Soul is about authenticity. Soul is about finding the things in your life that are real and pure. -John Legend
By Mark E. Smith
With the holidays approaching, and special friends visiting my home for an extended stay, my daughter and I started making a list of what we needed to do in order to make our house as perfect as possible.
See, for my daughter and me, our home is about love, laughter, understanding, and tranquility, so we haven’t cared that we have a sheet hung across the family room window because Rosie the English bulldog attacked the custom blinds, nor have we cared that the dishwasher has been broken for years (it’s just the two of us, so we don’t need a dishwasher!). We’re blessed with a very nice home, that’s neat and clean, and we don’t sweat the small stuff. We’re happy as-is.
However, with company coming, the list got longer and longer of ways to spruce up our 12-year-old home, all to impress our house guests. And, then I realized how unauthentic I was being, how I was putting priority on a shell of a house instead of the depth of my character and heart. My daughter and I want to spend time with those close to us, and replacing blinds and a dishwasher has nothing to do with it. The quality of one’s character is far more important than the quality of one’s house.
How many of us live such a facade in many aspects of our lives, where we present an image instead of just being ourselves – namely, because we don’t think others will embrace us if they see who we truly are?
The answer is, most of us. However, here’s the issue: if we hide or disguise ourselves, others don’t truly know us, and it creates a barrier for letting other people in. We live with secrets, isolation and in the worst cases, shame. Any aspect that we falsely polish or hide from others is like placing a wall between us and others. If we want the truest connections, we must be open and authentic to an extraordinary degree. Here’s the real me – take it or leave it, but at least I’m authentic. Life isn’t Facebook, where everyone’s life is a happy two-dimensional facade on a screen. To be authentic is to be real in every sense.
And, I think all of us have been unauthentic at times, both with ourselves and others. The solution, though, to both resolving it and avoiding it is to be totally authentic. Yes, some will reject us in the process, but most will embrace us.
In my own life, I strive to only be authentic. However, it’s not always easy, and I haven’t always succeeded. I’ve struggled this year with a very weighty subject in my life: my daughter will be heading off to college in the blink of an eye. Those around me have asked whether I’m prepared for that emotionally, especially since it’s just been the two of us for years, our lives so intertwined?
I give a very enthusiastic answer, that my daughter’s worked extremely hard toward college, that I can’t wait for her to flourish on her own. After all, it will be another amazing stage to witness as a parent. Yet, if I’m to be authentic, it’s truly only telling others half of my feelings – I’m not being honest.
The fact is, my daughter has been my foremost focus since the day she was born. Then, in being a full-time single father, she’s the better half of our dynamic duo, always a life force in our home. Girlfriends have come and gone, but it’s always been Shorty and me. No, I don’t know how I’m going to handle having my little girl, housemate and, really, best friend no longer around on a daily basis. I can picture Rosie the English bulldog and me just staring at each other on a Wednesday night, saying, What do we do now? Even if I’m living with a woman, I don’t see the transition being any less heartfelt. Yes, the thought of my daughter going off to college is unquestionably what I want and will be among my proudest moments. But, it’s also painful, scary and sad.
However, as I’ve opened up with friends about my complete feelings about my daughter eventually heading off to college, they’ve been extremely supportive and full of wisdom. Again, if we are going to live with authenticity, we must share our whole self, as-is, honestly, and people do reciprocate on such a genuine basis. In this way, opening myself up to others is like having guests in my home: I’d rather choose the imperfection of openness and joy over the tidiness of isolation and despair.
Of course, authenticity is ultimately about accountability, and that can be a struggle in itself. A great tool in that area is to surround yourself with people who will out of love call you on your behavior when you’re not being authentic. Both my sister and my best friend have called me on my behavior over the years – and rightfully so, as I’ve done some freakin’ stupid stuff. I remember being on the West Coast, feeling a lot of sadness over the ending of a serious relationship, and rather than being authentic and telling my friends that I was in a lot of pain, I went the rock star route, numbing myself with everything I could find as the life of the party. And, to his credit, without his being judgmental, my best friend soon pulled me aside and said, “I suspect there’s a lot going on in your life and it’s getting to you in unhealthy ways. It’s not the Mark I know.”
And, he was right. I wasn’t being authentic. Rather, I was being an emotional coward and dishonest. Fortunately, I was able to get myself back on track – arguably with greater clarity – all thanks to a true friend who believed in me and wasn’t afraid to call me on my falling off of the authenticity wagon.
None of us are perfect or immune to real emotions that tempt us toward going astray. I’ve been there and I still go there. However, recognizing the power of living to a higher standard – authenticity – and working at it in even the most challenging situations makes living as who you are a lot more rewarding.
My house isn’t perfect and neither am I. I need new blinds and a dishwasher, and Lord knows I’ve got my emotional issues. But, my home and heart are open, as-is, so come on in.