic selves. It’s hard to describe this sense of authenticity, not because it’s so abstract or hard to understand, but because this authenticity represents who we really are.
It represents the genuine core of who we are — something which we can be blind to, because we’ve spent all these years trying to hide that authentic self and project what the world wants to see instead.
It is this authenticity which gives us value to others — which allows them to see something in us that pulls them toward us and makes them want to have more of us, even if they can’t quite understand why they’re hungry for what we offer.
The more I set aside what others want me to be — and quit worrying about what someone else is going to think about my meandering path to becoming my authentic self — the more I tear down my facade and become “real” with others.
I am never going to project the perfect image which I was taught to believe I should project. The culture taught me to strive for one type of perfection. My father taught me to project a different sort of perfection. I’ve even fallen in love with women who wanted me to project the sort of perfection which would be the perfect complement for their image of perfection.
But this is what my authentic self looks like at 3:17 a.m. on Feb. 29, 2020. I’m sitting at a simple table in a half-lit studio that’s not set up properly. I’m in a black t-shirt and I’m not dressed to impress. But this is who I am.
I don’t look perfect. My surroundings aren’t perfect. I still weigh more than I’d like. I’m not as perfect as I’d like. This studio isn’t perfect. I don’t even entirely know what I’m doing half the time.
I’m just authentically pursuing the life that it feels I was put here to live. That means I’m not ever going to be good enough for some people, at least for those who can’t outgrown their attachment to facades of perfection and surface-level success that the world has taught them to pursue and worship.
Some people need me to be authentic. I don’t know who they are, but for some people, I might be the one who allows them to see something real for the first time — and their lives might change as a result.
In 1959, singer Johnny Cash performed for prisoners at California’s San Quentin penitentiary. One of the prisoners was a 20-year-old who had been in and out of juvenile prisons for his teen years. His life was on a path toward complete self-destruction.
But Merle Haggard said something in him changed when he saw Johnny Cash perform in that prison. He said the raw authenticity of Cash’s words and the sincerity of his performance — an emotional performance that confessed personal secrets — touched something in him and changed his life.
The 20-year-old nobody decided that day to become a singer like Cash and to tell his own stories in the same way. He got out of prison and set himself on pursuing life as a country music singer. In doing so, he became wildly successful, eventually appearing on Cash’s television show years later and confessing to the audience that he had been one of those prisoners in the audience so long ago.
People who are authentic change others. They start by changing themselves. They get rid of the artifice and dishonesty that the world has taught them to build up around themselves. And they get real with others — and they share their gift of authenticity in one of a million ways.
I’m trying to break down the distance between the life I’ve lived and the life I need to live. Some people will understand that and come with me. Some people won’t. But being my authentic self — and sharing the truth as I understand it, in vulnerable ways — is the best gift I can give, to myself and to the world.
In time, I hope to be so authentic that I’m providing something which other people need. I can’t give other people what they need from me as long as I’m hiding. I can only have a chance of being what they need — and what I need — by being who I really am.
I hope the right people find me. I hope something about me will resonate with someone who needs me. I hope that being authentic will allow me to become successful and loved.
But I can’t worry about what happens in the end. I can only be vulnerable and honest and authentic — and hope that something about me will be something you need. Something you’ll decide to love.