What is authenticity? What is the truest expression of self? What do I really want? Who am I, at my deepest core?
It’s awfully easy to lose sight of these things, at least for me, in a world where I feel the competing pressures of dozens of responsibilities and identities every single day. I’m a complicated person to begin with, I think, and that’s exacerbated by and refracted through the all the demands on and expectations of me.
Well, isn’t who we are what we do? I don’t personally think it’s that simple. I’ve written before about how an adult life can often hem us in, how responsibilities curtail our ability to purely express the deepest desires of our heart. And after all, we soon forget what it is our young heart, not yet dented and bruised by life’s hurts, truly wanted.
All of this results, for me, in a swampy morass in which I know a few things for absolute certain but am mixed up and confused about most everything else. I’ve realized that the expectation of a single clear answer or one ringing bell of simple truth is an utter fallacy, a crutch, an immature belief that is far from the reality that there are just more questions beyond the questions.
Still, there are a few signposts. I think that it’s useful to think back to before our lives were complicated by all of these midlife demands, to when we were able to follow our hearts in a more unfettered way. I was reminded of this this weekend when my dearest friend from college said to me, upon hearing my latest news, “You are doing what you always dreamed of doing, Linds. You always wanted to write.” I confess I was surprised to hear it put so baldly; I always knew that writing mattered deeply to me, but I honestly don’t remember being so plain, openly, that it was my fondest dream.
I also think of the many times, over and over, when I chose solitude or introversion. This is just one place where I’ve been challenged before about the authenticity of how I represent myself, but when I reflect on the choices I’ve made, they show the truth I know about my instincts. I chose to live alone all but one of the years at college that I could choose. I also lived alone when I graduated, in a city away from almost all of my friends. I chose to write my thesis in a small and quiet carrel on the nerd-central floor of the library (with a beloved – and studious friend) not in the social group carrels downstairs. I never played team sports, choosing instead to run cross country, which I imagine must be the most isolated and singular sport of all. I return now, circuitously and slowly, but surely, to that most individual and lonesome task and dream of all: to write.
I do know myself, despite all of the murky facts, the input from the world, the mixed-up advice I’ve received. Confused, contradictory, complicated. Yes. But I am me, and I know it.
I am the only person who can tell the story of my life and say what it means. – Dorothy Allison
This post is part of Dian Reid’s Self-Evidence & Authenticity Challenge. Thank you, Dian, for being an inspiration and an example.