It’s Sunday morning as I write this. Justin left for work in the wee hours and I have been holed up in this bed ever since, reading and writing and generally avoiding the stack of work I planned last night for “tomorrow” (you know, when it seemed like “tomorrow” would magically have way more hours in it and I would, of course, have boundless energy and be magically able to do ALL THE THINGS).
But the truth is, I’m tired. In the past month, we moved halfway across the country again (yes, we do this frequently, and yes we have a pretty good system, but it’s still moving halfway across the country) and I had a whirlwind trip that was insanely busy back to New England, and in the midst of it ended up with a good case of pneumonia that I didn’t realize I had because, well, life, y’all.
And so here I am, chucking anything I can off the edges of my metaphorical plate and hiding beneath the covers with my third enormous mug of coffee trying to muster the energy to give a f@!% about most of this list. There are emails to respond to, a stack of photo sessions to edit, essays to revise and submit, websites to build, a book to write, an online class to finish planning, and approximately 647,000 other things to do (including a shower at some point because hygiene, you guys, hygiene).
Most of the things on that list are things that I want to do, that I’m excited to do. But there are also some things on that list that I feel like I “should” do, that the "powers that be" keep telling me are necessary if I want to grow my business, if I want to “get my message out there.” I’m sure that those powers are right in many ways- they know their stuff after all. But sometimes I have to take a step back and think carefully about how what they are saying applies to my life and my work.
We hear the word “authentic” constantly, to the point that many of us automatically cringe and roll our eyes when it comes up. But we hear it because we, living day-to-day in a tech driven consumer culture, crave the real and the honest. I really do think that’s true. I think we crave the human, the flawed, a little bit of texture. I think we grow weary from absorbing highlight reels and what seems to be some almost-but-not-quite-attainable version of idealized life. I think the endless barrage of “dream big” and “reach for the stars” gets exhausting, especially when it can feel like everyone in the world has already dreamed our dream, “better" than we did, and now they are Insta-famous and we feel like just another wannabe while we plug away at our own little version day in and day out to feedback that can sound a whole lot like crickets much of the time. I think we want desperately to see the man behind the curtain, the work behind the success, the failures among the flowers.
For all that desire, I think we still end up pulled toward the highlight reels, the “curated” (another word I am OVER) versions of people’s lives and work. We want their “secrets” to success, but get dismayed when we learn that their “secrets” are mostly some variation of "do the work, trust your own voice/vision, and keep practicing/learning/growing." Occasionally we enjoy a “secret” that includes some plain old luck, but we are quick to brush away the fact that even luck requires courage and willingness to take the leap. We get upset when celebrities get political or when someone we follow for her pretty pictures of flowers posts about something in her life that we find “off brand” and uncomfortable. We yell for “authentic” and then are put off when that is actually what we get. We scroll and double tap on the pretty without reading the captions and then complain about algorithms that make reaching “our audience” a mystery.
Don’t get me wrong- a bunch of whining or ceaseless complaining doesn’t strike me as any more truly “authentic" than all sunshine and rainbows. We all have those Facebook friends whose posts we fly by without a glance because we have heard it all a thousand times and what we are really looking for are more videos of baby goats in pajamas because it’s been a long day, dammit.
But isn’t there something more than either/or? Surely we have the capacity for a little more nuance and complexity than that, don’t we?
I don’t know what the answer is, how to best approach “authenticity” with the asterisk that makes it marketable in business. I’m sure even sharing that sentiment publicly would be considered “too authentic” by many. Lately I have been hemorrhaging social media followers daily and it has certainly caused me to pause, to double check that what I am saying and what I am posting feels right and true. For the most part it does, though I can see the places I’ve hedged, where I’ve tried too hard, tried to “please all the people all the time” (an impossible feat, we all know but still forget), and those are the only things I’ve shared that ring a bit hollow to my ears when I look back later.
But days like today, when taking care of myself means saving my f@!%s for things that really matter to me and letting the rest go, things get a bit clearer. I simply don’t have the energy today to chase down followers (or readers or subscribers or whatever), and it strikes me as ludicrous that I would ever think that that was worthy of my time. It’s not.
What IS worthy of both my time and my energy is doing my real work. Getting out into the world and listening hard. Having real conversations about real struggles and real fears and real triumphs and real joy. Figuring out how to really live well and creatively and curiously and openly. Telling stories that mean something, either through words or images or both- stories that make us ask questions, stories that make us feel connected and less alone, stories that inspire our curiosity, that drive us away from judgment and towards each other, towards our potential, towards greater understanding and awe.
So bear with me if I sometimes get too authentic and forget about the asterisk I’m “supposed” to remember (or, actually, don’t bear with me if that’s not your thing…that’s okay,too…really…I pinky swear I’m not offended). I tend to like to dive into the messes and talk about the uncomfortable and sometimes unpleasant. I also like to get super corny and mushy about things like amazing sunsets and baby goats in pajamas and the infinite possibilities that we all carry inside us. If you like that sort of thing, I’m your girl. If not, well..I’m not for everybody.
Let’s do it, you guys. Let’s work less around the things we think “people” want to hear and work more around the real truths we come to know in our lives. Because somewhere in there is the work we are called to do, the connections we are called to make, and it is impossible to learn how to trust our own voices if we can’t hear them over the noise around us. Do whatever you need to to turn that noise down, even if it goes against the conventional wisdom of what must be done to be successful and even if it makes your success look very different from the conventional ideas around it.
Because you are not conventional. You are you. And we need your actual voice, your authentic voice, in this world without any asterisks attached.
A little peek at our time in Sedona...