Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Real Thing

"Authentic" seems to be the new buzzword.  Live your authentic life, find your authentic happiness, discover your authentic beauty.  Ok, those all sound like good things, but what, exactly, is "authentic"?  Mr. Funk and Mr. Wagnall say authentic means "Not false or copied; genuine; real."    Oh - real.  So maybe this isn't such a new idea.  Coca Cola was calling itself the Real Thing way back in 1969.

A quick search on Barnes and Noble found books on authentic patriotism, authentic faith, authentic leadership, authentic success, authentic education, authentic creativity and authentic power.  Have we really been faking all these things up to now?

The one phrase that did make me stop and think was "authentic self".  I don't know if it originated with Oprah, but her website defines it as "the you that can be found at your absolute core. It is the part of you not defined by your job, function or role. It is the composite of all your skills, talents and wisdom. It is all of the things that are uniquely yours and need expression, rather than what you believe you are supposed to be and do."

So, I asked myself, "Self, are you authentic?"  Self reminded me that I had written about that very topic two years ago, when I turned 50:  
       I am a Baby Boomer.  I am a registered Republican.  I was a stay-at-home mom.  I am a college drop-out. All of these statements are true and when you read them, you form a picture of me based on the stereotypes of those categories.  But that's not a complete picture - that's not really me.  
     For years I bought into the ideas of what I should be and what I should like based on labels and expectations.  Family has their own idea of who I should be, based only on history.  Every time we move, a new community forms their view of me with no history.  Few people have the complete picture, and I've spent a lot of years pretending to be what each of them expected, and apologizing when I wasn't.  But I'm over it.
     I'm over pretending to like "classic rock" because that's what's expected of my generation.  I'm over apologizing for listening to light opera and classical music.  I'm over apologizing for not having a "career".  I'm over dumbing myself down to not intimidate.  I'm over reading books I don't enjoy, just because they look intellectual on my blog.  I'm over being anything but me.
     The best friend I've ever had was a lovely lady named Wanda.  She took the time to ask questions and listen so she knew my history, plus she paid attention to what was happening now so she new my life - she knew me.  And she accepted that with no provisos.  That's a rare quality in a friend. Although she's been gone more than six [now 8] years, she left me with the knowledge that the true "me" is a person who is worthy of friendship, and that's the best birthday gift of all.
The problem is that the "authentic" me from just two years ago is no longer accurate.  For starters, I am no longer a registered Republican.  This is not the time or place to debate the reasons for that change, but it poses the question, "Does being "authentic" mean you can't change?  Is the real me today the same as the real me from 1982 wen we got married?  Or 1990 at the birth of our first child?  Or 2010 when we became empty-nesters?"

A young lady who was close friends with our daughter during their high-school years, recently told our daughter "You've changed."  I don't think she meant that in a positive way, but Amanda's answer was "I hope so."  At twenty-one, she is glad she's not the same as she was at sixteen.  But does that mean she was not being her "authentic self" in high school?  Wait, that's a bad example - no one is authentic in high school.  But you get my point, I hope.  

Let's go back to Oprah's definition.  My jobs and roles have changed many times.  I'm no longer a bank teller or a mother of preschoolers or a church pianist, so I agree, those things are not the real me.  I know my attitudes and opinions have shifted as I've gained life experience, so that can't be it.  What about my "skills, talents and wisdom" - the things that, according to that quote, are essential to the authentic me?  Of course they have changed.  The me of 1982 only knew how to cook three things and didn't have a clue about parenting. (Another bad example - I'm not sure I do now.) The me of 1995 was a more talented pianist than I am today.  And wisdom?  I am no more educated than I was in 1982, but I am certainly wiser!   

So I'm left with the definition of my authentic self as being "all the things that are uniquely me".  But what are they?  My love of books and reading has never faltered - from age five to age fifty.  Surely that must be part of the authentic me.  But my reading tastes have changed.  So is the real me a mystery lover or a fan of gothic romance?  Everything that comes to mind when I try to think of what is "uniquely me" is actually a composite of how I was raised, the choices I've made, the places I've lived . . .  classic nature AND nurture.

At fifty-two, I'm much more comfortable in my own skin than I have been at any other age, but sometimes I still catch myself downplaying some characteristics and emphasizing others, depending on the situation and the crowd. So is there really an "authentic" me?   Yes, there is. She talks too much and she likes to be alone, yet she rarely talks to herself.  She loves to be creative, but has no noticeable talents.  She likes to write, yet her posts tend to be rambling discourses on nothing.  And every now and then, she goes shopping . . . and usually comes home with a really gaudy accessory or a box of junk from a second-hand store.  

Sorry world, but that's me - the real thing.


  1. I love the sound of the authentic you! Wish I lived by you to hang out! Very good post, Tami. I have been coming across this type of discussion a lot lately and all in our 'age group' must come with the territory! I love the new design too! Where do you find these backgrounds?

  2. Very good writing sis - and I'm pondering this - - - authentic - - - I think you are right - authentic changes as we change - we can change from one age to the next and still be authentic and true to ourselves at each age.

    So - I asked Mr. G (google) what is authentic? I got some quotes - and you know I love quotes!! I loved this one -

    “Real isn't how you are made,' said the Skin Horse. 'It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.'

    'Does it hurt?' asked the Rabbit.

    'Sometimes,' said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. 'When you are Real you don't mind being hurt.'

    'Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,' he asked, 'or bit by bit?'

    'It doesn't happen all at once,' said the Skin Horse. 'You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.”
    ― Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit

    1. Thanks for writing about being the real thing - - - I will reflect on this !

  3. Great post, Tami! You've definitely got me thinking. I think our authentic selves have as much to do with our inherent qualities as anything else. I'm with your daughter, I would certainly hope that we all change over the years. Every person you meet, everything you read, every place you go will leave an imprint on you.