A Break From Authenticity

Last night I picked up my copy of Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly. This book has been sitting on my shelf, unread, for almost three years.  My mandate to begin “Living Authentically” started shortly after I read Brené’s earlier published book, The Gifts of Imperfection. Since moving, starting residency, and having another baby, my goal to read Daring Greatly kept getting pushed to the bottom of my list.  Within the midst of my current existential life crisis, I decided it was time to pick up the book and stare Wholeheartedness right in the face.

I didn’t even get through the prologue before realizing that I no longer live, or even embody, the qualities of wholeheartedness and authenticity.  Maybe I used to, but in the struggle to keep up and keep going, I’ve let these important aspects of my life fall to the side.

Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose; the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection

~Brené Brown, Daring Greatly

The one thing I know for sure is that right now, I have no clarity of my purpose.  I am filled with fear and disconnection from my life and my purpose.  I feel confused and I lack direction because my viewpoint on life is clouded by outside expectations, judgement, and comparison.  My internal dialogue is lost and disguised by everything that defines fear and vulnerability.  These definitions were very well delineated by Brené Brown in The Gifts of Imperfection and I know that reading that book changed my life.  I blogged about that change on the old blog and I will find that post to re-post here in the coming days.

Ironically, The introduction to Daring Greatly literally reminded me of these imperfections and what needs to be shed from my life:
1. Letting go of what people think
2. Letting go of perfectionism
3. Letting go of numbing and powerlessness
4. Letting go of scarcity and fear of the dark
5. Letting go of the need for certainty
6. Letting go of comparison
7. Letting go of exhaustion of a status symbol and productivity as self-worth
8. Letting go of anxiety as a lifestyle
9. Letting go of self-doubt and “supposed to”
10. Letting go of being cool and “always in control”

Each of these ten imperfections, every single one of them, comprise the mental roadblocks that I am struggling with right now.  These imperfections are preventing me from committing to the decisions I am faced with in my life today.  I need to lean-in to my fears and rediscover my vulnerabilities.  I need to embrace them and re-discover my own authenticity

 

Impressive Has No Value

“There is no value in being impressive,” I said to her while gazing at the baby in my arms. “I used to care about impressing people, about being the person that people would take a second look at. But, people don’t care about impressive. They care about themselves.”I punctuated the last thought by starting right into her eyes. I have never said something more true in front of her. It was the first time I said it aloud; the first time I actually believed it to be a real truth.

“You’re right.” She smiled back at me.  

I looked back at my baby, who was holding my hands while tentatively attempting to explore the world around her. El had been to every appointment in this office since she was born. I sat on this very couch while I was pregnant, agonizing over how a third baby was going to fit into my already hectic and hard to manage lifestyle. And before that, I sat on this same couch weighing the pros and cons about the decision to even have a third pregnancy. Over the years, these conversations with my therapist have been plentiful, yet none have been more revealing to me than this one.

My gaze became out of focus as I explored this new truth that spilled from my lips. I thought back over the past few years and over the decisions I made that brought me to where I am today. I felt a sense of sadness and anger come over me. The desire to impress had taken over my whole life. It had distracted me from the aspects of my life that were most important to me. I lost track of what I should have cared most about, and instead, I moved to impress other people. I never, however, impressed myself.  

The past few years of my life have been a whirlwind of stress, anxiety, unhappiness, and discontent. And, I can’t take that back. Maybe people were impressed with me at some point: “I really don’t know how you do it all…” they’d say. But that moment only lasts for a second before they go back to caring about their own lives.

Caring about their own life: Something I should have been doing this whole time. I looked at baby El and realized that she and her brothers are the only ones who deserve my efforts to impress. And ironically, they don’t need to be impressed by me to love me and want me, and for me to the he most important person in their world. 

I regret the years I’ve wasted trying to impress other people. I know where the desire came from and that it was something engrained early and deep in my childhood insecurities. This epiphany – the sudden absence of my desire to impress – is a sign that those longstanding, deeply seeded issues are slowly being resolved. I walked away from the appointment with a renewed sense of clarity and purpose about how to move forward in my life. I stepped over the threshold from treatment room to a new world with a completely different approach to living my life. 

That simple sentence. One simple thought. An enormous truth that has remained hidden from my reality for far too long. My acceptance and belief in that one thing has already affected change in my life that I never thought would happen. I already feel happier. 

The Assault

I almost didn’t go.

He threw punches hard – right at my face.  I kept my hands up to protect myself, but it took all my strength to stop the blows.  I focused every ounce of my attention on blocking his fists as they came barreling towards me.  He hit hard – he was the same height as me, but at least 50 pounds heavier – all muscle.  And I was still weak, recovering from the recent birth.

I wasn’t ready. The roast chicken was just finished and straight out of the oven.  The kids weren’t even fed yet and Husband was still at work.  There was no way I could go, even if I wanted to.   My phone buzzed – A message from Husband: Are you going?  I’ll meet you there to pick up the kids… Don’t worry, I’ll feed them later… I don’t want you to miss it because of me.

It was my turn now.  I finally got my opportunity to hit him.  I used all my strength, but there wasn’t much.  I wasn’t very coordinated either: punching someone’s face is just not something that comes naturally.  Left fist jab, right fist power… those were the instructions, I remembered.  All my power was barely enough to make him flinch.  He took them though. He let me hit him and I gained confidence in my ability.  I didn’t stop for a full minute.

I rushed up the stairs to change, leaving the golden chicken, half carved on the cutting board.  I yelled down the stairs for the kids to get ready to leave.  I packed up the baby and into the van we piled.  I was going to be late, but that’s better than missing it entirely.

I’ve met him before; a polite, older gentleman… it seemed.  He used to come with his son, but it’s been a while since I’ve seen the teenage kid.  We’ve exchanged polite pleasantries in the past, but we’ve never really spoken more than that.  Nevertheless, it was obvious that he was strong and that I would never stand a chance.

Husband arrived shortly after I did.  He ushered the kids out and left me there for my class, alone.  It was glorious to finally have my time to myself.  After a day of hashing out work issues and my recent discriminatory evaluation, I was deflated, exhausted, and feeling defeated.  I wasn’t really in the mood for conditioning, but I figured the physical activity would be good for me.

After I finished my round of punches, he started at me again.  This time he added in the elbow strike to the face.  Here was my chance!  He was stronger than me, but in his older age, he lacked the coordination to properly execute the move.  He was slowing down with each change of motion.  The blows were not as hard.  If I wanted to, I could have overpowered him in this weakness. But I didn’t.  I let him finish.

The conditioning circuit was a challenge, even after being back for almost two months.  Fifteen stations, one minute each, with a fifteen second break in between.  My heart was racing but I was starting to feel better.  I’m glad Husband forced me to go… this is what I needed.

Another minute was over.  I had gained confidence after seeing my opponent’s weakness.  It was my turn.  The elbow strike to the face was challenging, but I adapted quickly.  Now it was him who almost couldn’t keep up with me.  Left jab, right power, left elbow to the face.  Harder and Harder each time.  More speed.  More power.  I didn’t even see my opponent anymore.  Instead, I imagined hitting the face of the person responsible for all the stress and anguish I’ve been through.  It felt good… No, it felt exhilarating!  One minute was not long enough.

When the circuit was over, it was time for some partner work.  My usual partner is another woman similar in age to me.  We met up to start the drill.  However, we were separated because she was much shorter than me.  For this drill we needed to be similar heights. I was matched up with the older gentleman.  I worried that I wouldn’t be able to match his strength well.   The instructor then handed out the hand pads and explained the drill.

One last drill: him first, then me.  Left fist jab, right fist power, left elbow to the face, right elbow straight up under the chin.  Yes!  One more power blow to really drive it home.  I held the pads for my opponent while he struggled with the coordination of the drill.  I spoke the moves aloud to help him with his concentration.  I wasn’t vulnerable anymore.  I had the power.  I gave him the pads after his minute was over.  Now it was my turn.  With each successive drill I gained power and confidence.  That jerk, with that smug, “I have power over you” look on his face stood no chance.  With each impact my body made with the pads I imagined him struggling and reeling in pain.  YOU HAVE NO POWER OVER ME.  I AM STRONGER THAN YOU.  My minute was over.  My fists were sore, my elbows raw.  But in my head I saw his face, dejected, battered, and bruised.  I had won the fight.

The punching drills were challenging, leaving my arms tired and sore by the end.  Regardless, I felt great.  I dropped the pads to the floor and faced my older, male partner.  We shook hands and bowed towards each other.  I thanked him, and him me.  “You’ve got quite the power and coordination,” he said to me.  “Great Job.”  I felt a small amount of guilt imagining beating someone else to the ground, but I quickly shook it off. He deserves it, even if it’s only in my imagination.  I was thankful that I scrambled to come to class.

And in my victory, I went home to eat my cold roast chicken.  It was delicious.